How To Choose The Best Multivitamin
Today, supplements have mass appeal thanks to a growing body of clinical evidence showing that, along with a healthy diet and lifestyle, supplements can support vitality. As a result, a whopping 68 percent of American adults take them, according to a 2015 Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) survey.
And no surprise, there are lots and lots of multivitamin-multimineral products in the marketplace. Every company must differentiate their product from the competition to win their share of the market, and the pressure to win that share is intense. Quality controls and clinical studies are expensive. All too often companies try to differentiate their multivitamin-multimineral products based on marketing hype and/or worthless ingredients that subtract money from your wallet without adding anything of value to your health.
With so many claims and counter-claims in the marketplace, it has become nearly impossible for the average consumer to know which claims are true and which are false. Perhaps that is why I am so frequently asked for guidance on how to choose the best multivitamin.
While some of the nitty-gritty I’m about to share may feel complex or overwhelming, rest assured in that we’re in this together. I’m here to help you quiet the noise around this loud industry and equip you with knowledge so you can become an empowered and conscious consumer.
Let’s start with the ‘don’ts’ before we dive into the ‘dos’…
5 things to avoid when navigating the supplement aisle:
1) Self-Diagnosis: I advise against the practice of self-diagnosis and self-prescription with single, high-potency vitamins. Blindly supplementing without professional help could easily upset or imbalance your body chemistry.
2) Imbalanced Formulations: One of the reasons many experts recommend that people get their vitamins and minerals from foods rather than from supplements is because many supplements are unbalanced. That’s a problem because there are many cases in which too much of one nutrient can interfere with the absorption or metabolism of related nutrients. For example:
• Zinc and copper compete for absorption. For best absorption and maximal utilization by the body, the zinc to copper ratio should be close to 1:1 based on DV.
• B vitamins should be in balance. Look for a multivitamin-multimineral supplement that provides 100-200% of the DV for all 8 essential B vitamins. (The levels can be higher in a B Complex supplement, but they should still be in balance.) Some manufacturers will leave out the expensive B vitamins and load up on the cheap ones. This saves them money. It also allows them to use marketing terms like “mega” or “super”. A supplement that provides 50% or less of the DV for some B vitamins and 1,000% or more of the DV for others is ridiculous. There is absolutely no rationale for a ratio like that except to cut costs and increase profit margins.
3) Don’t Fall For Trends: Many companies choose profit over health by telling us what we want to hear instead of doing what's right. Trends are not based upon sound scientific and/or epidemiological evidence of human need and benefit. Trends are just a sales tactic for marketing hype.
4) Don’t Fall For Scare Tactics: There is a lot of unfounded hysteria on the internet about product ingredients. Much of this has been fueled by a few well-known bloggers, when they become more concerned about the traffic to their site than the accuracy of the information they post. To achieve more readers, the bloggers begin vilifying ingredients that are perfectly safe as long as the manufacturer purifies them correctly and tests them for purity. These are ingredients which might be of concern for products made by a company with poor quality controls, but pose no concern for products made by a company with high quality control standards. In other words, they should not be spreading hysteria about the ingredient. They should be focusing on some of the real quality control issues in the industry.
5) Don’t Fall For Buzz Words: Some manufacturers attempt to differentiate their products by claiming they are natural, organic, non-GMO, or are made from food. The companies are attaching buzz words to their product that they know resonate with their consumer audience, but have little relevance in the supplement world. For example:
There is no standard for “natural” so companies are not required to provide any evidence to back up their claim.
“Organic” certification for a supplement simply means that ingredients come from crops raised using organic methods. It is no guarantee of purity. Organically grown crops can still be contaminated if the air, soil or water is contaminated from any nearby pollution source. For example, ground water pollution is the major source of the heavy metal contamination often seen in rice-derived ingredients. It is far more important to select your supplement based on rigorous quality control standards that assure it is pure.
5 things to look for in a supplement / supplement manufacturer:
When choosing a manufacturer, I confirm the safety and effectiveness of their products by researching the following:
1) Formulated with ingredients that have been extensively studied to confirm safety and efficacy, and is based on scientific and/or epidemiological evidence of need and benefit.
2) Tests for contaminants — including lead and heavy metals, pesticides, and more. Rather than solely relying on the Certificate of Analysis (a stamp of approval from the supplier of each raw ingredient that their ingredient passes the test of as GRAS - generally recognized as safe), the manufacturer double-checks for contaminants each batch of raw ingredients.
*Recalls of multi-vitamins containing salmonella and e-coli have been increasingly reported in the past 9 months. In general, the FDA regulations for dietary supplements are different from those for prescription or over-the-counter drugs. Unlike drugs, which must be approved by the FDA before they can be marketed, dietary supplements do not require premarket review or approval by the FDA. While the supplement company is responsible for having evidence that their products are safe and the label claims are truthful and not misleading, they do not have to provide that evidence to the FDA before the product is marketed. The FDA generally responds after claims are reported.
3) Employs advanced delivery systems to enhance bioavailability and absorption—and these systems are tested to confirm their nutrient delivery advantages. Probiotics, for instance, are killed in the stomach acid, therefore need to be encapsulated to bypass that area of the GI tract and release in the lower intestines and colon where they live. Yet, I’ve seen innumerable formulations lack this delivery method, meaning those good bacteria are just being killed when they reach your stomach bile (which is acidic in order to kill bacteria!).
4) Conducts additional quality control testing on finished products outside of manufacturing tests on EVERY batch. Here is an excellent example of why this is so important:
In Feb, 2015, New York’s Attorney General demanded that GNC, Target, and Walgreen’s stop selling herbal supplements that do not contain herbs. In March of 2015, GNC agreed to boost quality control and testing of herbal supplements. On Oct. 23, 2015, the Attorney General for Oregon brought suit against GNC alleging that it knowingly sold products containing an “amphetamine-like” substance not approved for diet pills in the U.S.
5) Ongoing proof of product performance demonstrated by scientific publications, peer-reviewed journals and other third-party research. Many companies make wild claims about their products but feel no need to back up their claims. If they claim their products are pure, ask how many quality control tests they run on their products. If they claim their products work, ask for proof. Ask for clinical studies that have been done with people, not with animals, cell culture, or test tubes, that have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and that have been done with their product, not studies done with another product.
In a virtually unregulated supplement industry, it’s up to us to do our own research. I recommend consulting with a health practitioner who is well-versed in the supplement industry standards and research (not the clerk at the health food store) before taking any supplements.I recommend consulting with a health practitioner who is well-versed in the supplement industry standards and research (not the clerk at the health food store) before taking any supplements.
Does all this have your head spinning? To be honest, it had my head spinning, too - even with three degrees in nutrition. I’ve researched the supplement industry from top to bottom and invested years of my professional career finding truth in today’s marketplace. If you want to learn more about the manufacturer I use, you can find them here.
Have more questions about your supplemental or nutritional needs? I’d be happy to help! You can contact me here.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Do not use the information provided in this document for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing medication or other treatment. Always speak with your physician or other healthcare professional before taking any medication or nutritional, herbal or homeopathic supplement, or using any treatment for a health problem.