Americans have been taking multivitamins since the 1940s, when American chemist Carl Rehnborg developed a multivitamin supplement called Nutrilite, which eventually was bought out by Amway.
Years ago, I was fortunate enough to visit the original Nutrilite farm as a consultant and became aware of Carl’s original entrepreneurial vision.
With the growing number of nutritional deficiencies in mind, Carl grew his own organic fruits and vegetables (mostly alfalfa), dried and ground them into pill form, and sold the nutritionally-dense food concentrates door-to-door as the world’s first multi-nutrient supplement.
The synthetic multivitamin supplements that we see on retail shelves today are a far cry from Carl’s original product. In the 1970s, Amway took control of Nutrilite, and they reformulated the Nutrilite whole-food concentrate ingredients into high-potency synthetic vitamins. The final products contained only a small amount of Carl’s original concentrates, mostly for marketing purposes. With the stroke of a pen, this amazing nutritional supplement that was decades ahead of its time fell in line with the many other trendy multivitamin supplements.
After my visit, I strongly encouraged the Amway and Nutrilite executives to return to Carl’s original formula and move away from synthetic vitamins. I’m pretty sure they all thought I was crazy!
Today, the synthetic multivitamin industry is enormous—bringing in $37 billion annually with more than one-third of Americans taking them, but do they actually work? (1) Let’s look at the science.
Do Multivitamins Work?
Commonly, multivitamin formulas include minerals, providing a one-a-day supplement to supply the body with all of its daily nutritional needs. In fact, the dosages are often so high that it makes you wonder… Who needs food when you can take a multi-vitamin-mineral (MVM) supplement with 2000% of the recommended daily allowance?
Whole foods are not deficient in vitamins in the way that our soils are deficient in minerals, so do we really need multivitamins? Oranges, for example, do not lack vitamin C, and green leafy veggies still supply ample amounts of B vitamins. Minerals, on the other hand, are a concern. Soils have been deficient in minerals for decades, and trace mineral deficiencies are quite common in America. In fact, there is a well-documented global trace mineral deficiency in farming soil that requires mineral-rich fertilizers that are linked to widespread mineral deficiencies and in some cases mineral toxicity (due to the overuse of fertilizers) in humans. (2) These mineral deficiencies are linked to a host of health concerns, including developmental issues in children. (3)
If we need a “multi” supplement, should it be a mineral supplement without the multivitamins?
In one study with children, their food intake was sufficient enough to provide them with all the vitamins they needed, but they were still found to be deficient in minerals. (4)
In another study comparing nutrition from food and nutrition from multi-vitamin-mineral supplements, more than 75% of the population tested received their nutritional needs from food, and the 25% that did not received an 8% nutritional improvement from the MVM supplement. However, in the same study, there was a 10-61% increased risk of overdosing on vitamins and minerals. (4)
The risk of overdosing from MVM supplements has led many scientists to investigate the potential risks from taking too many vitamins and minerals in supplement form. Hundreds of studies have investigated the potential harm of MVMs, and while only a few studies have linked health risks to MVMs, the general consensus is that they do not cause harm, but provide little, if any, benefit.
The Women’s Health Initiative 8-year study that evaluated women on MVMs found convincing evidence that multivitamin use has little or no influence on the risk of common cancers, CVD, or total mortality in postmenopausal women. In other words, they did not harm, but provided no significant benefit. (5) That said, in another study with men that took MVMs for more than 20 years, researchers saw a lower risk in major cardiovascular events—but this lowered risk was not seen in men using MVMs for less than 12 years. (6) This may suggest that long-term MVM users had healthier lifestyles in general.
In other studies, there was no improvement seen in cognitive function or the ability to fight infections with MVM users. (7,8)
While there is no uniform agreement about the benefit of MVMs, on the positive side, there are recent studies that provided evidence that MVMs containing 10 or more vitamins and/or minerals may improve a vast array of health factors and reduce several disease risks with very little safety concerns. (18) It’s hard to say whether the benefits discussed are from vitamin or mineral deficiencies.
The evidence against vitamin supplementation does not indicate that vitamin support is unnecessary. As I discuss below, there is absolutely a time and place for the effective supplementation of specific vitamins. My take-away here, since the science is inconclusive, is to err on the side of caution. I suggest each vitamin should be taken separately—on an as needed basis. Mineral deficiencies are a global issue and a serious cause of health concerns worldwide, which does warrant the case for baseline supplementation.
Mineral Deficiencies Are Real
Mineral malnutrition is prevalent in both developed and developing countries. It is estimated that up to two-thirds of the world’s population might be at risk for deficiency in one or more essential mineral element. According to the Copenhagen Consensus 2008, mineral deficiencies are considered to be one of the most serious challenges to humankind. (14)
Globally, more than 800 million people are undernourished, while more than 2 billion people have one or more chronic micronutrient deficiencies. In 2011, 3.5 and 1.1 billion people were at risk of calcium and zinc deficiency, respectively, due to inadequate dietary supply. (12)
The mineral elements most commonly lacking in human diets are iron, zinc, iodine, selenium, calcium, magnesium and copper. Supplementation of these minerals could eradicate mineral deficiencies linked to numerous health concerns that affect up to two-thirds of the world’s population. (14)
Other common trace mineral deficiencies include molybdenum, potassium, vanadium and lithium.
While I do not suggest the long-term use of multivitamin supplements, I do highly suggest a small amount of mineral support, specifically with the most common deficient minerals mentioned above. >>> Learn more about LifeSpa’s Essential Minerals
The Mineral Facts
More than half of the American population has an inadequate dietary intake of magnesium, which is one of the most crucial minerals the human body requires, and is considered at-risk for deficiency. (10) Even when nutritional intake of magnesium is high, its absorption is not easy, as it requires numerous supportive nutrients and is blocked by many other foods and nutrients. (11)
Iron deficiency is the world’s most prevalent mineral deficiency. In one study, 32.8 % of women in the military were iron deficient. (13)
Minerals act as key co-factors in the natural detoxification process. Lead poisoning, for example, is exacerbated by diets low in calcium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, and in some cases, copper. (9)
Despite recent impressive strides in reducing global iodine deficiency, 30% of the world’s population still live in areas where there is inadequate access to dietary iodine, putting millions at risk for thyroid toxicity. (15)
Zinc, which is a co-factor for hundreds of chemical reactions in the body, is a common deficiency in both developed and under-developed countries. According to the WHO, more than 17% of the global population is deficient in zinc. (17)
With regards to vitamin supplements, I suggest getting the lion’s share of your vitamins from whole, organic, non-processed and unrefined foods.
Then, situationally, you may want to supplement with a B-Complex vitamin if you are under high stress, or take some vitamin C to boost your immunity.
Vitamin D3 is a critical vitamin that we all need to supplement with, especially during the winter months. >>> Learn more about vitamin D3
B12 is another common deficiency mostly seen in vegetarians, elderly, and those with weak digestion or on medications. >>> Learn more about the best B12 sublingual supplementation
The rest of your vitamins can be easily attained by eating a healthy and balanced diet rich in fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds.
Getting enough minerals is a concern for two-thirds of the world’s population, and should be addressed to avoid deficiency-related health concerns. At LifeSpa, I suggest taking a multi-mineral supplement, called Essential Minerals, which delivers the highest quality and best absorption rates of any mineral company willing to publish its data. >>> Learn more about Albion mineral chelate
If you think you may be mineral deficient, consider taking 1 Essential Mineral cap three times a day for 6 weeks. For a maintenance dose, take 1 Essential Mineral cap once every 2-3 days with your meals.