What is the easiest and fastest way to dramatically improve your nutrient intake? Take a high-quality multivitamin.
But what is a high-quality multivitamin? Or put another way, how can you pick out low-quality multivitamins, so you don’t waste your money on them?
I know what it takes to build a quality supplement, and I know how supplement companies cut corners too. I wish it weren’t true, but most people get duped by low-quality supplements sold with flashy packaging or by salespeople who don’t know much about the products they promote.
I have to tell you upfront; I am biased. I believe the Life Time supplements are among the best you’ll find. We put an enormous amount of time and effort into ensuring they’re not only pure, but that they work. That said, even if you choose not to use Life Time supplements, this article should help steer you away from the junk that’s found on most stores’ shelves.
In this article, I’ll share with you why (in my opinion) almost everyone needs to take a high-quality multivitamin. You’ll also understand why a high-quality multivitamin is the first of the “Foundational Five,” the five supplements we recommend for almost every body.
Why You Need a Multivitamin
When I refer to a “multivitamin,” I’m really talking about a multi-vitamin, multi-mineral supplement, or a supplement that includes most, if not all, of your essential micronutrients.
Micronutrient: essential vitamin or mineral that must be consumed through diet or supplementation to maintain normal cellular and molecular function.
If you don’t use a multivitamin today, here’s three reasons why I believe you need to start.
1. Vegetables and Fruit Contain Fewer Nutrients
Vegetables and fruit are not nearly as nutrient-dense as they once were. Farming today creates produce that grows bigger and faster, and is more resistant to pests and climate challenges.
Unfortunately, these super-sized vegetables and fruit lack the nutrient-density of their smaller, more fragile ancestors. On top of that, soil has been depleted of nutrients over the past several decades. Since the soil is less nutritious, the plants that grow in it get less nutrition, too.
Research shows that today’s produce has less protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin, vitamin C, magnesium, zinc, vitamin B6, vitamin E, and vitamin A than in the mid -1900s.
2. Today’s Lifestyle Demands More Vitamins and Minerals
We encounter more oxidative stress, emotional and physical stress, pollution and other toxins than ever. We also get less sleep, movement, and time outdoors, which hampers your ability to recover from those stresses.
Vitamins and minerals play important roles in helping us deal with these stressors, and in helping us maintain normal metabolic function.
3. The Average Meal is Calorie-Rich and Nutrient-Poor
Since you’re reading this article, I suspect you eat healthier than the average person.
Even so, I bet you still fall short of eating 9-12 servings of vegetables and fruit everyday (drinking them as juice doesn’t count). And, even if you did, you read above why those 9-12 servings aren’t as nutritious as they once were.
Please don’t misinterpret these points as justification to avoid vegetables and fruit altogether. They still contain substantial amounts of fiber, phytonutrients, and other nutrition.
All that said, most people don’t eat the recommended amounts of vegetable and fruit. Most days, I don’t meet that level and I’m pretty intentional about what I eat.
Why Some People Believe Multivitamins Don’t Work
I can’t write an article about why I believe you should take a high-quality multivitamin each day, without addressing why some people believe you don’t need to.
It all comes down to context.
In addition, those with a little more nutrition knowledge realize that the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for vitamins and minerals is not an “optimal” amount. The RDI is only a level that should be enough for most people to avoid deficiency symptoms. A multivitamin helps you get a more optimal intake of nutrients, rather than just an “adequate” amount.
Most multivitamin research was completed using cheap, low-quality multivitamins, which often contain 100% or less of the RDI. Most also contain low-quality, poorly-absorbed forms of the nutrients. I would not expect to see much of a change from the use of these kinds of supplements either.
Another form of multivitamin research is observational research. In these cases, you might get interviewed by a researcher, and asked, “Over the past 20 years, how often have you used a multivitamin?”
This type of research is notoriously poor, as most people exaggerate their response when they’re asked about something they think they’re supposed to do, and underestimate their response when it’s something they believe they’re not supposed to do.
If you were asked that question, you might reply with “I use them daily,” even though you’ve had the same bottle of multivitamins in the cupboard for the past five years. And it hasn’t been opened yet.
The point is, I put very little stock into research on multivitamins as a whole, but instead appreciate very much the research that’s been done on individual nutrients, which helps in understanding how they are all important together.
To conduct a solid study of a high-quality multivitamin, you’d need thousands of people using the exact same multivitamin every day for decades. And you’d need a placebo group that didn’t get it.
It simply isn’t practical. Especially since you can’t really patent supplements.
So, in my opinion, when you can’t rely on a long-term, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, you have to use reason or common sense.
Who Needs A Multivitamin?
Pregnant women and children under the age of five are at greatest risk of micronutrient deficiencies.
Actually, for both men and women, their nutrition and lifestyle choices prior to conception can influence the health of the baby.
A father’s health can influence the health of the sperm, which can influence the future health of the child. So, if you’re planning on having kids, men, get your health back on track, too.
When you think about everything that has to go right, during the time between a sperm fertilizing an egg, and a healthy baby being born nine months later, you appreciate the importance of a mother’s nutrition.
During the first five years of life, that baby’s brain develops, its skeleton forms, the rest of the nervous and muscular systems create coordinated movement, etc. What a great time to ensure his or her nutrient intake is optimal!
Most people would raise their eyebrows at a pregnant woman drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes, but give little thought to eating junk food. Not only is junk food low in micronutrients, but metabolizing it can actually reduce existing micronutrient levels.
