Multivitamins: Insurance Against an Imperfect Diet

What’s the right way to add multivitamins to your health routine?

There’s plenty of information out there to help us make healthy eating choices. But with our busy lifestyles and those eating habits we just can’t break, we may not be getting all of the vitamins and minerals we need.

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That’s why there are multivitamins.

“I think of multivitamins as an insurance policy against an imperfect diet,” says wellness expert Michael Roizen, MD.

Any multivitamin is better than none

There are multivitamins for men, women, young women, seniors and people worried about specific diseases, such as heart disease and macular degeneration. But are specific formulations really necessary?

“For most of us, taking half of any multivitamin twice a day — morning and night — is good,” says Dr. Roizen.

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Tips for older men and women

“Men and women over age 50 can take the same multivitamins,” he adds. Formulations for men may not deliver on their promises. “Men’s vitamins often have ingredients touted as good for prostate health, but randomized data do not show that these make an important difference. Let’s call it a potential difference,” says Dr. Roizen.

Lutein, an element added to protect against macular degeneration, the most common cause of vision loss after age 55, may not be necessary. “If you eat a green leafy vegetable or two every day — and I hope everyone eats a fistful of broccoli every day because it also has anti-cancer effects – you get plenty of lutein,” says Dr. Roizen.

Advice for young women

On the flip side, Dr. Roizen feels that all younger women should take a prenatal multivitamin because 50 percent of all pregnancies are unplanned. Prenatal multivitamins have folate and other ingredients needed by pregnant women. Most contain DHA, the omega-3 fat needed for brain and eye development, for example.

Young women also tend to be iron-deficient, so vitamins with extra iron are available. However, Dr. Roizen suggests taking iron supplements instead. “It’s important to take iron several hours apart from calcium and vitamin C,” he explains.

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Check the amounts on the label

Because the ingredients in multivitamins are found in different amounts, verify that your vitamin contains the recommended daily amount of calcium, vitamin D and magnesium.

“Ideally, you should ingest 600 mg of calcium, the most your body can absorb at one time, plus 200 mg of magnesium and 500 IU of vitamin D two times a day,” advises Dr. Roizen. “And I advise my patients to take the vitamin D with 2 grams of fish oil or 600 mgs of DHA, since vitamin D and all fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed better when taken with some fat.”

Then split your multivitamin down the middle, and take half in the morning and half at night. “You urinate out soluble vitamins in 12 to 16 hours, so this will keep the level in your body steady,” says Dr. Roizen.

One a day means just that

Do not take two multivitamins a day. “That would give you too much of certain vitamins such as A, and too much A can increase bone demineralization, and risks of liver cancer as well as lung cancer in smokers,” he says.

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