Getting all of the nutrients and vitamins you need from food isn't easy. Hence, the popularity of multivitamins and curiosity about the best multivitamin brand. Almost 80 percent of U.S. women use multivitamins and supplements, according to a 2019 survey by the Council for Responsible Nutrition.
Half of female respondents reported using supplements to improve overall well-being and more than 30 percent are aiming to fill nutritional gaps. No matter what your reasoning is for taking a multivitamin, choosing a quality supplement is key. Knowing what to look for will help you make an informed choice.
Who Needs a Supplement?
First things first: Do you really need a multivitamin? The supplement industry makes billions banking on people's concerns that something is missing from their diet or that a supplement will do something extra that a healthy diet can't.
But according to the Office on Women's Health of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, most women don't need a multivitamin. By choosing healthy foods, you should be able to get all the nutrients you need from a healthy diet.
However, certain populations may benefit from a multivitamin supplement. These include:
- Postmenopausal women: After menopause, women have a greater need for calcium and vitamin D due to bone loss. They may also need supplemental B12. A multivitamin can cover all these bases in one.
- Vegetarians: People who do not eat animal foods may not get enough vitamins B2, B12 and D. You can take separate supplements or keep it simple with a multivitamin.
- People who eat a calorie-restricted diet: According to UWHealth from the University of Wisconsin, a calorie-restricted diet may not provide enough vitamins and minerals.
- Those who are sick, injured or recovering from surgery: The body needs increased nutrition when fighting or recovering from an illness or injury.
- People with restricted diets: Diets limited by food allergies or intolerances may be lacking in certain nutrients.
- People with digestive disorders: Women with celiac, Crohn's disease or irritable bowel syndrome may have trouble absorbing all the nutrients from the foods they eat.
Before you decide to invest in a multivitamin, it's a good idea to get your doctor's opinion about whether or not you need one.
Read more: The Best Vitamins for Women in Their 20s
If you and your doctor decide that taking a daily multivitamin is a smart choice, your next decision is which one to take. There are thousands of options on the market, and choosing the top 10 best multivitamins for women is nearly impossible. However, there are 10 top things you should consider when choosing a vitamin and mineral supplement that will help make the choice easier:
1. Do Your Research
If you are searching online for a supplement, the Food and Drug Administration recommends referencing sites belonging to reputable organizations run by the government, a university or a recognized health advocacy organization such as the National Institutes of Health or the USDA. Consider the purpose of the site and choose those that are aimed at educating the public, not selling a product. Avoid sites with any type of advertising, either internal or external.
If you are reading a study, make sure it has been reviewed by reputable scientific experts and that it is published in a respected scientific journal, such as the New England Journal of Medicine. Supplement manufacturers sometimes fund studies that show potential benefits of their supplements, but there is no way of knowing if these study results are legitimate.
2. Question the Marketing
Along the same lines, be careful of marketing ploys using questionable tactics, such as promoting a supplement as a cure or treatment for a disease, such as cancer, diabetes or heart disease. According to UWHealth, no supplement has been proven to cure a disease. Avoid supplements that make claims that sound too good to be true.
3. Look for a Variety of Nutrients
As the name implies, a multivitamin provides multiple vitamins. However, how many it provides and whether it provides minerals as well, is something to consider. There are 13 essential vitamins, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and many essential minerals, some of which are trace minerals that you need only in small amounts. Multivitamin and mineral supplements may not contain all of these nutrients, but they should contain a wide variety.
4. Understand the Daily Value
The recommended dietary allowance, or RDA, is the amount of a particular nutrient required by the general population, and it differs depending on gender and age. However, supplement labels list the percentage of daily value, or DV, which is not specific to age or gender. According to the National Institutes of Health, most DVs come close to the RDAs, but not all of them do. If you're concerned about a particular nutrient, check the NIH website for its RDA.
5. Look for the Right Amounts
Some multivitamins contain well over the DV for some nutrients, although megadoses of nutrients have not be shown to have any additional benefits in the absence of a nutrient deficiency. Typically you'll see large amounts of some of the B vitamins, high amounts of which are promoted for various reasons, including increased energy and metabolism. High dose vitamin C is another common inclusion.
In many cases, high doses of the water-soluble vitamins B and C aren't dangerous — excess is excreted through urine, according to an article published in Nutrients in February 2016. However, they can still cause problems. According to the Mayo Clinic, excess vitamin C may cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, heartburn, abdominal cramping, headache and insomnia. The B vitamin biotin can significantly interfere with lab tests, causing false test results that may lead to misdiagnosis of a condition, warns the FDA.
