Does a good multivitamin supplement really exist?
Short answer: no. There are various problems with multivitamin supplements.
However, in this article we will lay out solutions to overcome these problems, and explain the best way to take a multivitamin supplement.
We will also mention some high-quality multivitamin brands. Note: we are not sponsored by any brand we recommend. That way, we remain impartial and provide you with the best advice.
In fact, this is how we take our multivitamins.
Why a good multivitamin does not exist
There are various problems with multivitamin supplements. The biggest ones are the following:
1. Insufficient doses
Most multivitamins contain insufficient doses of vitamins and minerals.
For example, a multivitamin contains 80 mg of magnesium, while an optimal dose is 400 to 500 mg of magnesium per day.
Or they contain 50 mg of calcium, while you need around 1000 mg of calcium per day.
Another example is vitamin D, which is often found in the range of 200 to 400 units in multivitamins, while you would need at least 4000 units per day.
2. Wrong forms
Multivitamins often contain the wrong forms of vitamins and minerals.
Take “vitamin E” for example.
Almost all multivitamins contain only alpha-tocopherol, while in nature there are 8 different forms of vitamin E (beta-tocopherol, gamma-tocopherol, alpha-tocotrienol, beta-tocotrienol, and so on). Most supplements do not contain these other forms.
Another example is magnesium.
In most cases, supplements contain magnesium oxide, while ideally you would take magnesium malate. Magnesium malate is better absorbed, causes less gastrointestinal irritation (since magnesium oxide is used as a laxative) and malate has been shown to extend lifespan (R).
Another example is selenium, which is often found in the form of selenium methionine in supplements. However, selenium yeast is preferable given it contains various forms of selenium, which are more active or better absorbed.
3. Synthetic vitamins
Many multivitamins contain “synthetic” versions of vitamins.
For example, they contain synthetic vitamin E (DL-alpha-tocopherol), instead of natural vitamin E (D-alpha-tocopherol). Studies suggest that natural versions of vitamin E are preferable over synthetic ones (R,R,R).
4. Wrong combinations
Many multivitamins contain wrong combinations. For example, they contain too much zinc versus copper. This is not good, given zinc inhibits the absorption of copper.
Even though multivitamins are meant to be complete, many of them do not include other important substances like phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylserine and omega-3 fatty acids.
Various supplements are low-quality. There may be contamination by other chemicals, often left-over from the chemical production process. They may contain lower doses of vitamins and ingredients as stated on the label, or they have processed the vitamins and minerals in such a way that they are less absorbable by the gut.
How to take multivitamins properly
We are both for and against multivitamins.
We are for multivitamins, given that even if you eat healthily, you still need supplements (as we explain here). Many governments claim that a healthy diet is sufficient to get all nutrients, but we disagree.
One reason is that governments base themselves on outdated studies (sometimes performed more than 60 years ago) to “determine” the minimum amount you need in order not to get sick very quickly (e.g., after a few weeks).
These minimum amounts are what you need in order to avoid serious side effects (deficiency symptoms) after a short while; these are not the optimal amounts you need for a long, healthy life. We explain more here.
The solution is to take a multivitamin in combination with specific “bulk ingredients” and specific foods that are high in specific nutrients.
The multivitamin covers some basic micronutrients, especially micronutrients of which the levels found in multivitamins are sufficient, like molybdenum, manganese, chromium, copper and iron.
Good brands of such multivitamins are Jarrow, Douglas Labs, Solgar, Doctor’s Best, Thorne, Natural Factors, and NOW Foods (not sponsored). Large drug stores, like CVS (in the US) or Boots (in the UK) also often contain good household brands. You can also ask your pharmacist or doctor to find a high-quality multivitamin supplement.
However, almost all multivitamins contain too little “bulk ingredients”.
These are the ingredients of which you need to take more of compared to what you find in a supplement or to what most governments recommend.
You need to take these bulk ingredients in addition to your daily multivitamin.
Important bulk ingredients:
- Magnesium: Around 2000 mg of magnesium malate powder per day, which contains about 300 mg of pure magnesium. Buy a small weighing scale that is accurate to 10 mg (0.01 g) which can be found online and cost around $20.
- Calcium: 500 mg twice daily. Do not take more than 1000 mg of calcium in one go, given this can cause a too high calcium peak in the blood which could lead to calcification of the arteries. Do not combine calcium with iron, given calcium inhibits the absorption of iron. The form of calcium is less important. However, we prefer calcium carbonate and calcium gluconate above calcium citrate and calcium lactate.
- Vitamin D: 4000 to 5000 IU of vitamin D per day in the form of vitamin D3 (not vitamin D2). Most supplements contain ten times less.
- Iodine: Around 1000 ug (micrograms) of iodine per day. This is about 8 times more than what most governments advise (around 150 ug per day). It’s important that the supplement contains iodine and iodide (not only iodine). Examples are Iodoral pills (you would need to cut them up) or droplets (not sponsored).
