Is your multivitamin a tough pill to swallow?
We live in a world in which getting the right nutrients in the right amounts from our diet is not always easy to do. Even if you eat healthfully, exercise regularly, and lead a low-stress lifestyle, poor quality soil, long-distance shipping of our produce, and processing of our food, may mean that you’re not getting all you need. Taking a daily multivitamin is a good step to ensuring complete nutrition. But, just because you religiously swallow that impossibly large pill once a day does not mean you’re getting all of the nutrients you see on the label. In fact, if you purchase a poor quality supplement, all you may end up with is expensive urine! Even worse, your supplement may actually contribute to ill-health.
This month’s newsletter focuses on some important factors in selecting a multivitamin.
Look at the label:
· Quality testing:
Make sure the supplements you use are tested for content (they should contain the nutrients reported on the label in the amount indicated), potency, and especially purity. The multivitamin you choose should be guaranteed to be free of pesticides, heavy metals, harmful microorganisms (such as mold and bacteria) and other toxins.
The FDA has initiated the GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) standard for supplements. Products bearing this symbol can guarantee that what’s on the label is in the bottle and that the product contains no contaminants. Unfortunately, there is, as yet, no enforcement of GMP standards.
The Unites States Pharmacopea (USP) also sets standards for purity, potency, dissolution, and disintegration for pharmaceuticals and supplements.
The GMP or USP designation on a supplement may serve as an assurance of the quality of your supplement.
Many physicians and nutritionists rely on “professional brand products” which have been independently tested for efficacy and purity and can be relied upon for superior quality.
· Exact amounts:
The label on your multivitamin should disclose each of the ingredients used in exact amounts. It is important to know how much you’re getting of each nutrient and whether it meets or surpasses the recommended daily allowance (RDA).
Read the label carefully to insure that your supplement does not contain any common allergens such as corn, eggs, preservatives, soy, sugar, or wheat to which many individuals are sensitive. As an example, many companies use vitamins and enzymes in a base of lactose which is a common allergen.
· Binders and fillers:
Many manufacturers use common, inexpensive ingredients as binders and fillers. As a general rule, you should avoid supplements which contain hydrogenated oils, sugar, or food coloring.
Your multivitamin should have an expiration date since vitamins and minerals degrade over time. Avoid buying bulk bottles which you’re unlikely to take before the expiration date. Also, avoid storing your multivitamin in the bathroom (or any other location exposed to high temperatures or humidity).
Bioavailability refers to how effectively your supplement dissolves and is incorporated into your cells. It takes into account the time it takes for a supplement to go from your mouth through the target cell membrane. No matter how expensive your multivitamin is, if it doesn’t break apart in your digestive tract, it’s worthless. Several factors affect bioavailability:
· Form is important:
Tablets may be convenient but they are often difficult to digest. A test of “dissolution time” is to place your multivitamin in about half a cup of vinegar heated to body temperature (about 99F) and stir the liquid every two to three minutes. This is designed to simulate the environment in the human stomach. The tablet should be almost completely dissolved within 30 to 45 minutes. (This test doesn’t work for time-released or chewable supplements).
Capsules are easier to digest than tablets and are an appropriate form for most individuals.
Those with impaired digestion (for example patients suffering from digestive disorders or low stomach acid) often do best with liquid or powdered supplements. Note that the elderly often have low stomach acid and would do best with liquid supplements.
· The “One a day”:
Your body has a maximum threshold for absorption of many nutrients. Because of this, in general, it is best to take supplements in divided dose throughout the day, as opposed to the “one a day”, which, although convenient, means that many of the nutrients on the label will be poorly absorbed by the body.
Chelation is a factor that affects the bioavailability of some nutrients (especially minerals). This refers to binding of nutrients to “carrier molecules” which deliver the nutrient to its destination more efficiently. One commonly known example is that of calcium. Most multivitamins use calcium in the form of calcium carbonate. Calcium bound to citrate is absorbed much more effectively and is more appropriate for those with absorption problems or sensitive digestive tracts and those who are using the supplement to treat an existing health condition (as opposed to preventatively).
Some vitamins, minerals, nutritional supplements, and herbs do have contraindications and limitations on safety. In fact, common nutrients in a multivitamin can be dangerous in large amounts. Examples are chromium, selenium, iron, copper, and Vitamin A.
· If you’re taking other medications or have a health condition:
Some nutrients interact adversely with common medications. You should consult with your physician to determine whether there may be an adverse interaction between the medications you take and your supplements.
In addition, some common medical conditions may affect your requirement for, and the safety of certain nutrients. If you have a medical condition, you should consult with a physician before taking a supplement.
· Pregnancy and nursing:
Pregnancy and nursing increase your requirement for some nutrients. In addition, some nutrients which pass through the placenta or breastmilk can be dangerous to the fetus or young infant. Pregnant and nursing women should not take supplements without checking in with their physician.
Children and adolescents need lower dosages of supplements. Never assume that you know the correct dosage needed since, as previously mentioned, certain nutrients can be dangerous at high amounts
Most importantly, remember that a multivitamin can never replace nutritious eating and a healthy lifestyle. Nature provides the best “packages” for efficient and safe delivery of nutrients. Consume a wide variety of nutrient-dense, fresh foods and use your multivitamin as an insurance policy.