Multivitamins – All You Need to Know

December 7, 2018 Diet & Nutrition

If you are considering adding multivitamins to your health and fitness program, you might have some questions and concerns on how to take them correctly, safely, and for greatest benefit. While nothing can replace the advice of a physician, the information below can help you with preparing your list of questions to ask about multivitamins when you visit your doctor.

What’s the best way to take vitamins?
First and foremost, it is important to remember that natural sources of vitamins and trace minerals are contained in healthy foods. This is the best way to gain the nutrients that your body needs.
While there’s still some controversy about exactly which vitamin supplements are best, experts agree that a healthy diet with natural foods is the best place to start and adding the multivitamin should be taken as a needed supplement, not as a replacement for a healthy diet. In the past, vitamins were something most people purchased in a health food store. Multivitamins are found everywhere now: grocery stores, pharmacies, retail shops, gyms and fitness centers, and of course online. They can be found in tablet, capsule, powder, or liquid forms, all containing a variety of mixtures of vitamins together (sometimes with herbs and minerals, oils and extracts) and are intended to supply dietary supplements for those looking for better health.

Taking multivitamins during pregnancy
Multivitamins taken during pregnancy are often referred to as prenatal vitamins. These can supplement key nutrients, such as folic acid, which helps prevent neural tube defects. These defects are serious abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord. According to The March of Dimes, an organization which is dedicated to healthy babies, multivitamins are very important for pregnant women. During pregnancy the growing baby is drawing all the nutrients it needs from the body of the mother. If your diet is low in nutrients for any reason, your baby will also be at risk. So mothers need more nutrients during pregnancy than they usually do.
Eating healthy foods every day should give mothers most of the nutrients needed during pregnancy, but it’s hard to get some nutrients like folic acid and iron just through food. Taking prenatal vitamins along with eating healthy foods can help you get the nutrients you and your baby need before, during and after pregnancy. Why are these nutrients important? Iron supports the baby’s growth and development and can help prevent anemia. Other nutrients to look for in prenatal vitamins include omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, zinc, iodine and copper. In the past, prenatal vitamins were something prescribed by a doctor, but today, vitamins made just for pregnant women are available over-the-counter in nearly any pharmacy in the United States and many foreign countries.

Multivitamins and birth control
According to a recent report by Greater Baltimore Medical Center, some birth control pills can decrease calcium, folic acid, magnesium, vitamins B2, B6, B12, vitamin C, and zinc. Make sure to discuss these risks with your doctor when you receive any prescription. A multivitamin taken at the right time of day may be able to help offset these vitamin deficiencies.

Multivitamins and regular exercise
Any strenuous exercise takes a toll on the body and experts agree that certain nutrients are an important part of energy production and maintenance of bone health. Vitamins and minerals also play an important role in the way muscles are repaired after a hard workout. Vitamins are good for your heart and some studies show that taking a high-quality multivitamin may reduce cardiovascular disease. Since heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the U.S., paying attention to heart health with nutrition and exercise is important. Vitamins B1, B2, B6, K1, Niacin (B3), CoQ10 and magnesium, all play a role in cardiovascular health, and special formulas are made for both men and women.
Even if you’re not a professional athlete or a body builder, regular aerobic exercise that pushes your heart rate up (which is great for health and strength) may reduce micronutrients from the body. As a result, greater intakes of micronutrients may be required to cover increased needs for building, repair, and maintenance of lean body mass in athletes.

Multivitamins for seniors
Nutritional needs can change at any time during your life, and for seniors, keeping nutritional levels high contributes significantly to quality of life. Of course, all people are different, but as a rule when the body ages, it can sometimes absorb nutrients differently and more slowly. Sometimes seniors tire easily, and may reach for convenience foods that could be less than healthy options. Many ready-to-eat products are over-processed and contain less vitamins than natural foods. Medications can further deplete the body of nutrients, and in some cases, block the vitamins from being absorbed. For example, antacids that contain aluminum or magnesium as a key ingredient may block vitamin D. Some medications taken for diabetes can deplete your body of vitamin B12 and folic acid. These are vitamins often found in multivitamin formulas made especially for seniors.