I won’t belabor the point anymore. I’ll just say this last thing:
Ok, moving on from there…
Based on the reality of today’s lifestyle, and the nutrient density of the foods we eat, in my opinion, everyone needs a high-quality multivitamin.
If you have specific needs based on your stage of life, or state of your health, or your fitness goals, you’ll probably want to add some individual nutrients on top of your high-quality multivitamin.
A pregnant woman might choose to take additional folate, or a woman dealing with anemia might take extra iron.
How Can You Identify a High-Quality Multivitamin?
Like anything else, you get what you pay for.
If you use a low-quality, once-per-day multivitamin, you’ll pay for expensive urine (or poop). Low-quality vitamins might not break down, and pass through your body without the nutrients being absorbed at all.
Even when low-quality multivitamins do break down, if they contain low-quality forms of the nutrients, they might not be absorbed as well. In fact, some synthetic micronutrients could even be detrimental to some people’s long-term health.
The following are some of the criteria we use to identify a high-quality multivitamin.
Does the multivitamin contain natural folate, or folic acid?
This is the first place I look if I’m going to consider a multivitamin as “high-quality” or not.
If it contains folic acid instead of natural folate, it’s a non-starter.
Vitamin B9, or folate, is most well-known for its relation to neural tube defects during pregnancy. However, low folate levels can also cause depression, reduced fertility, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, headaches, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, changes in skin, hair or fingernail pigmentation, and many other issues.
Low folate in adults raises homocysteine, which increases risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, dementia, and certain cancers.
Fortification of grain-based foods with vitamin B9 began in 1988.
Unfortunately, most dietary supplements and fortified foods do not use natural folate. Instead, they use folic acid, which is a highly-absorbed, but poorly-converted, synthetic form of vitamin B9.
Though the average person’s intake of folic acid is quite high, a large percentage of people cannot convert it to folate. Instead, folic acid levels remain high in the body, which can mask deficiencies in vitamin B12, affecting energy levels and mental function, and increases the risk of cognitive decline with aging.
For those who cannot convert folic aid to folate, they may also have an increased risk of cancer.
Look for a multivitamin that contains natural folate – 5-MTHF, methyltetrahydrofolate, Metafolin®, Quatrefolic, etc.
Does the multivitamin contain methylcobalamin, or cyanocobalamin?
Both methylcobalamin and cyanocobalamin are forms of vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is important for red blood cell and energy production.
Cyanocobalamin is a cheap, poorly-absorbed form of vitamin B12. It is a synthetic form not found in nature.
Note: I’m not suggesting all synthetic nutrients are detrimental to health. Some can be produced as an exact match to what’s found in nature. I’m not one that believes synthetic=bad. But there are some cases, like folic acid and cyanocobalamin, where that would be true, in my opinion.
Without getting too technical, to metabolize cyanocobalamin, your body must donate a methyl group, which can decrease glutathione levels, your body’s primary antioxidant.
Methylcobalamin already has the methyl group attached, and is the natural form of vitamin B12 already found in nature. So, your body absorbs it properly.
Does the multivitamin contain high-quality mineral chelates?
Minerals like calcium, magnesium, and zinc, are poorly-absorbed in general. However, it’s possible to bind a mineral to an amino acid, which is called a chelate, and dramatically increase the rate at which it’s absorbed.
The best-absorbed mineral chelates are “bisglycinates” or “glycinates.” They are minerals bound to the amino acid glycine.
There’s a dramatic difference in cost between magnesium sulfate (a mineral salt) and magnesium bisglycinate, but if you can’t absorb the magnesium sulfate, what’s the point in taking it?
I will always pay more for something that works, rather than buy something cheap that doesn’t.
With all that said, bisglycinate minerals take up a lot of space. Based on the design of a supplement, it’s possible that another form may be used to avoid the need for additional capsules or tablets. Because of the size, certain minerals like calcium and magnesium take up so much space, that it isn’t possible to squeeze them into most multivitamins at optimal doses.
That’s why we recommend taking stand-alone magnesium.
Does the multivitamin contain vitamin K2?
Vitamin K2 appears to be more cardio-protective than vitamin K1.* We also tend to get more K1 through other foods and nutrition.
When a manufacturer takes the extra steps to include K2, which of course is more expensive than K1, it tells me they put some serious thought into the formula.
Does the multivitamin contain additional, unique, health-promoting ingredients?
Once the above criteria are addressed, I look at what else the product has to offer.
For example, the Life Time Performance Multivitamin includes TeaCrine® in the morning dose. It supports mental energy and clarity.* The evening dose contains Relora®, which supports a calm mind and restful sleep.*
A word of caution here, though. Many companies use these extra ingredients as “window dressing.” They put a dusting of them in the product so they can talk about them on the label.
That’s like someone who’s applying for a job who says they went to Harvard, but all they did was go to a party one night on campus.
Life Time only puts the extras in our supplements if they’re in doses high enough to make a difference.
There you have it. Why you need a high-quality multivitamin. How to separate the good from the bad. The next question is, when are you going to start taking one (consistently)?
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Coppen A, Bolander-Gouaille C. Treatment of depression: time to consider folic acid and vitamin B12. J Psychopharmacol. 2005;19(1):59–65.
Earth Talk. Dirt Poor: Have Fruits and Vegetables Become Less Nutritious? Scientific American. 2011. Retrieved Aug 6 2017 https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/soil-depletion-and-nutrition-loss/
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