The supplement industry's success is reaching an all-time high. Recent estimates suggest that revenue from dietary supplements reached nearly 31 BILLION dollars in the United States in 2018, and the industry is projected to increase revenue by another billion this year.
Multivitamins and multimineral supplements account for the largest portion of those product purchases, and there are multivitamins created and marketed for every age group of the population (men, women, 50+, pregnant, etc.). Over ⅓ of the U.S. population is estimated to take a daily multivitamin. <1,2>
Multivitamins are often the first dietary supplement individuals purchase when they're looking to optimize and enhance their quality of life. So, if you think about it, multivitamins are kind of the "gateway" health & wellness supplement for many people, as it sets the stage for a life of self-experimentation, biohacking, and lifestyle optimization to come.
But, do you even really need a multivitamin? Let’s discuss…
What are Multi-Vitamins?
Multivitamins are a class of dietary supplement typically containing a combination of essential vitamins and minerals. Frequently, multivitamins also contain other nutrients (such as digestive enzymes, catechins, and antioxidants) to promote greater health and wellness.
Multivitamins come in a variety of delivery systems, including tablets, capsules, pills, powders, liquid, chewable, gummies, and even injectable forms! And, not all multivitamins are the same or created equally either.
You see, in addition to the different delivery forms multivitamins can take, the types of the vitamins and minerals themselves can also differ.
Take vitamin B12, for example.
This essential B-vitamin is typically found in one of two forms in multivitamins:
- Cyanocobalamin, or
The cobalamin base is the same for these two B12 variants, but where they differ is the molecule to which they are bound.
Another example is magnesium.
It is typically found in multivitamins in a couple of different forms <3>, including:
- Magnesium Oxide
- Magnesium Citrate
- Magnesium Chloride
The reason this is important to know is that certain forms of these minerals and vitamins are more efficiently absorbed by the body, meaning they have a higher bioavailability.
Are Multivitamins the Same as B-Complex?
No, multivitamins and b-complex supplements are not the same things.
B-complex vitamins typically contain only B vitamins, which usually consist of:
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
- Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
- Vitamin B9 (Folate)
- Vitamin B12
Multivitamins, on the other hand, typically supply considerably more vitamins and minerals than just the B-vitamins, including vitamins A, C, D, E and K, as well as essential minerals like selenium, copper, magnesium, manganese, and many others.
Note that it is generally not recommended to take both a B-complex and a multivitamin together.
Why Do People Take Multivitamins?
The most common reason an individual will choose to use a multivitamin is to help fill any gaps or help limit the development of any deficiencies of essential vitamins and minerals that may result from a person’s daily diet.
Many individuals also take multivitamins to support their health, as the supplementation of several vitamins and minerals have been associated with increased bone density, better eye health, improved memory, etc.
Ok, But Are Multivitamins Necessary?
In an ideal world, no -- you would not need to take a multivitamin (or any other supplement for that matter).
In an ideal world, we'd all consume well-balanced diets centered on whole foods that are rich in all the vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients we need to thrive in our daily lives, both physically and mentally.
However, we don't live in an ideal world. Significant portions of the population do not eat whole foods-based diets, and still, others eat very restrictive diets (keto, vegan, vegetarian, carnivore, etc.) for several reasons, both of which increase the risk for developing nutrient deficiencies.
Furthermore, considerable portions of the population already have one or more nutrient deficiencies.
For instance, recent estimates indicate that as many as 1 billion people across the globe are deficient in vitamin D (the "sunshine" vitamin). <4> This is particularly alarming when you consider the fact that vitamin D deficiency is associated with several diseases, including <5,6>:
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Autoimmune Diseases
To top it off, vitamin D deficiency is also linked to lower testosterone levels and fertility in men as well. <7>
Magnesium deficiency is another incredibly common deficiency affecting significant portions of the population, which is much concerning when you realize magnesium is involved in over 300 biological processes (including the metabolism of vitamin D!).<8,9,11> Recent studies estimate that around half (48%) of the US population fails to consume the recommended amount of magnesium from food. <10>
Now, you might immediately think, “well, those people should eat better. I’m ok, I don’t need a multivitamin because I eat a diverse diet that’s bountiful in fruits, veggies, lean meats, and whole grains.”
So, in theory, you believe that you have no nutrient shortcomings.
But, even though you are consuming what would be considered an A+ diet, how sure are you that the fruits and vegetables you are buying are as rich in micronutrients as they're supposed to be.
Case in point, the fresh fruits, and veggies you buy at your local grocery store. They were harvested several weeks before you purchased them. Once a crop is pulled from the vine (or tree), the expiration clock starts ticking and there is a slow decline in the nutrient density of the food, which means that those strawberries that you thought were packing a bunch of vitamins, may not have quite the nutritional punch it had when they were fresh off the vine.
Furthermore, you also have no idea as to the quality of the soil in which the crops were grown. If the soil used to grow a batch of crops isn’t particularly rich in certain elements, the crops grown in that soil will not contain as many micronutrients as a crop grown in better quality soil. There is even scientific evidence to support this theory that certain crops are not as nutrient dense as they were several decades ago. <12>
Finally, the more physically active you are, the greater your micronutrient needs are compared to someone who is sedentary. Even if you are consuming a healthy diet, you may be coming up short in one mineral or vitamin. For instance, many athletes are deficient in iron, zinc, and magnesium. <13,14,15>
Plus, the only way to know with certainty if your diet is providing sufficient amounts of all the minerals, vitamins, and other micronutrients your body requires is to have blood work done. And because most people don't even schedule regular check-ups with a primary care physician, it's unlikely they're also testing their micronutrients levels.