Multivitamins and immune system
There are plenty of big claims in the marketplace among vitamin brands that say they will fight cancers and boost your immune system, but use some caution here. Vitamin use has been associated with a decreased risk of some cancers, but more research is needed. There are many different kinds of cancer and they appear in different parts of the body and behave differently. While the experts disagree as to whether any certain vitamin, such as vitamin D, can be shown to fight cancer, certainly a healthy and nutritious diet with adequate vitamins and minerals helps. Vitamin C is a strong antioxidant known for strengthening the immune system. Vitamins D and E boost immunity, too. Some study results report that these vitamins can also help reduce allergy symptoms.

Multivitamins for hair, skin, and nails
Vitamin C, and B vitamins such as Biotin (a top seller online right now) and Niacin, have been shown to be essential vitamins for hair growth. Some sources say having a vitamin D deficiency and low levels of iron could be playing a role in your thinning hair. To maintain shiny, healthy hair and provide the nutrients your hair needs, maintain a balanced diet with these top vitamins for hair growth. According to the Prevention Magazine, Vitamin A is the top skin vitamin, and that’s why many skin cream products contain retinoids, which is derived from vitamin A. This skin vitamin has been proven to reduce wrinkles, fade brown spots, and smooth roughness. There are more than 700 published studies on retinoids, and that’s why they are considered to be tried-and-true ingredients. Anyone who wants younger-looking skin should find a product that delivers this vitamin, as a multivitamin supplement, or as a topical cream, or both.

Multivitamins and eye health
If you’re reading this story online, you already know that staring at a computer or smartphone screen all day can strain your eyes. Small text has become a part of our daily lives, and some experts report that the eyes can be strengthened by a vitamin-rich diet. Research has shown that vitamins A, C, E, Niacin (B3), and selenium support eye health, but experts don’t agree on whether a supplement will significantly improve eyesight. Lutein and Zeaxanthin also protect the eyes from harmful light waves. Studies have shown multivitamins containing a combination of vitamins, plus nutrients such as lutein and zeaxanthin can reduce the risk of eye/vision problems.
When choosing a multivitamin, you might see minerals in the ingredients too. Minerals like copper and zinc are essential to eyesight. Antioxidants, including beta-carotene, can protect the eyes from sun damage. The best sources of antioxidants are nutrient-rich foods like dark leafy greens and egg yolks. Foods rich in sulfur, cysteine, and lecithin help protect the lens of your eye from cataract formation. Excellent choices for these nutrients include garlic and onions. Zinc is often an added ingredient in multivitamin formulas. One of the many ways that zinc is important to your body relates to eyesight. You have high levels of the mineral zinc in your macula, part of the retina. Zinc helps vitamin A create a pigment called melanin, which protects your eyes. Some experts maintain that a zinc deficiency is what makes seeing at night more difficult. Health professionals don’t all agree that taking zinc supplements will improve eyesight. More research is needed to better understand how zinc relates to healthy vision. Until more research is conclusive, it’s safe to say that blueberries, grapes, and goji berries have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can help improve your eye health, and fish like wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, and cod provide structural support to cell membranes including those found in your eyes.

Aren’t most vitamins just flushed away?
Sometimes. There’s a big difference between water-soluble vitamins and fat-soluble vitamins. Fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) are stored in the body. Water-soluble vitamins (B and C) are not. Excess water-soluble vitamins simply travel through the body, are used as needed, and then are eliminated. That’s why many people who make a multivitamin part of their health and fitness program tend to pay more attention to the vitamins which cannot be stored in the body for future use.

Multivitamins and mental health
Vitamin B-12 and other B vitamins play a role in producing brain chemicals that affect mood and other brain functions. Low levels of B-12 and other B vitamins such as vitamin B-6 and folate have been linked to depression. Advocates of using multivitamins to assist persons with low levels of endorphins due to stress, injury, or life changes such as pregnancy and post-partum, insist that all the vitamin B family is associated with energy levels, feelings of well-being, as well as a decrease in stress and anxiety.
In her book, “Potatoes, not Prozac,” author Kathleen DesMaisons describes how vitamins found in healthy foods (like potatoes) are excellent at supporting mental health and mood. She outlines a seven step plan to help the reader to create for himself a better nutritional lifestyle, in small steps leading to bigger steps. The nutrition and exercise plan is designed to address the body’s natural and normal need for nutritional mood-enhancement, helping to support those diagnosed with depression, anxiety, attention deficit syndrome, and other mental health problems.

Is it possible to take too many vitamins?
Yes, it is, and taking an overdose of vitamins with the hope that “more is better” is not good for your health and could be toxic. Take only those multivitamins prescribed by a healthcare professional, and only in the dosages they advice.