Taking a daily multivitamin can be an easy way to make sure you’re getting enough of the vitamins and minerals you need to stay healthy. While a multivitamin won’t make up for a poor diet, it can serve as some added insurance for times when you’re diet isn’t perfectly balanced. When choosing a multivitamin, there are a few things you should look for.
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Balance of Nutrients
A multivitamin generally provides a mix of different vitamins and minerals in one pill, but there isn’t a standard requirement for which nutrients or how much of each a multivitamin must include. Look for one that has vitamins A, C, D, E, K and the B vitamins (folic acid, thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, biotin, niacin, B-6 and B-12), as well as minerals like calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium. The National Institutes of Health recommends choosing a multivitamin that provides 100 percent of the daily value of most vitamins and minerals, but not significantly more, to prevent any risk of toxicity. Note that some multivitamins provide the DV in one pill, and some require taking a few tablets, so always read labels for dosing instructions.
Safety and Purity
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has guidelines to ensure multivitamin supplements meet certain quality standards with respect to identity, purity, strength and composition. There are also several independent labs that will verify the quality of multivitamins for a fee, but their certification programs are voluntary. The lack of a third party seal of approval doesn’t necessarily mean that the manufacturer has produced an inferior supplement.
There can be large variations in prices for supplements depending on the brand name, manufacturer and any third party testing. Because the FDA regulates vitamin supplements, however, any variations in the quality or potency should be slight. In a recent "New York Times" article, testing lab ConsumerLab.com found that many big-box and membership club stores had vitamin supplements of similar quality to brand-name products but at a fraction of a price. Another important consideration is to only take what you need. Not only are extra doses of most multivitamins unnecessary, but they can be expensive and even harmful.
Check With Your Doctor
A daily multivitamin is generally considered safe for most healthy adults, but some people need differing amounts of nutrients depending on age, gender and certain medical conditions. For instance, while younger women require more iron, men and post-menopausal women should look for multivitamins without iron, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. The Institute also recommends choosing multivitamins with no more than 2500 IU of vitamin A and no more than 2500 IU of beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A by the body.Women of childbearing age should get additional folic acid. Calcium needs increase for women after menopause and those on blood-thinning medications should be careful to not take any additional vitamin K. It’s always best to discuss any multivitamins or supplements with your health care provider to make sure you’re getting the nutrients you need.