Should I be taking a multi-vitamin?

By Dr. Robyn Land, ND

A frequent supplement question I get from patients is “should I be taking a multi-vitamin?” And, in general, my answer is no. I strongly believe that we should be getting our key vitamins and minerals through the food that we eat and enjoy on a daily basis. But there are definitely some situations when it can be useful:

1. When you aren’t eating well

If you aren’t eating very frequently or not eating a good mix of fruits, vegetables and proteins, then you probably will want to add in a multi-vitamin. This can be because we are too busy, don’t have much of an appetite or have a health condition making it challenging to eat a diverse diet. This is a great opportunity to work with a naturopathic doctor, or nutritionist to create a healthy-eating plan!

2. When you are pregnant

Pregnancy requires an increased demand for nutrients to support the mom and the growing baby. Folic Acid is one of the most important nutrients and should be started at least one month prior to conception. Prenatal multi-vitamins are often a great multi-vitamin choice for women in general as they tend to have more iron in them, which is supportive when women are prone to low iron or anemia.

3. When you are working out a lot

Athletes use up a lot more nutrients through their training. There are some excellent multi-vitamins for athletes that are geared toward supporting endurance, recovery and cortisol/endorphin control.

If you are going in to invest money in a multi-vitamin and your time in taking each day, you might as well invest in something that is going to actually support your health. Here are a few key things to look for on the label that might tip you off that this is a better multi-vitamin then others. Hint: more expensive isn’t always better!

Folic Acid as 5-MTHF

Folic Acid

In all of the genetic research that is available now, scientists are realizing that there is a large part of the population have at least one genetic variation, called a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), that reduce or prevent the conversion of certain vitamins from their simple forms into their active or “methylated” forms. A easy-to-avoid SNP concern is folic acid (Vitamin B9). Most multi-vitamins contain folic acid or folate, which has to go through 4 conversions steps to get to the active form called 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF) (see below). I encourage people to look at the label and see what 5-MTHF is listed there as this shows the company is thinking about giving people the most bio-available form of the vitamin.

Vitamin B12 as Methylcobalamin

Similar to folic acid, Vitamin B12 starts as cobalamin, gets converted to cyanocobalamin and then into Methylcobalamin which the body uses in its energy production. Make sure Methylcobalamin is listed on in brackets beside Vitamin B12.

No Magnesium Sterate

Many multi-vitamins are coated in a substance called magnesium sterate, which is a lubricating agents. Factories use this lubricant in their machines to increase their yields. However, as the pills slip through the machines, they get coated in the same lubricants making them slide through your digestive tract faster, making it more difficult for them to be digested. There are some mainstream multi-vitamins that are so tighly pressed together and then coated in magnesium sterate that patients have reported passing the entire capsule in their stool as it hasn’t had the chance to break down.

Your best plan to figure out if you should be taking a multi-vitamin is to work with a licensed naturopathic doctor to determine what supplements (if any!) you might need beyond your dietary intake. Often the supplements that I recommend are more affordable than what you’d find on the shelf at your local pharmacy and will have a lot more therapeutic benefit! Book an initial visit today and I’d be happy to help!