One a day?
It was once believed that it was possible to compensate for all kinds of dietary deficiencies by popping a multivitamin every day. But research suggests that multivitamins may not be all that they are cracked up to be.
Women are more likely than men to take a multivitamin, especially as they age. Women are quick to understand the potential health benefits of multivitamin use, including chronic disease prevention and improved immunity. However, walking through the multivitamin aisle in a local supermarket or pharmacy can be incredibly overwhelming. What essential nutrients should you look for when selecting a multivitamin? In addition, women have specific health needs that are different from those of men, and a gender-specific multivitamin can address those unique needs.
Many multivitamins contain some micronutrients in amounts greater than those recommended in the government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans. If you choose to take a multivitamin, take one daily and no more. It’s an especially bad idea to take extra multivitamins in an effort to increase the intake of a single micronutrient. Doing so means consumption of too many of the other included vitamins and/or minerals, which can be harmful, so look for a supplement that contains only that particular nutrient if that’s all you need.
The benefits of multivitamins remain uncertain. The Women’s Health Initiative study concluded that postmenopausal women who took multivitamins did not have a lower death rate than others and were just as likely to develop cardiovascular disease or cancers of the lung, colon, rectum, breast, and endometrium. These results are consistent with findings from other studies. And in 2006, the NIH found that there wasn’t enough evidence for a recommendation about taking multivitamins.
Experts agree that the best way to get the nutrients we need is through food. However, many people, especially women, don’t get the nutrients they need for their body to perform all the complicated chemical reactions it needs to stay healthy.
When choosing a supplement, what should you look for?
If you choose to supplement, read the label carefully and work with your healthcare provider to ensure that you are getting the nutrients you need most from that supplement. Here are a few nutrients that women often need.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Adequate calcium and vitamin D are essential in preserving bone density. Although one can get the recommended 1,200 mg of calcium from diet, studies suggest that most women do not. It is possible to get the government-endorsed vitamin D intakes (400 IU for women ages 51 to 70; 600 IU for women over age 71) through diet or sun exposure. But many health experts now recommend getting 1,000 IU, which is harder to do without taking supplements.
During the child-bearing years, it is recommended that women consume 400 mcg of folic acid as a supplement, starting at least one month prior to conceiving. Even during pregnancy, it is recommended to continue consuming folic acid for fetus development, adequate growth, and anemia prevention. In addition to the folic acid supplement, foods that are naturally rich in folate such as legumes, citrus fruits, and leafy green vegetables are recommended.
However, naturally occurring folate does not always meet the body’s requirements leading up to and during pregnancy. That’s why supplementing with folic acid is recommended. Consumption of folic acid is particularly important during the first three months prior to conceiving and during the first three months of pregnancy, since it reduces the risk for neural tube defects, such as spinal bifida or anencephaly. These defects occur when the neural tube (where the brain and spine develop) don’t close properly during gestation. The neural tube closes approximately three to four weeks following fertilization, so it’s important to take folic acid during pregnancy and even if you think you may become pregnant.
Other vitamins and nutrients
Other important vitamins to look for when choosing a multivitamin include zinc, selenium, iron, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), biotin (vitamin B7), iodine, boron, molybdenum, vitamin A (including beta carotene), vitamin E, and vitamin K. You may or may not personally need all these vitamins, so work with your healthcare provider to determine where you’re deficient and if you even need to supplement. If you only need a few of these nutrients, your money may be better spent on individual formulas rather than a multivitamin.
Another consideration when choosing a multivitamin is choosing one with 100 percent of the daily value of most of its ingredients. However, it is important not to exceed the recommended daily value as some vitamins and minerals can build up in the body and become toxic.
Consult a doctor or healthcare provider when selecting a multivitamin. A healthcare provider can help you choose a vitamin that is suitable specifically to you and your nutritional needs.
- Advice to women about supplements — use selectively
- Multivitamin/mineral Supplements
- The Evolving Role of Multivitamin/Multimineral Supplement Use among Adults in the Age of Personalized Nutrition
- Lack of a relation between vitamin and mineral antioxidants and bone mineral density: results from the Women’s Health Initiative
- Multivitamin / Mineral Supplements and Chronic Disease Prevention
- Getting your vitamins and minerals through diet
- Women Need More Calcium, Say Experts
- The Truth About Vitamin D: How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?
- Recommendations: Women & Folic Acid
- Dietary Supplements During Pregnancy
- Neural Tube Defects
- Spinal bifida
- 5 signs you’ve chosen the right multivitamin
- Vitamins and Minerals