Not All Multivitamins Are Created Equal — How To Make Sure Yours Has Benefits*
Whether you haven't taken a multivitamin since choking down that chalky chewable dinosaur back in the day or never miss your one-daily, you've likely wondered at some point or another just how much good a multivitamin can really do for you. And given all of the hubbub out there about supplements (they're miracle cures, they don't do anything, they don't contain what they say they do! yadda, yadda, yadda), your uncertainty is certainly warranted.
While you're probably best off ignoring much of the chitchat across the internet and your social feeds anyway, all the noise out there does reflect an important truth: As with most things in the world of health and wellness, there's no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to supplements—even one as seemingly basic as a multivitamin.
We won't leave you hanging in that unsatisfying gray area, though. Here's what you should know about multivitamins, what potential benefits they offer (assuming you pick the right one, of course—but don't worry, we'll get to that), and more.*
Do you really benefit from taking a multivitamin?
The primary purpose of a multivitamin is to supply your body with the essential vitamins and minerals you require daily and that you may be missing out on in your diet. Whether or not you experience this very real benefit, though, depends on the multivitamin you take.*
You see, when it comes to multis, quality and completeness matter big-time—and not every bottle out there is of the same caliber. In order to actually serve its most basic purpose of filling the nutrient gaps you might be experiencing (which nationally representative research1 demonstrates are widespread), a multivitamin has to contain adequate amounts of the right forms of the micronutrients you need. Thing is, the types and amounts of various micronutrients multivitamins offer vary a lot from product to product. And some leave out certain nutrients completely.
Given that, many of the multivitamins out there may not actually offer the full spectrum of benefits you might expect. Often, this is because of corners cut by manufacturers, many of which "sprinkle their supplements with less-than-helpful amounts of vitamins, minerals, and botanicals," notes Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, mbg's director of scientific affairs. They also often disregard the bioavailability, gentleness, and sustainability of the nutrients they include, further affecting the totality of the formula and ultimate benefits within each bottle.*
To truly benefit from a daily multivitamin, you've got to put on your detective hat and find yourself the right one. Don't worry; it's a worthwhile effort. "Dietary supplement use is associated with increased micronutrient intake, decreased inadequacies, and lower risk of nutrient deficiencies, with greater benefits seen among older adults and those with lower socioeconomic status,"* says Connie Weaver, Ph.D., a renowned nutrition researcher and professor of nutrition science at Purdue University. When done right, supplements like multivitamins really can make a difference.*
How to find a multivitamin that offers true benefits.
Your next order of business, then, is to find yourself a diamond-in-the-rough multivitamin to add to your routine. Here are four things to look for in a quality multivitamin that puts its money where its mouth is:
A complete array of nutrients
The multi that will be most beneficial to you will contain a comprehensive list of ingredients that includes vitamins, macrominerals, and microminerals (and ideally even some extra bioactives from high-quality botanicals). You'd be surprised to know that some formulas leave out must-haves like vitamin K, calcium, magnesium, iron, and more.
Ferira's ideal list of ingredients for a truly comprehensive multi:
- Vitamins: A, C, D3, E, K1 and K2, and all eight B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, B6, biotin, folate, and B12)
- Minerals: calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, iodine, zinc, selenium, copper, manganese, molybdenum and chromium trace, boron, vanadium, silica
- Botanical bioactives: These are bonus or extra credit and may include carotenoids (lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene, etc.) and powerhouse antioxidants like glutathione, resveratrol, CoQ10, etc.
In addition to containing the right ingredients, a multivitamin should offer them in their optimal, highest-quality forms. Look for methylated B vitamins, chelated or gentle-form minerals, and sustainable, plant-origin sources (like algal vitamin D3).
Ferira explains that "thoughtful multi formulas consider the bioavailability of the ingredient in the gut and the bioactivity of that ingredient in the body, to maximize its critical health functions and benefits."*
She goes on to divulge this nutrition intel: "Zinc bisglycinate (an amino acid chelate), vitamin D3 (as opposed to its inferior counterpart, D2), the menaquinone-7 form of vitamin K2, and methylated B vitamins are just a few examples of nutrients with a science-backed bioavailability and bioactivity. Look for these in a robust multi formula."*
The right doses
The right amounts (i.e., rooted in science) of key micronutrients and botanical bioactives can make the difference between wasting your money on a sub-potent or ineffective multivitamin and actually improving your nutritional status and supporting overall health.*
Take just one area of the body, your bones, for example. "A multi with science-backed levels of vitamin D3, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin K2 directly supports healthy bones,"* says Ferira.
There are a few nutrients, in particular, that typically get shortchanged here: "Multivitamins typically come up short on calcium and potassium...and may not contain enough vitamin D," says dietitian Elizabeth Ward, M.S., RDN, author of Expect the Best: Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, and After Pregnancy.
Ferira adds that additionally, "iron, magnesium, and the full array of trace minerals are also excluded by many not-so-complete multivitamin formulas, and botanical phytonutrients at clinically researched levels are incredibly rare to find in a multi."
A clean label
Once you've confirmed the nutrients (and the forms and amounts of each) a multivitamin contains, check out the "other ingredients" section of the label. The list should be short, Ferira says. A quality multi won't have any unnecessary fillers, major food allergens (like soy, dairy, or gluten), sugar, cheap additives, or synthetic dyes or flavors.
The benefits of taking a multivitamin.
Find a multivitamin that meets the above criteria from a brand you can trust, and you can feel confident that you'll truly benefit from your daily routine.* (FYI: mindbodygreen the ultimate multivitamin+ specifically to address the shortcomings of so many multis out there—and you can bet it goes above and beyond in delivering a comprehensive array of nutrients and phytonutrients in helpful amounts and premium formats.)
