77% of Americans consume dietary supplements, according to a recent survey conducted by the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), a trade association that represents the dietary supplement industry (1).
Of the various supplement categories, multivitamins are the most common supplement consumed, with 58% of Americans reporting using a multivitamin on a daily basis.
While supplement usage is at an all time high, so are the number of options available to consumers. In order to get attention in a crowded marketplace, supplement companies innovate creative ways to position their products to get your attention.
Consequently, a lot of products are mostly driven by marketing, rather than effectiveness.
To better equip you to navigate the options in your health journey, we break down some common multivitamin myths.
Many multivitamins are simply that - vitamins.
Vitamins are classified as essential because they are required for your body to perform thousands of functions in the human body, but are not naturally created within the body. In other words, they need to be consumed in order for your body to function optimally.
Often overlooked in many supplement formulas are the inclusion of other essential and helpful ingredients like minerals, antioxidants and flavonoids.
Like vitamins, your body needs minerals for thousands of various functions within your body, but is unable to create them independently.
By omitting these additional nutrients, supplement makers are able to produce products that are cost-effective, but fall short on providing a comprehensive blend of micronutrients that would provide a more well-rounded product to its consumer.
When shopping for a multi-vitamin, it would be prudent to evaluate how comprehensive their multi-vitamin formula is when determining the value of the product. A vitamin-only product may be less expensive than a more comprehensive formula, but may result in a less comprehensive benefit to your health.
Aside from creating a more cost-effective product, companies often make vitamin-only formulas so they can get everything into a single tablet or capsule.
There is a correlation between the number of capsules that need to be swallowed and compliance with taking vitamins. The more capsules required, the less likely someone will use the product regularly.
That is why a single daily capsule or tablet is appealing to so many.
Unfortunately, many of these formulas only provide the bare minimum and are hardly sufficient to provide well-rounded micronutrient support.
Many of these formulas focus on providing the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) or the dietary reference intake (DRI). These are guidelines established by governing bodies in the US to avoid health issues that result from micronutrient deficiency.
While these levels may be adequate to avoid particular health concerns, that does not mean that these are ideal doses for optimal health.
It may be convenient to only have to take your supplement one time during the day, but your body benefits from receiving certain micronutrients throughout the day.
For example, water-soluble nutrients like B vitamins, are used by the cell and then discarded from the body. The cells only receive the next supply of B vitamins the next time you consume them from a supplement or food source.
This is the same reason why you do not eat all of your daily meals in one sitting. You break them up throughout the day (for the typical American, 3-5 times throughout the day) to provide the body with a sustained source of macro and micronutrients.
Gender Specific Formulas
There is no doubt that different bodies need different nutrients to thrive. Someone who is anemic needs more iron than someone who is not.
However, when it comes to one’s gender, there is little difference in micronutrient requirements between the typical male and female.
While there are unique health needs for both genders, the body still requires the same essential vitamins and minerals.
In an effort to sell more products, many supplement companies will create unique blends and then label them specifically for Men, Women or Over 50. The manufacturer is hoping you will identify with that particular label and buy it without discerning the formula any further.
If you were to look more closely at the unique formulas, you will find that they typically fall short on their marketed purpose.
The typical men’s multinutrient formula, they may list benefits for more generic health benefits like heart of brain health. You can see very quickly that this is merely marketing because women also have hearts and brains that require the same micronutrients as men.
Some formulas may be formulated for specific gender health concerns. For example, a men’s formula might contain nutrients that are known to benefit prostate health. The problem with these formulas is that not every male needs support for their prostate, and if they did, the doses provided in these formulas are typically insufficient in providing an effective dose to support that need.
For specific health concerns, most consumers will require more targeted formulations to address those particular needs while their micronutrient requirements remain the same regardless of gender.
Be careful to not spend more money for something you do not need, or is not formulated at an effective level to address your unique health concerns.
While gummy formulas are helpful for those who are unable to swallow capsules or tablets, these formulas come with a cost.
These formulas often contain added sugars, typically in the form of glucose or corn syrup and in some cases, contain added flavors or colors (both artificial and natural) to make the product more appealing.
These additional ingredients are added to make the product easier to consume, but oftentimes offset many of the health benefits intended in taking a daily multivitamin.
Like one-a-day formulas, most gummy formulas fall short in supplying optimal doses for key micronutrients, and in many cases, negates essential nutrients all together.
Ironically, to get more optimal doses, it would require you to consume more gummies, which increases the amount of added ingredients. Those 2-3 grams of sugar per serving can start to add up quickly if you wanted to achieve an optimal dose of key micronutrients.
It could be argued that one would be better off to skip the gummies all together and focus on getting your micronutrients through dietary sources (ie: fruits and vegetables) if you are unable to swallow capsules.
Federal regulations require anything that is in a dietary supplement to be listed on the label as an ingredient. Additionally, manufacturers are required to disclose the amount of each individual ingredient supplied in each serving.
This ensures that consumers know exactly what they are consuming and how much of that particular ingredient. It also means that supplement companies can replicate formulas from competitors because their ingredients are listed directly on the label.
This is why many supplement companies use proprietary blends. This is when a manufacturer will include a combination of multiple ingredients that are listed on the label, but the dose for that blend of ingredients is provided for the combination of ingredients rather than providing a listed amount for each individual raw material.
While proprietary formulas are helpful in avoiding copycat products, it is not to the benefit of the consumer. Not only do they not know how much of any given ingredient they are consuming, they also do not know how much of a viable ingredient is in the formula.
Proprietary blends also allow supplement manufacturers to cut corners. In an effort to keep a product cost effective, they may include a desirable raw material in the formula, but include it in a smaller dose. This means that they can list the ingredient on the label, but it may not be supplied with an effective dose for your particular health needs. We call this window dressing.
Utzy Naturals has a firm commitment to never using a proprietary blend in any of our formulas. We believe in label transparency and think that you should know exactly what you are getting when you use one of our products.
Look Past the Hype
While multivitamins are not a replacement for a well-balanced diet, they can still provide consumers significant benefits by filling in the gaps and supplying the body with essential vitamins and minerals.
As manufacturers compete for your attention and dollars, it is important to discern the formula critically and look past the hype on the packaging.
Here are some indicators of a quality multinutrient formula:
Does it contain more than just vitamins?
Are the vitamins in the formula USP Verified ingredients? USP is the United States Pharmacopia and they are the standard for potency and purity.
Are the B vitamins active forms, specifically the folate and B12? Look for 5-Methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF) and Methylcobalamin.
Does the formula contain minerals? If so, are they chelated minerals? This ensures optimal absorption.
If there are any additional ingredients, are they a proprietary blend or is there a label claim for each individual ingredient?