How and Why to Take a Multivitamin

assorted fruits and vegetables for health and wellness

Multivitamins first appeared in the mainstream during the 1940s. Since their debut, they’ve become increasingly popular, and most Americans take some form of multivitamin every day.

As you probably realize, multivitamins are supplements that contain assorted essential vitamins and minerals, and they also sometimes contain other ingredients, such as polyphenols and other botanical bioactive ingredients.

In this guide, we’ll explain how and why to take a multivitamin as well as some of the various multivitamin benefits you may experience.

Is It Good to Take a Multivitamin Every Day?

Like all supplements, multivitamins are supplemental, which means they are used to address a deficiency or fill in a gap.

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to ever take a multivitamin as we’d be playing outdoors in the sun (thereby getting vitamin D) and eating the freshest, highest-quality fruits and vegetables.

But, we don’t live in a perfect world, and while we “could” get a lot of nutrients from fruits and vegetables, the simple truth of the matter is that we don’t.

The 2018 report issued by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that only 12.2% of adults meet the daily fruit intake recommendation. To compound matters, a pitiful 9% of adults meet the daily vegetable intake recommendation. [1]

The problem with this is that when we don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, we can develop deficiencies in certain essential nutrients, which can lead to DNA damage. [3] As a result, dysfunction can ensue, not to mention a potential increase in the risk for certain diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer. [2,3]

Besides, even if you do eat a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, there’s no guarantee that the foods you’re eating are that packed with micronutrients. You see, that stalk of broccoli or piece of fruit you get in the produce section isn’t exactly “fresh.”

The truth is, it was picked weeks ago, then put on a truck which was driven halfway across the country to the back storage area of a grocery store and sat there until the grocers put it out in front.

During this time, the micronutrient content continues to dwindle, meaning that by the time you get it home and take it out of the refrigerator to cook it, it has a fraction of its original micronutrient content.

So, while you are getting some of your micronutrient needs from food, there’s no guarantee you’re getting everything you need.

All of this serves to drive home the point that by no means do you “have” to take a multivitamin every day. But, if you’re someone who doesn’t eat a lot of whole, minimally processed foods, there’s a good chance you lack in one or more of the essential vitamins or minerals.

Multivitamins and multiminerals are there to help you fill in the gaps of your diet, plain and simple.

Do Multivitamins Work?

If you’re taking a multivitamin because you think it will give you superpowers or help cure/prevent every illness and disease, then we’re sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but no, they won’t work.

For some reason or another, a large segment of the population has come to the belief that taking a multivitamin is akin to taking prescription drugs, and it will prevent or cure a disease.

And that’s not the case.

Remember, multivitamins are supplements that contain essential nutrients found in our food.  They exist to help supplement our micronutrient intake and avoid the progression of nutrient deficiencies.

In some instances, multivitamins can help eliminate nutrient deficiencies, especially in the case of Vitamin D.

If you look at multivitamins for what they are (a supplement to complement an already healthy diet), then yes, they can work for that purpose.

Additional multivitamin benefits that have been identified in research include:

  • Improvements in Eye Health [6]
  • Reduced Feelings of Stress and Anxiety [7]
  • Improved Mood [8]

The evidence currently regarding the benefits of multivitamins and heart disease or cancer is mixed. Some trials show reductions in risk [9], while others show little or no effect.

When to Take Multivitamins

One of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to multivitamins is what is the best time to take multivitamins?

The truth is, it depends somewhat on what exactly is in your multivitamin.

You see, not all formulations are the same, which means they don’t all contain the same ingredients or dosages of essential vitamins and minerals.

Generally speaking, though, you will want to take your multivitamin with a meal, or at the very least, a serving of fish oil or other omega-3 fatty acid supplements, such as SteelFit® AhiFlower®.

The reason for this is that multivitamins, by and large, contain fat-soluble nutrients, which means that to be absorbed most efficiently, they need to be consumed in the presence of fat as fat serves to enhance their absorption and transportation in the body.

So, ideally, you’d take your daily multivitamin with one of your daily meals.

One thing we might caution against is consuming your multivitamin directly before or after your workout. The reason for this is those specific vitamins like C and E can act as powerful antioxidants in the body.

While antioxidants, in general, are beneficial, consuming too much of them in the peri-workout window can blunt some of the beneficial adaptations induced by resistance training. [5]

Takeaway

Multivitamins are supplements containing essential vitamins and minerals that are meant to complement an already healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and healthy fats.

They are meant to help address any small gaps that may develop in the diet. And, in this sense, multivitamins can work.

However, they are not a panacea for poor dietary habits, meaning just because you take a multivitamin every day doesn’t mean that you can stop eating your fruits and veggies. Nor are they a cure-all for all manner of disease.

They are simply a supplement to help make sure you’re not deficient in any essential vitamin or mineral.

To promote better absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), it’s recommended to take your multivitamin with a meal.

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables, 2018. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2018
  2. Institute of Medicine (U.S.) Committee on Diet and Health; Woteki CE, Thomas PR, editors. Eat for Life: The Food and Nutrition Board’s Guide to Reducing Your Risk of Chronic Disease. Washington (D.C.): National Academies Press (U.S.); 1992. Chapter 8, Vitamins, Minerals, And Chronic Diseases. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK235010/
  3. Ames, B., Wakimoto, P. Are vitamin and mineral deficiencies a major cancer risk?.Nat Rev Cancer 2, 694–704 (2002) doi:10.1038/nrc886
  4. “Multivitamin/mineral Supplements.” Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), 17 Feb. 2016, ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/MVMS-Consumer/.
  5. Dutra MT, Alex S, Silva AF, Brown LE, Bottaro M. Antioxidant Supplementation Impairs Changes in Body Composition Induced by Strength Training in Young Women. Int J Exerc Sci. 2019;12(2):287–296. Published 2019 Mar 1.
  6. Macpherson, H., Silberstein, R., & Pipingas, A. (2012). Neurocognitive effects of multivitamin supplementation on the steady state visually evoked potential (SSVEP) measure of brain activity in elderly women. Physiology & Behavior, 107(3), 346–354. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2012.08.006
  7. Carroll, D., Ring, C., Suter, M., & Willemsen, G. (2000). The effects of an oral multivitamin combination with calcium, magnesium, and zinc on psychological well-being in healthy young male volunteers: a double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Psychopharmacology, 150(2), 220–225. https://doi.org/10.1007/s002130000406
  8. Harris, E., Kirk, J., Rowsell, R., Vitetta, L., Sali, A., Scholey, A. B., & Pipingas, A. (2011). The effect of multivitamin supplementation on mood and stress in healthy older men. Human Psychopharmacology, 26(8), 560–567. https://doi.org/10.1002/hup.1245
  9. Bailey RL, Fakhouri TH, Park Y, et al. Multivitamin-mineral use is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease mortality among women in the United States. J Nutr. 2015;145(3):572–578. doi:10.3945/jn.114.204743

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