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Around 1500 mg per day. Make sure they are low TOTOX (low oxidation). Most omega-3 fatty acids are too oxidized. Good brands (not sponsored) are Nordic Naturals and Omega3Innovations (the latter specifically sells very low TOTOX omega-3).
- Phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylserine: These are important lipids necessary for brain function. A good brand is Jarrow, NOW Foods, Solgar, Natural Factors (not sponsored).
- Vitamin B complex: A vitamin B complex that contains a few times the daily recommended dose. A vitamin B complex contains all B vitamins, including vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12 and others. Make sure that the amount of vitamin B6 is not more than 25-50 mg, given too much vitamin B6 could cause neuropathy (nerve damage) in the long term.
Why you need more than a multivitamin
Taking a good, high-quality multivitamin along with bulk ingredients like magnesium, calcium, vitamin D, and iodine is a good start.
However, some micronutrients are best taken via food, not via a supplement.
For example, take vitamin E. As we mentioned before, most vitamin supplements contain synthetic vitamin E. And even if they contain natural vitamin E, it’s mostly only the alpha-tocopherol form, not the 7 other forms of vitamin E that exist in nature.
Therefore, it’s best to take vitamin E via natural foods. There are 3 foods which are high in vitamin E: sunflower seeds, almonds and hazelnuts. So ideally, you should eat at least two handfuls of these nuts and seeds on a daily basis.
Other foods “high” in vitamin E are green leafy vegetables and avocado, but these foods already contain significantly less vitamin E than almonds, sunflower seeds and hazelnuts. Most people in the west are probably deficient in natural vitamin E for this reason.
Some studies measuring vitamin E in the blood claim that people have enough vitamin E. However, measuring vitamin E levels in the blood is a very bad way to track down vitamin E deficiencies. If scientists assess vitamin E levels by simply basing themselves on the vitamin E content in foods that people consume, we see that almost 90 percent of people don’t consume enough vitamin E!
Selenium is another micronutrient we recommend consuming via foods and not supplements. You can eat one or maximum two Brazil nuts per day. Brazil nuts contain very high levels of selenium. These nuts contain different forms of selenium, while most supplements contain selenium methionine, which is not an ideal form of selenium.
Regarding omega-3 fatty acids, we recommend eating fatty fish such as salmon, herring anchovy, and mackerel at least 3 to 4 times per week in addition to your daily high-quality, low TOTOX omega-3 supplement.
Fatty fish contains high-quality, fresh omega-3 fatty acids, besides other important healthy fats, like furan fatty acids.
We also recommend eating fish roe several times per week, like lumpfish roe, herring roe and salmon roe. These contain phospholipid omega-3 fatty acids, which are superior to normal triglyceride omega-3 fatty acids, especially with regards to brain health.
Do I need a blood test to measure deficiencies?
Some people think they can base themselves on blood tests to see if they are deficient in specific vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients.
However, we are not proponents of this approach. Most blood tests are inaccurate to measure deficiencies. Blood levels of vitamins and minerals are often shown as “normal”, while a person can still be deficient, as we explain here.
Given that it’s difficult to accurately trace deficiencies via blood and other tests, we recommend making sure you take in enough micronutrients via supplements and foods. That’s the only way to be sure (as long as you are not suffering from a malabsorption problem).
In conclusion, food supplements and multivitamins are very complex. Many doctors, self-proclaimed experts and governments are not properly trained in this, so many misconceptions continue circulating.
The most common misconception is that you “don’t need supplements when you eat healthy”.
Another problem is that many health experts and governments underestimate the importance of micronutrients. Further compounding the issue is that governments base themselves on outdated, short-term and ill-conducted studies to assess the “daily requirements”.
We can’t blame these experts entirely, given that measuring health and disease is very difficult with the crude methods science provides.
However, we believe that micronutrients are very important for optimal health. We also believe that many people in the west are deficient in various micronutrients (especially magnesium, iodine, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids), and that this contributes to many problems and complaints (e.g., brain fog, fatigue, muscle aches, sleep problems, anxiety, depression, etc.) and diseases (e.g., heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, etc).
After all, the classic definition of a vitamin is that it’s an essential element that the body needs to properly function and of which a shortage will lead to serious health problems and eventually death.
In this day and age, it should not be that many people are deficient in important micronutrients, preventing them from living a healthy optimal life.
Taking all required micronutrients is difficult, but it’s possible, as we outlined in this article.
It’s also important to know that there are health supplements and longevity supplements.
Health supplements are the micronutrients we discussed in this article, like iodine, calcium, B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and so on. Deficiencies in these can shorten lifespan.
However, taking extra health supplements (if you are not deficient) will not really extend lifespan. For this, one needs longevity supplements.
These are supplements like fisetin, glucosamine, microdosed lithium, and alpha-ketoglutarate. These supplements act on basic aging mechanisms and can extend lifespan.
Learn more about longevity supplements here.