If you believe you don’t get enough vitamins, you should consider taking multivitamins. Here’s an explanation what they actually are and who should take them.
It’s no secret that the average human being doesn’t get the “necessary” or “recommended” amount of every vitamin and mineral every day. In fact, a typical individual would probably be hard pressed to confidently name the last time their diet consisted of anything nearly rounded enough to supply them an adequate amount of such a diverse group of nutrients.
This is hardly the end of the world of course: most humans can survive on all but trace amounts of most vitamins and minerals (except for some, such as Vitamin C which prevents scurvy). Yet in a civilization that has successfully overcome epidemics such as smallpox and polio, the optimization of an individual’s well being is hardly a task unworthy of pursuit, and a clever solution has surfaced to beat back the tide of inadequate nutrition; the multivitamin.
What are Multivitamins?
A multivitamin (often interchangeable with “mineral supplement”) is defined as “a supplement containing three or more vitamins and minerals” where each does is below the upper tolerable level. These supplements cannot contain drugs, hormones, or herbs, nor can they present the risk of adverse health effects.
Because of these safety regulations, some ingredients are found at lower levels than others. Biotin, which is necessary for the absorption of B-Vitamins, is often only found at 5-30% of RDA because of its extremely high cost (approximately $4,000 per active pound).
Though humans all require the same vitamins and minerals, certain preparations or formulations of multivitamins are geared towards particular sub groups. Generally, these pills (the most common preparation of multivitamin) are meant to be taken once (or less commonly twice) daily.
For example, pre-menopausal women require higher levels of iron that could pose a health risk to a man of the same age. Children and teens often have their own formulations, as do senior citizens. A multivitamin targeted at “eye health” may contain carotenes such as lycopene and lutein. “Heart health” formulations are gaining rapid popularity.
Who should take Multivitamins?
Multivitamins can be a valuable addition to almost anyone’s diet. Pregnant women, in particular, often require additional and specific vitamins and minerals, though they should always first consult with their physician on the particulars (an excess or deficiency of Vitamin A, for example, can cause birth defects).
Multivitamins can help those with allergies or dietary restrictions, and consequently no access to a particular nutrient dense food group, fill in the gaps of their diet. They are often used as a comparatively cheap method of ensuring an at least quasi adherence to baseline vitamin RDA’s.
There are risks involved with taking vitamins. The scientific community is undecided on the issue of children taking multivitamins. Infants, toddlers, and pre-adolescents are particularly susceptible to iron poisoning, and as such should be given a multivitamin with significantly reduced levels of iron and strictly follow the dosage recommendations.
As always, before undertaking a multivitamin regiment, consult your physician to determine if you have any particular needs or the safety in general of such a regiment. If adverse effects develop, stop immediately and return to your physician.