Read more: The Best Multivitamins for Women Over 50
6. Understand Specialized Formulas
According to UWHealth, a standard multivitamin is suitable for the majority of people. However, in some cases, increased amounts of certain nutrients in specialized formulas may be helpful:
- Pre-menopausal women need more iron than men due to iron losses during menstruation. The RDA is 18 milligrams for women, but only 8 milligrams for men and postmenopausal women, according to NIH. If you are not getting enough iron from your diet, your doctor may advise you choose a women's supplement with an extra dose of the mineral.
- Women are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis, reports UWHealth, so many women's formulations contain extra calcium. Milk, yogurt and cheese are the primary sources of calcium in the diet, reports NIH. If you are vegetarian or cannot eat dairy for other reasons, you may be especially at risk of low calcium.
- Older women need less iron and vitamin K and increased amounts of vitamin D and vitamin B12.
- Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant need higher amounts of folate, or folic acid, a B vitamin that is crucial for preventing birth defects, NIH warns.
Keep in mind that specialized supplements can be more expensive than standard formulations. In some cases, you may be better off financially by sticking with a standard multivitamin and taking a separate supplement if you need more of one or two particular nutrients.
7. Avoid Potential Interactions
If you have a health condition or take medication, it is even more important to consult your doctor before choosing a multivitamin. As long as you choose a supplement with no more than the DV, you shouldn't have a problem.
However, NIH warns that people who take blood-clotting medications, such as warfarin, need to be especially careful about the amount of vitamin K in the supplement they choose. Your medication dosage is determined by your doctor, depending on the amount of vitamin K in your regular diet or supplementation regimen. Consuming higher or lower amounts than this can reduce the effectiveness of your medication. Always tell your doctor before starting to take a multivitamin.
8. Look for Certifications
Dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA. This means that there isn't any guarantee that the supplement contains what it claims to contain on the label, or that it doesn't contain other ingredients or harmful contaminants that are not listed on the label.
Manufacturers have the option to have their products certified by third-party testing organizations. According to an article in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in September 2016, these programs assess a supplement's quality, purity, potency and composition, among other things. Those products that meet the established standards receive a seal of approval that manufacturers can display on the label.
There are currently three recognized third-party dietary supplement certification organizations in the U.S.:
9. Settle for Synthetic
Whole food vitamins are extensively marketed as being better than synthetic versions. They are also exorbitantly priced. According to UWHealth, most man-made, or synthetic, vitamins are just as good as the natural forms. That doesn't mean the best vitamins for women are synthetic, it just means that you should consider these options, which are often more budget-friendly.
10. Don't Pay for Brand Names
You might see lists of the best multivitamin brands for women. As with all commercial items, in many cases you are paying extra for the brand name. Brand names become more recognizable due to substantial marketing, and the consumers are often paying for that marketing. As long as you have done your homework and checked off the list above, a less expensive, lesser known brand can be just as good.
The Best Vitamins for Women
The true top "multivitamin" for women's health is clean, whole, nutritious food. If you have a condition or lifestyle factor that prevents you from getting all the nutrients you need from food, then you and your doctor should figure out whether a multivitamin is the right choice or if you are better off taking a single-nutrient supplement.
Taking a multivitamin is never a substitute for a healthy diet. Vitamins and minerals in food come packaged with other healthful elements including dietary fiber and phytochemicals that are critical to good health. A better way to spend your money instead of expensive supplements is on fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and healthy oils from olives, nuts and seeds. These foods are jam-packed with vitamins and minerals, fiber, protein and antioxidants.
Plus, in terms of fighting disease, research says there's no benefit to a multivitamin. According to results of a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine in May 2019, getting adequate amounts of nutrients from food was associated with reduced risk of mortality from all causes, including heart disease and cancer, but using dietary supplements was not.
- Council for Responsible Nutrition: "2017 CRN Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements"
- Council for Responsible Nutrition: "Dietary Supplement Use Reaches All Time High"
- Office on Women's Health of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: "Vitamins and Minerals for Women"
- UWHealth: "Choosing a Vitamin and Mineral Supplement"
- FDA: "Tips for Dietary Supplement Users"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Vitamins"
- Nutrients: "B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy—A Review"
- Mayo Clinic: "Is It Possible to Take Too Much Vitamin C?"
- FDA: "The FDA Warns that Biotin May Interfere with Lab Tests: FDA Safety Communication"
- NIH: "Iron"
- NIH: "Calcium"
- NIH: "Folate"
- NIH: "Multivitamin/mineral Supplements"
- Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Quality Certification Programs for Dietary Supplements"
- Annals of Internal Medicine: "Association Among Dietary Supplement Use, Nutrient Intake, and Mortality Among U.S. Adults: A Cohort Study"
- NSF International
- U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention