The supplement industry is largely unregulated, and additives, fillers, and other questionable ingredients can make their way into supplements like the multivitamin. Here are some things to watch out for when choosing a supplement.
Even with the perfect diet and great sleep, people are still experiencing nutrient deficiencies.
This is because modern foods don’t contain the same levels of micronutrients they did 100 years ago. Or for that matter, even just 10 years ago.
Soil depletion is the main culprit, causing fewer nutrients to be absorbed by plants.
Supplementing helps boost nutrient levels in the body through doses of high-quality nutrient forms. It’s important to do your research before choosing a supplement to ensure you’re receiving nutrient forms the body will recognise, and so absorb.
Shawn Stevenson explains in his book, Eat Smarter, the impact that poor quality supplements (or even taking too many supplements a day) can have on the liver:
The supplement industry is largely unregulated, and the additives, fillers, and other questionable ingredients could add to the burden [of the liver]. Do your homework on where you get your supplements from, avoid taking too many, and focus on food first to meet your nutritional needs.
Here is the checklist I go through when choosing multivitamins or other supplements that I learnt while reading The Micronutrient Miracle.
Dietary supplements aren’t regulated like medicine is, so there’s no way to know exactly what’s in them (the best way to find out is to ask the manufacture and check the label).
Major Flaws in the Multivitamin
Many multivitamins available can be, for the most part, a waste of money.
They’re not able to raise micronutrient levels in the body sufficiently enough.
They may raise nutrient levels a little, but when looking at the long-term benefits, they do not provide the body with enough nutrients to function optimally.
A multivitamin should be one of the most powerful tools available to help improve our health. After all, it’s jam-packed with a variety of important nutrients. What other foods contain the same levels, or even the same diverse array of nutrients?
Unfortunately, research has shown that when all the individual micronutrients are combined together into a single multivitamin, they’re not able to carry out their duties properly.
Why is this?
Competition for Absorption
As it turns out, the process of absorption in the body isn’t as simple as we once thought.
Studies have found that, more often than not, the body isn’t able to absorb the vitamins and minerals inside many multivitamin supplements, so these nutrients pass straight through the body and out the other end.
Micronutrient competitions have a huge part to play in this.
Each micronutrient has a unique role to play in the body. Some blend together well, while others do not. Rather than all the micronutrients working together cooperatively, they instead compete with one another for absorption and utilisation in the body.
Research has found that certain micronutrients are less likely to be absorbed during digestion when delivered at the exact same time as other nutrients, like when taking a multivitamin.
Zinc and copper make great examples. When taken at the same time, they compete with one another for absorption sites. These sites act as “docking zones” for specific micronutrients and are found right through the gastrointestinal tract.
To help prevent this from happening, it’s important to choose a multivitamin that has been formulated using Anti-Competition Technology (which separates micronutrient competitions and instead pairs nutrients that work together).
Avoid multivitamins that come with these micronutrient pairings (as they will compete for absorption):
- Vitamin B9 (folate) and zinc
- Lutein and beta-carotene
- Vitamin B5 and copper
- Vitamin A and vitamin D
- Zinc and copper
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) and vitamin B7 (biotin)
- Iron (it will compete with all micronutrients)
Amounts and the Forms They’re Available in
Are you receiving sufficient levels of micronutrients in your multivitamin? Are they being delivered in a form your body actually recognises, and so will absorb?
These are the questions we need to ask ourselves when shopping for a multivitamin.
Often you’ll find that manufacturers will add too much of some micronutrients (e.g. the B vitamins because they’re cheaper to manufacture) while skimping out on others (e.g. calcium and magnesium).
Fun fact: Each micronutrient has numerous forms a manufacturer can pick from to include in their formula. Some forms are better than others.
Lower quality forms are usually included in a multivitamin formula to increase profits to the manufacturer. Unless you know which is which, you may be buying a multivitamin with nutrient forms your body won’t recognise, and therefore won’t absorb.
Note: Source a multivitamin that must be taken at least twice a day. This ensures the body receives a boost of nutrients towards the end of the day as well, as some micronutrient stores will have depleted by then in the body (e.g. vitamin C).
Beneficial Forms of Each Micronutrient
These are the recommendations for the 100% daily value of each nutrient (which can be split over the morning and evening):
Forms: 5,000 IU, from palmitate and beta-carotene. Some multivitamins only contain beta-carotene which is an inactive form of vitamin A.
Forms: 6 mg lutein. Most multivitamins will leave out lutein.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Forms: 1.7 mg of riboflavin-5-phosphate. Many multivitamins contain the non-bioactive form of vitamin B2, riboflavin HCI.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Forms: 20 mg of niacin and niacinamide. Both forms of vitamin B3 provide different functions in the body, so it’s recommended take a multivitamin that includes both.
Forms: 2 mg of pyridoxal-5-phosphate. Pyridoxine HCI is the non-active form of B6.
Vitamin B9 (Folate)
Forms: 400 mcg of 5-MTHF (methyltetrahydro-folate). Good for those who can’t convert folic acid into the bioactive form of vitamin B9, 5-MTHF.
Forms: 6 mcg of methylcobalamin. Cyanocobalamin is the common form of B12 found in most multivitamins, however, it’s not a natural source of B12.
