The science is out on the benefits of multivitamins, but what we know for sure is that many of us are magnesium, zinc, and iron deficient.
The First Modern Multivitamin
Americans have been taking multivitamins since the 1940s, when American chemist Carl Rehnborg developed a multivitamin supplement called Nutrilite, which eventually was bought by Amway.
Years ago, I was fortunate enough to visit the original Nutrilite farm as a consultant and learned of Carl’s original entrepreneurial vision.
With a growing number of national? nutritional deficiencies in mind, Carl decided to grow his own organic fruits and vegetables (mostly alfalfa) and dry and ground them into pill form. He sold the nutritionally dense capsules door-to-door as the world’s first modern multinutrient 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 Nutrilite whole-food ingredients into high-potency synthetic vitamins. The final product 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 finding their way to pharmacy and grocery store shelves in the 70s.
After my visit, I strongly encouraged 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 doses are often so high that it makes you wonder who needs food when you can take a multivitamin-mineral (MVM) supplement with 2000% of the recommended daily allowance.
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 farmers to use mineral-rich fertilizers. In some cases, these fertilizers have been linked to mineral toxicity in humans (due to the overuse of fertilizers).2 These mineral deficiencies transfer to our food and are linked to a host of health concerns, including developmental issues in children.3
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Should You Take a Mineral Supplement Without the Vitamins?
In a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, on children’s diets, standard food intake was sufficient enough to provide the study subjects with all the vitamins they needed, but they were still deficient in minerals.4
The Women’s Health Initiative was an eight-year study that evaluated women on MVMs. This research effort, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found convincing evidence that multivitamin use has little or no influence on the risk of common cancers, cardiovascular disease, or total mortality in postmenopausal women.5 In another study of men who 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 minerals may improve a vast array of health factors and reduce several disease risks with very little safety concern.18 It’s hard to say whether the benefits discussed are from vitamin or mineral deficiencies.
Can you Overdose on Vitamins and Minerals?
In another study comparing nutrition from food and 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 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 takeaway 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 Real
While the science is still out on the benefits of multivitamins, mineral deficiencies are a global issue and a serious cause of health concerns worldwide, which does warrant the case for baseline supplementation.
Mineral malnutrition is prevalent around the world. It’s estimated that up to two-thirds of the world’s population might be at risk for deficiency in one or more essential mineral elements. 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
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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.
The Mineral Facts
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 And the stats on mineral deficiencies around the globe can be alarming.
Iron deficiency is the world’s most prevalent mineral deficiency. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that 32.8% of women in the U.S. Army were iron deficient.13
Despite recent impressive strides in reducing global iodine deficiency, 30% of the world’s population still lives 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 commonly deficient in both developed and under-developed countries. According to the World Health Organization, more than 17% of the global population is deficient in zinc.17
And more than half of the American population doesn’t get enough magnesium, which is one of the most crucial minerals for the human body.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 Studies also suggest that magnesium deficiencies are associated with potassium deficiencies, which are linked to blood pressure and cardiovascular concerns.
Optimizing Your Diet and Supplement Intake
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. B12 is another common deficiency mostly seen in vegetarians, elderly, and those with weak digestion or on medications.
Vitamin D3 is a critical vitamin that we all need to supplement with, especially during winter months.
And you can always take some vitamin C to boost your immunity.
The rest of your vitamins can easily be attained by eating a healthy and balanced diet rich in fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds.
Mineral supplementation should be addressed to avoid deficiency-related health concerns. I suggest taking a multimineral supplement called LifeSpa Essential Minerals, which delivers the highest quality and best absorption rates of any mineral company willing to publish its data.
If you think you may be mineral deficient, consider taking one Essential Mineral cap three times a day for six weeks. For a maintenance dose, take one Essential Mineral cap once every two to three days with your meals.