Based on all of these factors, while it might not be “necessary” to take a multivitamin, it serves as a good “insurance policy” to help prevent any micronutrient deficiencies from developing, even if you eat a well-balanced, diverse diet.
Are Multivitamins Helpful?
Multivitamins typically supply sufficient amounts of both essential vitamins and minerals which support numerous biological, cognitive, and physical functions. So, in this regard, yes, they may help support your health, wellness, and function.
At the same time, it's important to remember that multivitamins are not a panacea for a poor diet, meaning they shouldn't be used as a crutch or viewed as a "saving grace."
Just because you take a multivitamin does not give you free rein to abandon healthy eating or to slack on your intake of fruits and veggies. Remember, multivitamins are there to help address any shortfalls, not make up for weeks, months, and years of not eating a healthy diet.
Nothing can replace the nutrition supplied by whole foods, even multivitamins. This is why we recommend multivitamins as a supplement to a healthy diet, not a replacement for it. Every effort should be made to get as many vitamins and minerals from whole foods as possible. Multivitamins are there to help cover all of your bases.
The Bottom Line on Multivitamins
Multivitamins are dietary supplements that contain a transparently labeled mix of essential vitamins and minerals. Sometimes multivitamins also contain other nutrients such as polyphenols and antioxidants to encourage better health.
Individuals most commonly use multivitamins to help correct nutritional deficiencies or “fill the gaps” created by their eating habits. Multivitamins are also commonly used to support proper growth and development, a healthy pregnancy, and overall function.
Due to the different nutrient needs of the diverse demographics of the population a wide variety of multivitamin supplements have been created to address each niche of the market space, meaning that specific formulas have been developed for the elderly, men, women, children, expecting mothers, and so forth.
Steel Multi-V™ is our preferred multivitamin, supplying over 30 different nutrients to help support the increased nutrient demands of physically active individuals. Each serving of Steel Multi-V™ also includes scientifically-formulated complexes to support the body’s antioxidant systems and help boost metabolism along with other valuable nutrients to aid cognitive function and improve skin health.
Steel Multi-V™ is easy-to-mix, tastes excellent, and can easily fit into the diet of any athlete seeking additional support.
- NIH State-of-the-Science Panel. National Institutes of Health state-of-the-science conference statement: multivitamin/mineral supplements and chronic disease prevention. Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85:257S-264S.
- Bailey RL, Gahche JJ, Lentino CV, Dwyer JT, Engel JS, Thomas PR, et al. Dietary supplement use in the United States: 2003-2006. J Nutr 2011;141:261-266
- "Magnesium." Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), 26 Sept. 2018, ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/.
- Sizar O, Givler A. Vitamin D Deficiency.
. In: StatPearls . Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532266/
- Gröber U, Kisters K. Influence of drugs on vitamin D and calcium metabolism. Dermatoendocrinol. 2012 Apr 01;4(2):158-66
- Holick MF. Vitamin D: important for prevention of osteoporosis, cardiovascular heart disease, type 1 diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and some cancers. South. Med. J. 2005 Oct;98(10):1024-7.
- de Angelis, C., Galdiero, M., Pivonello, C., Garifalos, F., Menafra, D., Cariati, F., … Pivonello, R. (2017). The role of vitamin D in male fertility: A focus on the testis. Reviews in Endocrine & Metabolic Disorders, 18(3), 285–305. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11154-017-9425-0
- Institute of Medicine (IOM). Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes: Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Vitamin D and Fluoride. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1997
- Rude RK. Magnesium. In: Coates PM, Betz JM, Blackman MR, Cragg GM, Levine M, Moss J, White JD, eds. Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Informa Healthcare; 2010:527-3
- DiNicolantonio JJ, O'Keefe JH, Wilson W. Subclinical magnesium deficiency: a principal driver of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisis
. Open Heart. 2018;5(1):e000668. Published 2018 Jan 13. doi:10.1136/openhrt-2017-000668
- Anne Marie Uwitonze, Mohammed S. Razzaque. Role of Magnesium in Vitamin D Activation and Function. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 2018; 118 (3): 181 DOI: 10.7556/jaoa.2018.037
- Davis, D. R. (2009). Declining Fruit and Vegetable Nutrient Composition : What Is the Evidence ?, 3(1), 15–19.
- Driskell J. Summary: Vitamins and trace elements in sports nutrition. In: Driskell J, Wolinsky I, editors. Sports Nutrition. Vitamins and Trace Elements. New York (NY): CRC/Taylor & Francis; 2006. p. 323-31.
- Volpe S. Vitamins, minerals and exercise. In: Dunford M, editor. Sports Nutrition: A Practice Manual for Professionals. Chicago (IL): American Dietetic Association; 2006. p. 61-3
- Lukaski HC. Vitamin and mineral status: effects on physical performance. Nutrition. 2004;20:632-44.