A number of my patients frequently ask me two common questions – “Should I take a multivitamin as I feel exhausted lately?” and “I was travelling abroad and have picked up some multivitamins – are these good for me?”
Let’s try to understand this in greater detail… first off – What is a Multivitamin?
As per its literal meaning, a Multivitamin is a supplement that incorporates more than one vitamin. However, it’s not limited to just vitamins. A multivitamin supplement comprises a range of vital minerals and vitamins that help in correcting various nutritional inadequacies and their related symptoms.
When should one take Multivitamins?
A Multivitamin is necessary in cases where the diet fails to provide sufficient nutrition. In addition, if your blood reports indicate a severe deficiency in multiple nutrients, a multivitamin is recommended. A Multivitamin also proves beneficial when your body needs specific micronutrients to alleviate particular symptoms.
Who should take Multivitamins?
There are additional demographic groups that may require a multivitamin supplement in combination with a diverse range of foods in their diet which includes:
Pregnant Women: When taken during pregnancy, multivitamin intake decreases the likelihood of birth defects in the developing foetus. While numerous studies have been conducted to investigate the impact of multivitamins, due to the presence of numerous vitamins and minerals in a multivitamin supplement, it’s difficult to determine which nutrient is providing the most significant benefits. Folic acid is likely the most critical micronutrient, and doctors often prescribe it separately. Therefore, it’s essential to consult your healthcare provider before starting any multivitamin regimen.
Senior Citizens: Individuals who are 65 years of age or older often exhibit low levels of B vitamins, vitamin D, iron and magnesium. Providing seniors with multivitamin supplements can significantly alleviate their nutritional inadequacies.
Individuals On Dietary Restrictions: Those who follow a gluten-free diet often exhibit low levels of calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, folate, vitamin B12, and vitamin D. Vegans typically have low levels of calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12. Those on a low-carbohydrate diet usually show low levels of calcium, copper, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin E. In these instances, taking a multivitamin can assist in resolving nutritional inadequacies.
People Who Have Undergone Bariatric Surgery: Bariatric surgery involves reducing the size of the stomach, which, in turn, reduces nutrient absorption and can potentially result in nutritional inadequacies. Despite taking a multivitamin supplement, nutrient absorption may still be limited, but it’s still preferable to take the supplement as opposed to not taking it and remaining severely nutritionally deficient.
The above information pertains primarily to individuals with health conditions. Now, let’s consider the general population. Does everyone require a multivitamin? And what potential advantages might it offer?
Multivitamin – A Supplement, Not A Substitute: Although nothing has been definitively proven yet, research suggests that multivitamins may enhance the quality of life, reduce mood swings, and alleviate eye-related complications. What I have observed as a common trend is that individuals tend to view multivitamins as a replacement for a well-balanced diet. However, it’s crucial to note that multivitamins are intended to be a supplement, not a substitute.
Let’s explore the process of selecting a suitable multivitamin for yourself. Although your healthcare professional can provide recommendations, it’s beneficial to understand how to choose one on your own.
- Select a multivitamin that provides nutrients close to your Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamins and minerals. Be cautious of multivitamins that exceed your RDA per day. For eg., (a) To avoid elevated potassium levels that can affect heart rhythm, it is recommended to limit the amount of potassium in a multivitamin to 99 mg; (b) Higher doses of magnesium in the body can lead to stomach issues such as diarrhoea, so it is advised to limit magnesium in your multivitamin to 350 mg. (c) Excess calcium in your multivitamin can increase the risk of kidney stones, and too much total calcium in the body can result in hypercalcemia.
- It is acceptable to choose a multivitamin supplement that only contains vitamins and minerals. However, such products are rare in the market. Typically, multivitamins are packed with additional ingredients that can create an imbalance in the body’s nutrient levels. Therefore, it is advisable to avoid multivitamins that contain excessive and unnecessary additives.
- Do not confuse pill dosage with the serving size mentioned on the package. For instance, a multivitamin pack may state that it contains 300 mg of vitamin C per serving. However, it’s important to note that a serving size does not always equate to one pill. The serving size is determined by the company and may refer to the entire pack containing 300 mg of vitamin C.
- It is common for individuals to have a deficiency in only one or two nutrients, and in such cases, taking a multivitamin may not be the best approach. Instead, it is advisable to choose specific nutritional supplements that target nutrient deficiencies that are lower than the recommended levels.
- It is not recommended to buy multivitamins from other countries for consumption in India because different countries may have different standards and regulations for the manufacturing and labelling of dietary supplements. Additionally, the nutrient needs and dietary habits of people in different countries can also vary, so a multivitamin formulated for another population may not be appropriate for Indian consumers. Furthermore, certain ingredients in foreign-made multivitamins may not be allowed or may be restricted in India due to safety concerns or regulatory requirements. Therefore, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian before choosing a multivitamin supplement and to purchase products from reputable brands and sources in India that comply with local regulations and standards.
Important Note: Self-medication should be avoided. While some people may benefit from taking a multivitamin, it is not a necessity for everyone.