The popularity of multivitamins has increased in the last few decades due to an ongoing boom in health and fitness around the world. Many people claim that multivitamins can reduce the risk of chronic disease, boost immunity, compensate for negative eating habits, and improve overall health.
6 Potential Benefits of Multivitamins
- Reduces Stress
- Improves Nutrition
- Boosts Immunity
- Improves Digestion
- Reduces Chronic Disease
- Contains Antioxidant Properties
A multivitamin is a supplement that contains a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals alongside other ingredients that support your body with the nutrients it needs to function.
As there is no set standard for what constitutes a multivitamin, the range of nutrients and minerals varies from brand to brand. Multivitamins are available in different forms, including liquids, powders, chewable gummies, capsules, and tablets.
For the most part, the number one reason people take multivitamins is to ensure they cover their essential nutrient needs. However, if you take too much of a certain vitamin or mineral, potential problems can arise, and severe side effects can occur.
High doses of water-soluble vitamins, like vitamin C and vitamin B, are excreted by the body and do not cause any side effects. On the other hand, fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E, and K, build up in the body and cause damage to the bones, kidneys, and blood vessels.
As you can see, taking a multivitamin isn’t as simple as popping a tablet. Some consideration must be taken before introducing multivitamins into your diet.
Multivitamins and Athletic Performance
There are 16 minerals and 13 vitamins regarded as “essential” to health. Many of these essential vitamins and minerals function as structural elements and signaling molecules within the body.
You also need these vitamins and minerals to regulate bodily functions and support athletic performance. However, research studies claim that multivitamins aren’t necessary for athletes or other physically active people, assuming they maintain a well-balanced diet.
One study published in the Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise journal found that supplementing with a multivitamin or mineral doesn’t provide any significant advantage in sports specific tests.
Research at the University of Cape Town corroborates these findings and shows that taking vitamins and minerals, in multivitamin form, has no positive effect on athletic performance.
Another study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition examined 82 athletes in various sports and found that multivitamin supplements elicited no significant effect on physical performance compared to athletes who ate a diet rich in vitamins and minerals.
Despite this research, some athletes claim that multivitamins prevent deficiencies and potential decreases in athletic performance. So, just how valid are these claims?
Researchers at Oregon State University discovered that athletes involved in intense training sessions require higher doses of nutrients like thiamin, riboflavin, and vitamin B6, as these nutrients are involved in energy production.
Other sports nutrition experts suggest that athletes involved in weight-control sports or those who do not eat a balanced diet run the risk of nutrient deficiencies and therefore need a multivitamin supplement.
However, research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine examined the effects of high dose multivitamins on cardiovascular performance in 1,708 men and women. This large study tracked the men and women over 4.6 years and discovered that there was no significant benefit or improvement in cardiovascular performance after taking multivitamins.
And while there’s a great deal of debate surrounding the effectiveness of multivitamins, most experts agree that antioxidant supplements are beneficial for athletes as a form of insurance against the elevated demands of intense physical exercise.
Multivitamins and Muscle Growth
It’s common for athletes and bodybuilders to take multivitamins in large doses to improve strength, muscle growth, muscle recovery, and endurance. Research published in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research found that many of the world’s top athletes take huge doses of vitamins, exceeding dose guidelines by an exponential amount.
As each vitamin provides specific benefits for the body, certain vitamins and minerals might be more suited to particular sports and exercises. The following is a list of the most sought-after vitamin supplements and how they affect the body:
- Riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, and pantothenic acid: improve muscle cell energy release, enhancing efficiency while exercising.
- Pyridoxine: is essential for the synthesis of hemoglobin.
- Folic acid and vitamin B12: are necessary for red blood cell development.
- Vitamin A: improves night vision and eyesight.
- Vitamin C and E: are antioxidants that prevent cellular damage in the red blood cell membrane during exercise.
- Vitamin D: improves bone strength, testosterone, and immune system functioning.
- Vitamin B complex: improves muscle recovery and athletic performance.
- Vitamin E: is a powerful antioxidant that can help with wound healing and skin problems.
Current research shows that vitamin deficiencies impair athletic performance. However, there isn’t any evidence to suggest that additional vitamin supplementation on top of a well-balanced diet improves performance.
In particular, a study published in the International Journal of Exercise Science indicates that antioxidant supplements have a minimal effect on resistance training performance and muscle growth.
Since vitamins C and E are antioxidants, there is some indication that these vitamins can reduce oxidative stress and minimize delayed onset muscle soreness after exercise. Although there is no indication that these antioxidants can improve athletic performance, it’s good to consume a diet rich in antioxidants to prevent cellular damage.
Sufficient iron and magnesium are essential for female athletes and athletes with restricted diets, such as vegans or vegetarians. While these supplements do not improve performance, they lower the risk of vitamin deficiencies, which can be harmful.
Of all the vitamins, vitamin D appears to be the most important when it comes to boosting testosterone, increasing strength, and supporting the immune system.
Are Multivitamins Necessary?
The consensus among health professionals is that multivitamins are not necessary for individuals who follow a well-balanced diet. However, under certain circumstances, multivitamins are useful.
Multivitamins can sometimes benefit the elderly, vegans, women of childbearing age, and individuals with poor immunity and bad diets. The Annals of Internal Medicine published one of the most extensive multivitamin studies carried out on 400,000 participants.
