Women's Health : The New World of Multis

By Vera Tweed
Does your multivitamin measure up? The essential guide to buying this multitasking supplement.

Using a multi is a good insurance policy, says Ronald Hoffman, MD, a wellness-oriented integrative physician in private practice in New York. Fortunately, this type of policy, unlike those sold by health insurance companies, is easier than ever to obtain.

No longer confined to pills, todays multis also come in liquids and powders, and ingredients have evolved beyond specific vitamins and minerals. Many multivitamin products contain concentrated whole foods, antioxidant fruit blends, superfoods such as spirulina, and probiotics and/or digestive enzymes to mimic nature and enhance absorption of nutrients. Some supplements are made with raw food ingredients; other options include vegetarian, kosher, organic, or gluten free. There are even effervescent powders.

Which one should you choose? That depends upon your diet and goals. If youre striving for optimum health, youll be better served by higher-quality products with a more comprehensive range of nutrients in quantities shown to enhance overall well-being, says Alicia Stanton, MD, who specializes in preventive health and hormone balance in Glastonbury, Conn.

Multis contain essential vitamins and minerals, meaning those our bodies cant produce and must obtain from food or supplements. To remain in optimum health, have ample energy, and withstand the stresses of daily life, Hoffman and Stanton suggest looking for multis with these approximate quantities of key vitamins and minerals:

Vitamin A: up to 5,000 IU, with up to 15,000 IU of mixed carotenoids. Carotenoids are antioxidants that give yellow and orange plants their vibrant color, and our bodies use them to make vitamin A. Too much vitamin A can be toxic, but carotenoids dont carry the same liability. On the other hand, some people have difficulty converting carotenoids to vitamin A, so a combination of both offers the best of both worlds. Sometimes, carotenoids are listed separately on a supplement label, further down on the list.

B Vitamins: While amounts of individual Bs may vary, aim for approximately 50 mg each of vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin or niacinamide), B5 (pantothenic acid), and B6 (pyridoxine); look for 500 mcg of B12. Because they can increase energy levels, Bs are best taken early in the day.

Folic Acid: 400 to 800 mcg. A B vitamin, folic acid is critical for women who may bear children, to prevent birth defects, and for everyone for a healthy heart and mind.

Vitamin C: 500 to 1,000 mg. A stress buffer and antioxidant, vitamin C should be taken in divided doses for best absorption. Take extra in times of stress. Diarrhea is a sign of taking too much, and is corrected by taking less.

Vitamin D: 1,000 to 2,000 IU. Essential for all aspects of health, amounts of vitamin D in multis may not be sufficient and you may need an additional vitamin D supplement.

Vitamin E: 400 IUwith mixed tocopherols. Tocopherols are a family of nutrients, including vitamin E. Getting a combination increases benefits.

Calcium: 500 mg. Adults need 1,000 mg daily, and 1,200 mg daily after age 50, from all sources. Supplements should make up the shortfall in your diet.

Magnesium: 250 to 400 mg. Most people need more magnesium than a multi can provide. For restful sleep, Stanton recommends taking an additional 400 mg of magnesium glycinate or 600 mg of the oxide form before bedtime. If diarrhea occurs, cut back.

Key Trace Mineral
Needed in very small quantities, trace minerals have a significant impact on health. Key ones include 200 mcg of chromium to control blood sugar and cravings; 200 mcg of selenium to support internal antioxidant production; 20 to 40 mg of zinc, an antioxidant required by every cell; 1 to 2 mg copper to support connective tissue production; and 5 mg manganese for connective tissue and antioxidant production.

How Many Pills?
One serving of a multi may be one to six pills (or a packet) per day. The dose may also contain fish oil. Otherwise, approximately 3 g of fish oil is the usual recommended amount. The best type for you depends on your diet, lifestyle, and state of health. If in doubt, check with a health professional who specializes in nutrition. Generally, the more you spread the nutrients out over the course of the day, the better your absorption of nutrients.

Food-based Formulations
If you compare the nutritional content of food-based products with more traditional multi pills, you might see smaller amounts of key vitamins, such as Bs and C, in some food-based versions. Foods contain a very broad range of nutrients, and because these types of formulations aim to mirror nature, they provide a wide variety of bioavailable ingredients to support well-being. The important thing is to find what works best for you.
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