As long as you're consistent with your multivitamin routine, you'll help deliver nutritional benefits that can, according to Ward, affect everything from energy and immune function to bone and nerve health—and more.*
Here are seven science-backed benefits to keep top-of-mind:
Vitamin and mineral inadequacy can contribute to suboptimal immune system function—and research2 indicates that regular multivitamin use can support immunity, specifically by improving levels of vitamin C and zinc, two essential nutrients that play important roles in immune cell development and function for our innate and adaptive immune responses.*
And let's not forget that a quality multi would also include other immune-centric nutrients like vitamins A and D3, iron, selenium, and other trace minerals.*
Epidemiologic evidence suggests a link between multivitamin use and increased telomere length in women3; in fact, daily multi takers had about 5% longer telomeres than non-multi-users.* FYI: Telomere length is associated with biological aging, and longer is better.
Plus, an improved supply of micronutrients allows for a "metabolic tuneup4" as Bruce Ames, Ph.D., famous researcher and biochemistry and molecular biology professor at the University of California–Berkeley dubs it. This, he writes, allows us to "maximize human health and lifespan."*
Ferira explains that "beyond vitamins and minerals that all the cells in your body require daily, there are other unique bioactives—often derived from plants, no surprise there—that combat oxidative stress and support cellular resilience and longevity."* Some of the MVPs in this category include glutathione, your body's master antioxidant, carotenoids (beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and lycopene), resveratrol, and CoQ10.*
Research suggests that taking a multivitamin also supports your cognitive function, with research5 specifically demonstrating a link between multi use and immediate free recall memory, or your short-term ability to remember lists of information (like the ingredients you need to grab from the pantry to make that new banana bread recipe you just peeped on Instagram).*
Your brain, of course, relies on a wide variety of nutrients in order to function optimally. Just a few worth mentioning: all6 eight B vitamins6 (which have a hand in everything from energy production to DNA synthesis and repair to neurochemical production), vitamin D7 (which supports neuronal tissue), resveratrol8 (the antioxidant supports parts of the brain associated with memory), and the antioxidant glutathione9 (which helps the brain combat oxidative stress head-on).*
Healthy hair, skin, and nails
Healthy skin requires adequate amounts of a whole slew of nutrients10, including vitamins A, C, and E, biotin (vitamin B7), zinc, and antioxidants such as lycopene and lutein.*
Hair, meanwhile, in addition to plenty of amino acids from protein, needs ample biotin11, as well as the trace mineral silica12, according to Ferira.*
And, the health of (and visual changes in) our nails, finally, provide major insights13 into whether or not we're meeting our nutritional needs over time or facing micronutrient inadequacy (for example, vitamin C), Ferira adds.*
Given the wide variety of nutrients our hair, skin, and nails depend on, taking a quality multivitamin (particularly one that contains antioxidant compounds from plants) is a great way to support them, says Ferira.*
Bone and muscle function
Calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D, all of which play crucial roles in supporting bone and muscle health, are all considered nutrients of concern, meaning many of us don't get even close to enough of them. Unfortunately, these nutrients are often "fairy-dusted" into multivitamin formulas, if not left out completely (specifically referring to calcium and magnesium), according to Ferira.*
Of course, other micronutrients—including vitamin K214 and minerals15 zinc, iron, selenium, silica, copper, boron, and manganese—also support bone density, quality, and strength.* And as it turns out, "A comprehensive multivitamin that includes this diverse array of trace minerals and the K2 form of vitamin K is a rarity," Ferira adds.
The simple to-do here: to support nutritional sufficiency—and musculoskeletal and joint health—with a comprehensive daily multi.*
Nutrient insufficiencies (specifically those in vitamin A, vitamin B12, biotin, vitamin C, vitamin E, as well as iron and zinc) have a significant impact on eye health16. So, taking a quality multivitamin to support nutritional deficiencies ultimately promotes healthy eyes and vision.*
Noticing a trend here? Getting ample amounts of all the different micronutrients has far-reaching effects throughout your body.*
Special bonus: Multis that contain carotenoid antioxidants17 (think zeaxanthin and lutein) go the extra mile in providing incremental support for your peepers.*
Your heart (which, you know, is pretty important) relies on many different nutrients to function at its best, including vitamin K, multiple B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, and calcium. That's why it's important to take a daily multivitamin that contains vitamin K (yep, both K1 and K2), and helpful amounts of these other nutrients, suggests Ferira.*
Also good to know? Clinical evidence also shows that the antioxidants lutein18, zeaxanthin19, and lycopene20 support cardiovascular health.* (And you'd better believe that ultimate multivitamin+ contains all three!)
Is it good to take a multivitamin every day?
According to a 2017 Nutrients study, frequent multivitamin use effectively increases micronutrient intakes and decreases the prevalence of most nutrient inadequacies in U.S. adults. Taking a multi daily is an efficient way to help bridge the gap for nutrient insufficiencies.*
What happens to your body when you start taking multivitamins?
Over time, consistent multi use supports whole-body health and physiological functions. In addition to meeting your daily nutritional requirements, taking a daily multivitamin has been found to help support cognition, immune health, and even longevity.*
Multivitamins do have benefits—assuming, of course, you take one that provides a full spectrum of health-supporting vitamins, minerals, and bioactives, and does so in clinically effective amounts and bioavailable, quality forms.*
Make the right selection—and take it regularly—and you'll support nutrient sufficiency that promotes health in truly myriad ways.*
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.