Forms: 2,000 IU of vitamin D3. Cholecalciferol is the form of vitamin D we produce when our skin is exposed to sunlight.
Forms: 30 IU of mixed tocopherols and mixed tocotrienols. Check the label for “full spectrum d-tocopherols and d-tocotrienols.” Synthetic forms start with ‘dl-‘ (you want to avoid these).
Forms: 80 mcg of vitamin K1 (MK-4) and vitamin K2 (MK-7). Require both by the body.
Forms: 600 mg of calcium citrate or malate (for pills and capsules), or calcium carbonate and citric acid (for powders – make sure it’s non-GMO).
Not recommended to be included in a supplement. It’s too competitive.
Not recommended to be included in a supplement. It’s too competitive.
Forms: 400 mg of magnesium citrate, glycinate, or L-Thronate (for pills and capsules), or magnesium carbonate and citric acid (for powders – make sure it’s non-GMO).
Forms: 70 mcg selenomethionine (this is the bioavailable form).
For further details on each nutrient and its form + quantity, see The Micronutrient Miracle written by Jayson Calton, PhD, and Mira Calton, CN.
Choosing a High Quality Multivitamin
Here are some key features to look for when choosing a multivitamin:
Liquid or Capsule?
The way in which micronutrients are delivered when ingested is key when it comes to absorption.
When I say “delivered” I’m referring to the form your multivitamin comes in (e.g. tablet, capsule, liquid or powder). Certain forms have better absorption rates.
Pills or capsules, for instance, must first disintegrate before the nutrients inside become available for the body to absorb. If the capsule is faulty and breaks down too early (e.g. when still in the stomach), it may deliver the nutrients ahead of time, reducing the amount that will be absorbed.
The same goes if it’s delivered too late. There’s a specific time-frame in which a mineral or vitamin can be absorbed. After that, what’s left will pass straight out.
In his book, The Micronutrient Miracle, Jayson Calton, PhD shares a study published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences where lead researcher, Dr. Raimar Löbenberg, PhD, examined 49 well-known commercially available multivitamins that came either in a capsule or tablet form, to find out whether they would break down in time (within 20 minutes of ingestion) to release their contents for the body to use. The results were as follows:
Out of the 49 multivitamins tested, 25 did not disintegrate within the allotted 20-minute window.
That’s 51%! Disintegration is the first step in absorption, so if you were taking one of these popular store-bought multivitamins, your body would not be effectively receiving these nutrients (that’s expensive pee right there!).
Jayson Calton goes on to say that, according to the Physician’s Desk Reference (PDR):
Liquid formulas are the most absorbable, up to 98%.
What to Look for in a Liquid Multivitamin
While liquid supplements appear to have the upper hand in terms of absorption, there are still some things to note before going out and buying a multivitamin.
For one thing, when it comes to liquid multivitamins, powdered forms are included in this category. For it to be a liquid supplement, it doesn’t need to be sold in liquid form. Once the powder is added to water, it becomes a liquid. I supplement with a potent vitamin C powder this way. I add the powder to water and drink it as a liquid.
Keep in mind that light, air, and heat will deteriorate micronutrient levels in supplements. So if you purchase a multivitamin that’s been exposed to heat, or has been sitting on the store shelf exposed to fluorescent lighting, there’s a good chance the micronutrients may be affected to some extent.
It’s also worth noting that many powdered, liquid, tablet and capsule multivitamins can contain add-ins. I’ve listed some of these unwanted binders, fillers, excipients, sweeteners, flow agents, flavours, and preservatives below.
Always read the labels to check and make sure any supplements you may be taking do not contain the following:
- Artificial sweeteners
- Artificial flavours
- BHA or BHT
- Cane sugar
- Colourings (Red 40, Blue 1 or 2, Yellow 5 or 6)
- Corn syrup, cornstarch, or solids
- Croscarmellose sodium
- Disodium hydrogen phosphate
- Gellan gum
- High fructose corn syrup
- Hydroxypropyl cellulose
- Hydrogenated oils
- Lead, Mercury and PCBs
- Magnesium or calcium stearate
- Magnesium silicate
- Microcrystalline cellulose
- Polyvinyl alcohol
- Sodium benzoate
- Sodium starch glycolate
- Stearic acid
- Tapioca syrup
- Titanium dioxide
The multivitamin I use (which ticks all the boxes) is Nutreince. It has been scientifically formulated to contain no competitive nutrient pairings, all the ingredients are non-GMO, this multivitamin provides the 100% daily of value of 20 essential vitamins and minerals, and the pack contains two powdered supplements to be taken twice a day (one 12 AM and one 12 PM multivitamin) which provides 24 hour nutritional support.
If you would like to see how your current multivitamin compares in terms of quality, you can take The Multivitamin Stack-Up Quiz.
As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor before trying or using any new products. I am not a doctor. All opinions expressed are my own personal thoughts and feelings of the products mentioned. Check with your doctor or health practitioner if you are uncertain about trying out any of the products, recipes or tips mentioned in this post.
Do you take a multivitamin each day? How has it helped you? Share in the comments below.
Lots of love,
Jayson Calton, PhD, Mira Calton, CN. The Micronutrient Miracle. Victoria: Nero, 2015. Print.
Stevenson, Shawn. (2020). Eat Smarter. Little, Brown Spark. 1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10104. Print.
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