Do Multivitamins Actually Work? The Science Says Yes
We all have a lot on our figurative plates right now, which means that we might not always be able to fill our literal plates with the variety of colors and nutrients we need for optimal health.
With so much change in our lives from day to day, consistency in all forms can be hard to come by—and that's especially true for our diets. In fact, research shows that many of us aren't consuming the recommended daily amount of multiple important (actually essential) vitamins and minerals1.
And at a time when maintaining a solid foundation of health feels more important than ever, these nutritional shortcomings come at a price, potentially affecting our health2 in a multitude of ways.
That's where a daily multivitamin comes in. Despite some of the back-and-forth out there about the value of multivitamins, the science is clear: For most Americans, supplementation is necessary3 if they want to consistently achieve the recommended amount of necessary micronutrients.
With proven effectiveness at closing the nutrient gaps4 our diets inevitably leave, a quality and complete multivitamin/mineral supplement (aka multi) acts as an all-important safety net, ensuring we have a regular supply of the nutrients we need most on a daily basis. This way, no matter what we have for breakfast, what time our workday ends, or whatever else life throws our way, our body has the tools necessary to thrive.
What is the purpose of a multivitamin?
“Multivitamins are multitaskers when it comes to our health,” says Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, mbg's in-house dietitian and director of scientific affairs. Their simple intention: "to help us mind the gaps from our diet that national stats clearly and repeatedly demonstrate," she says. Vitamins A, D, E, and K; calcium; magnesium; and potassium1 (to name a few), for example, have all been identified as significant nutrient gaps the average American faces when relying on diet alone.
A multivitamin supplement helps by directly contributing to sufficiency in these and other key micronutrients. In doing so, "a high-quality and comprehensive multivitamin/mineral supplement supports a variety of structures and functions in our body, like our bones, immune system, eyes and vision, cellular energy, and more, because the array of vitamins and minerals (and unique botanical ingredients, if included) all play critical roles in cells, tissues, and organs throughout our beautifully complex bodies,"* Ferira continues.
What's in a quality multivitamin—and how to spot one.
Sad but true: Not every multivitamin you see on store shelves (or online) will support your body in the wonderful ways Ferira just described. Every product out there contains a different blend of vitamins and minerals (and different amounts of them), so you have to find a quality multivitamin in order to experience the benefits you're looking for.*
One key factor to look for is the number of vitamins and minerals a product contains. You see, many actually only contain a fraction of the array they should, says Ferira, who believes no supplement providing fewer than 20 nutrients should even be called a multi.
Instead, she says, a true multi should contain a comprehensive array of essential water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins, macrominerals, and microminerals at clinically relevant doses for daily nutritional support.* This means that it not only checks all of the boxes of the nutrients you need but provides them in truly beneficial amounts.
- vitamin A
- all eight B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, B6, biotin, folate, and B12)
- vitamin C
- vitamin D3
- vitamin E
- vitamins K1 and K2
- trace minerals (boron, silica)
In Ferira's eyes, a multi also earns bonus points if it contains vitamins and minerals in gentle, bioavailable, bioactive, and premium formats (think chelated minerals and methylated B vitamins), and if it features specialized botanical phytonutrients or bioactives like carotenoids (e.g., beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, etc.), glutathione, resveratrol, or CoQ10. A clean, vegan formula with all of these features is the ultimate.
Look out for these multivitamin red flags.
While multivitamins from reputable brands are considered safe and don't pose a risk of any significant side effects or other concerns, there are a few important considerations to keep in mind when choosing and taking one.
In addition to missing nutrients and nutritionally meager doses (i.e., "sprinkling," as Ferira calls it), she also recommends looking out for non-premium forms of ingredients and long lists of "other ingredients," which usually means a formula contains unhelpful (or cheap) additives. Ferira shares this intel: "Tablet multis typically have longer excipient lists than a vegan capsule, for example."
A few undesirable additives to look out for, according to dietitian Brittnee Cannon, R.D.? Artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners, and common allergens, including anything derived from wheat, soy, dairy, eggs, tree nuts, or peanuts.
You might also want to think twice about grabbing that gummy multivitamin, too. Ferira says they're a common culprit of incomplete formulas. "Not only are gummy ingredients less stable and limited by the fact that they're in a heated confection, but they are also limited by space; you can only fit so much of the nutrients, as the bulk of the gummy is sugar and gelatin or pectin," she explains. And that's all in addition to the extra calories, sugars, and other excipients gummy multis come with.
Ferira concludes, "Listen, I think well-designed gummies can be useful for certain complexes and singular nutrients or botanicals, but for a multi, they're genuinely lacking. If you can swallow a capsule/tablet/softgel multivitamin, please do."
The potential benefits of multivitamins.
Good news, folks: When you find a quality multivitamin that appropriately fits your needs, it does exactly what it is meant to do by supporting your overall nutrient intake and reducing the prevalence of nutrient inadequacies4.*
And just in case that's not convincing enough for you, know this: Nutrient gaps are associated with shorter sleep5, an impaired immune system6, low mood, suboptimal bone health, poor mitochondrial function2, and DNA damage7, among other things.
By closing these gaps, we support our body's ability to function optimally. In fact, research suggests that doing so with the help of a multivitamin can support cognition8 and promote heart health, immune health, vision, and metabolic function8.*
And in the case of a premium multivitamin with the incremental benefits of botanicals and targeted bioactives, then, your daily nutritional support just got upgraded further to a variety of cellular functions, longevity, and overall well-being.*
The bottom line.
In an age when meeting our nutritional needs through food alone feels like a massive undertaking (especially if we want to maintain a relationship with nourishment that's balanced and joyous), taking a quality multivitamin is a simple but effective way to achieve healthy levels of the variety of micronutrients and phytonutrients our body needs to thrive.*
Josey Murray is a freelance writer focused on inclusive wellness, joyful movement, mental health, and the like. A graduate of Wellesley College, where she studied English and Creative Writing, her work appears in Women’s Health, Cook & Culture, and more. By expressing her own vulnerability, she writes with warmth and empathy to help readers find self-compassion and true wellness that’s sustainable for body, mind, and planet.