One of the most common questions I am asked in clinical practice is whether or not it’s worthwhile to take a multi-vitamin. Clients have often read conflicting articles about the benefits, or lack thereof, of taking a daily multi-vitamin. So what does the science say? Are you getting health benefits from your daily dose of essential vitamins or are you really just ‘peeing away your money’, as some doctors like to say.
First off, it’s important to understand what role vitamins play in the body. Vitamins are chemical compounds that are essential for normal physiological function; they cannot be made by the body, and therefore must be obtained from the diet. For example, the human body cannot make vitamin C internally and must obtain it from the diet. In contrast, almost all other mammals can produce vitamin C in their own bodies, and can increase internal production of vitamin C during times of stress. Humans cannot.
The next logical question is shouldn’t you be able to get enough vitamins from your diet? If you eat a healthy diet full of organic meats and wild fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains you would surely get all the vitamins you need? For some this may be the case: for most it is not. Supplementation with a multi-vitamin is generally beneficial under the following circumstances; you have a higher demand for vitamins (based on your activity or stress level), you have greater nutrient depletion based on your lifestyle (i.e. smoking, alcohol, coffee, fast food), or you have inherent or genetic predisposition to be deficient in one or several vitamins.
Let’s explain. The more active you are, the more quickly the biochemical wheels turn in your body to provide energy for movement and fuel your brain and working muscles. For example, B-vitamins are responsible for supporting the production of ATP (energy) to keep your metabolism running optimally. Low b-vitamin status means poorer energy production, and subsequently poorer performance in the gym and for your overall health. Moreover, consider that the consumption of alcohol and caffeine requires greater demand for vitamins and essential nutrients by your liver, as it needs these compounds to filter and detoxify that pint of beer you enjoy at the end of your workday or those multiple cups of coffee in the morning.
As well, genetic predisposition to deficiencies of specific nutrients is much more common than you think. They are called single nucleotide polymorphisms or ‘SNiPs’, and refer to small changes in your DNA sequences that result in altered metabolism of certain nutrients. For example, one of the most common polymorphisms is the enzyme called methylenetrahydrofolate (MTHF) reductase, which converts the folate you ingest from food into the active form used by your cells. This genetic deficiency occurs in 10-15% of the population and means that you will have difficulty absorbing and assimilating dietary or supplemental folate, unless it is in the correct form. For men carrying some extra weight around the mid-section, folate is essential for recycling and reducing homocysteine levels, which is associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease. For women, folate is crucial for red blood cell formation and required in higher concentrations after menses to keep energy levels up. Well-formulated, professional supplement lines use the pro-activated MTFHform (Metfolin) meaning you will get actually be able to absorb and utilize the vitamins you are taking.
So, what does this mean for you? A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that multi-vitamins lowered the cancer risk in those patients who took them consistently. Therefore, for overall health and maintenance, clients who are living in more northern latitudes – with classic fall and winter seasons – should supplement with a multi-vitamin from October to March. This will provide your body and mind with the added nutrients required to cope with the darker, colder months when you are more prone to colds, flus, and generally feelings of fatigue and malaise. This means taking 1-2 capsules of your multi-vitamin at breakfast or lunch.
For those who are more active during the winter months, you have a higher requirement for vitamins and therefore require a greater dose. Typically, 2 capsules twice daily (breakfast and lunch/dinner) will go a long way to supporting immunity, cooling inflammation from exercise, and keeping your cortisol stress levels under control. For elite and professional athletestraining for a competitive event, you should take 2 capsules with all three meals of the day. It may seem like a lot, but training at such high intensity requires more support. At NSM, we use the Athletes Multi with all our active clients; you will feel the difference!
The last thing to remember is that it’s very important to choose a well-formulated, high-quality multi-vitamin in order to get the most for your money. Your average pharmacy or grocery store brand typically uses inferior forms of vitamins with many binders, fillers, and additives that can be harmful to your body. Go to your local health food store or naturopathic clinic, the cost of a high-quality multi-vitamin is typically less than a dollar a day (or about 1/3 the price or your morning latte!), think of it like an insurance policy for keeping your body and mind finely tuned over the winter months.
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