The study found that after three multivitamin trials and 24 single or paired vitamin trials, taking multivitamins offered no improvements in mortality, cardiovascular disease, or cancer. However, multivitamin supplementation might be necessary for two reasons that are less discussed: (1) depleted soil nutrients; and (2) unhealthy guts that limit nutrient intake.
Depleted Soil Nutrients
Modern agricultural methods have stripped a growing number of nutrients from the soil, leading to a lack of healthy nutrients in our food and diet. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition conducted at the University of Texas studied the nutritional data of 43 different fruits and vegetables in 1950 and 1999.
The researchers in the study found significant declines in the amount of protein, calcium, iron, phosphorus, riboflavin (vitamin B2), and vitamin C over the last 50 years. The researchers chalked the decline in the nutritional value of food down to the agricultural industry’s practice of prioritizing the increase in size, growth rate, and pest resistance of foods over-improving nutrient content.
As such, the foods we eat today don’t contain as many nutrients as they did five years ago. Thus, multivitamin supplements might be necessary to ensure we get enough nutrients in our diet.
Limited Nutrient Intake
We live in a world where people go after convenience. Processed and packaged foods, sugar, refined carbohydrates, and anything that’s quick and easy is the most desired food by the masses.
But the problem with these types of foods is that they are devoid of nutrients and cause inflammation in the body, which often translates into gut problems. Good bacteria produces enzymes that break down food for absorption, so a healthy gut means healthy bacteria and an increased ability to absorb nutrients.
When the gut is unhealthy, our ability to absorb adequate amounts of nutrients from food becomes impaired, and we become more susceptible to nutrient deficiencies. In this case, supplementing with specific vitamins and minerals may be necessary to improve gut health.
Supplements Worth Taking
While research shows that multivitamins are not necessary, there are a few individual supplements that are worth consideration:
Vitamin D3 + K2: are two vitamins that people often forget about, which are crucial to the proper functioning of the immune system, cardiovascular system, respiratory system, and other bodily functions.
It’s essential to take D3 and K2 together because they serve as co-factors to help transport minerals throughout the body.
Magnesium: is the one mineral often lacking in a person’s diet. Magnesium is necessary to produce ATP (our primary energy molecule), and magnesium also helps muscles to relax by nourishing the body’s nervous system.
Safety and Side Effects
Multivitamin supplements can cause problems when specific vitamins or minerals are taken in high doses, as fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E, and K accumulate in fat cells instead of being excreted by the body.
For this reason, tolerable upper limits (UL) indicate the amount of a specific vitamin or mineral that can be taken daily without any risks or side effects. For example, high doses of vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin, is regarded as dangerous for pregnant women due to the possibility of birth defects; and high doses of niacin can contribute to liver damage.
With that said, multivitamin supplementation is legal and unrestricted. However, it’s best to use caution when purchasing supplements as some companies have, on occasion, included banned substances in their products.
The supplement industry has minimal regulations, so always choose reputable products that carry either the USP (United States Pharmacopeia) or NSF certification on the label of your product to ensure you’re consuming a pure multivitamin.
Most multivitamins offer all the essential vitamins and minerals. However, these vitamins and minerals come in varying amounts and forms depending on the product you choose. Since the amount of vitamins and minerals varies byproduct, it’s essential to be cautious when taking multivitamins to make sure you get the right nutrients in the right doses.
At this point, the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate dietary supplements. Thus, the actual amount of nutrients in multivitamin products can be higher or lower than advertised.
Since there’s a wide variety of vitamins and minerals in a multivitamin supplement, you should be aware that some nutrients can be harmful in high doses. As a general rule, it’s best to check your product label for recommended doses.
Solubility often determines the appropriate multivitamin dose. Water-soluble vitamins are safer since the body can expel excess amounts if you take these vitamins in high doses.
However, fat-soluble vitamins are harmful because there’s no easy way for your body to excrete these vitamins. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are all fat-soluble. Vitamins E and K aren’t toxic, but unfortunately, vitamins A and D exhibit toxic effects if taken in high doses.
Research has found that vitamin A toxicity is common, while vitamin D toxicity is rare and almost unheard of. Minerals can also be harmful if taken in high doses. For example, an excess amount of iron can be dangerous, especially for men who don’t need a lot of iron.
In general, if you eat a lot of nutrient-dense foods and take multivitamins on the side, it’s easy to exceed the recommended daily intake of vitamins and minerals, which can end up hurting your health.
Effectiveness of Multivitamins
Contrary to popular belief, taking multivitamins doesn’t buy you a ticket to better health. Evidence that multivitamins improve overall health is inconsistent and weak.
In some cases, multivitamins can even cause harm, and people need to be careful to ensure they are not accidentally getting high doses of fat-soluble vitamins, which can lead to toxicity.
The best time to take a multivitamin is when you’re suffering from a nutrient deficiency (as in you know you haven’t had many vegetables or fruits during the day).
Even then, it’s better to take a supplement that contains the specific nutrients you’re missing as opposed to a broad spectrum multivitamin. On the whole, multivitamins offer a wide variety of nutrients, many of which you don’t need, and the ones you do need are in low doses.
Multivitamins are no fix for a poor diet. The best way to get your essential vitamins and minerals, without posing a health risk, is to consume a balanced diet of fresh, nutrient-rich foods. Adherence to a healthy diet is much more beneficial for your health than taking high doses of multivitamins that can lead to health complications.