Depending on who you ask, the multivitamin is either the greatest nutrition invention of all time or a complete waste of money. And there’s rarely a middle ground.
The debate became so intense that the National Institutes of Health felt obligated to make a statement, which only caused more confusion. Their official stance: “It is not possible to recommend for or against.” (using multivitamins).
If you're not sure whether you should take a multivitamin, we dug into the research to help you finally figure out what's best, whether you're just trying to be a little healthier or fuel a high-performance lifestyle.
Should You Take A Multivitamin: A Self-Assessment
If you really want to know how your body is functioning, just get a blood test. That will leave no questions of whether your body is lacking. But, if you don't want to head to the doctor, you can consider the following lifestyle assumptions and where you might need more help. Whether or not you need a multivitamin starts with a quick assessment of three factors:
This determines what type of nutrients your body needs most. For example, if you have trouble sleeping, it's possible you're deficient in vitamin B6, which is linked to the production of melatonin.
Your body can produce most nutrients on its own or synthesize from your diet, but there are some vitamins and minerals that are more important than others and less common in your diet.
The Most Important Vitamins
In general, research suggests that almost everyone lacks magnesium, zinc, and –especially – vitamin D (all of which are available in Ladder Greens), so adjusting your diet to provide those nutrients (or taking nutrition supplements) is generally advisable.
Magnesium is a mineral that helps with hundreds of important processes in your body, including those that control how your muscles and nerves work. It also strengthens your bones, heart, and helps maintain normal blood sugar levels. It can be found naturally in foods like nuts, leafy green vegetables, and milk products. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for men 18 years and older is between 400mg and 420mg, and for women 18 and older is between 310mg and 320mg.
Zinc is an essential nutrient meaning your body can’t produce or store it, so it must be supplemented. It’s essential for cell growth and division, immune function, enzyme reactions, DNA synthesis and protein production. Animal products, such as meat and shellfish, contain high amounts of zinc in a form that your body easily absorbs while sources like legumes and whole grains aren’t absorbed as efficiently so [plant-based eaters may want to use a supplement instead. The recommended daily intake (RDI) is 11 mg for adult men and 8 mg for adult women.
Vitamin D plays a vital role in absorbing and [MAINTAINING] proper blood levels of calcium (low calcium absorption is linked to many different health problems). More importantly, healthy levels of Vitamin D are linked to a healthy weight (obese people tend to have lower levels of Vitamin D), fighting against cardiovascular disease [AND] preventing cognitive decline. Those who live far north or south of the equator may experience a fluctuation in vitamin D levels due to a lack of sufficient sunlight. Recommendations from the US Institute of Medicine suggest an average daily intake of 400–800 IU, or 10–20 micrograms, is adequate for 97.5% of individuals. However, those not regularly exposed to the sun may have higher intake needs.
Other essential vitamins include:
- Vitamin B-6 helps your body produce melatonin and serotonin, hemoglobin and several neurotransmitters in the brain, promotes proper nerve function, breaks down proteins, and helps maintain blood glucose levels.
- Vitamin B-12 aids in the formation of red blood cells helps maintain the nervous system, and aids metabolism.
- Vitamin K is crucial for blood coagulation (clotting).
- Biotin helps break down proteins and carbohydrates and is crucial for hormone and cholesterol production.
- Folate (folic acid) aids the formation of red blood cells and is essential for DNA production.
Follow a plant-based diet? That's a healthy choice, but it also increases the likelihood of nutrient deficiencies. Research shows that vegans and vegetarians are more likely to be deficient in Vitamin B12. (You're also more likely to need higher amounts of protein and supplemental creatine for brain health).
For these reasons, most people are best served by a Greens powder, which has a few select nutrients you need in concentrated doses (like Vitamin D, zinc, magnesium, and Vitamin B12).
While multivitamins are fine, they frequently are loaded with so many vitamins and minerals that are either unnecessary or potentially too much for your system.
Multivitamin Mega-Dosing: Is It Risky?
The reason multivitamins have such mixed reviews is that there isn’t a standardized approach to their formulation. But, in general, the “more is better” approach is commonplace and a bit misleading.
You’ll find that multivitamins have antioxidants and vitamins that far surpass the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA). While RDA’s are oftentimes a suggested threshold that is on the minimal side of dosing, you shouldn’t ignore the numbers either.
Do you really need 3000 percent of your RDA for Vitamins A and C?
Most research suggests that multivitamins will neither help or hurt your longevity. But, super high doses of vitamins might be bad for you.
According to Examine.com:
Some high-dose mixtures of antioxidants may increase the risk of death from all causes. Which combinations and doses are perilous isn’t entirely clear, but to play it safe, if you elect to supplement with antioxidants, don’t take amounts that far exceed your Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs).
High doses of B vitamins, too, might affect lifespan. One study reported that a high dose of nicotinamide (a form of vitamin B3 also known as niacinamide) could reduce the rate of new non-melanoma skin cancers, whereas a later study linked high doses of the vitamins B6 and B12 to an increased risk of lung cancer in male smokers (but not in non-smokers or in female smokers).
In essence, the RDA is an estimate of what you need to survive, not necessarily to thrive and live optimally. It’s tough to say whether your specific multivitamin contains the right doses to bring your levels to an optimal range, making it hard to argue for most common formulations.
It’s important to note that while nutrient deficiencies can hamper your immune function, the reverse is not true. Taking megadoses of vitamins does not improve your immunity.
What's more, even if its label says it hits all the RDAs, some multivitamins aren’t as beneficial as advertised because they use less-than-optimal ingredients.
A common example of this would be vitamin D2, which is less biologically active in the body than vitamin D3, and therefore less effective at boosting vitamin D levels. Similarly, studies show that magnesium citrate has superior bioavailability when compared with other forms of magnesium, but those other forms often end up in daily multivitamins.
Which leaves you with a simple question: if your goal is longevity and you’re not sure if your mega-dose of multivitamins packs too much of a punch, is it really worth the risk?
Multivitamin Safety Considerations
You can’t take the claims on a multivitamin label at face value because the labels are not verified for accuracy by the FDA.
If you want to ensure that you're getting what you paid for, NSF “Certified for Sport” label ensures that every batch of the product you're buying has been tested and reviewed to ensure that label claims are accurate and that there are no dangerous levels of toxins or metals or any banned substances.
Are Multivitamins For You?
We recommend two safer approaches to fill the gaps in your diet and covering your basic health needs.
1) Eat high-quality foods like leafy greens, fruits, and green tea, exercise appropriately, and manage your sleep and stress. These are the low-hanging fruit when it comes to disease prevention and living a vibrant, healthy life.
2) Rely on natural supplementation such as Ladder Greens, which is packed with the vitamins and minerals you need, but all from natural plant sources — like broccoli, spinach, matcha, barley, and beets — to supply healthy doses of nutrients your body needs, without the concern of mega-dosing and creating a potential risk.
For any multivitamin you consider, do your homework and be sure to look for the NSF Certified for Sport label to ensure safety and purity.