Should You Take a Multi?

January 13, 2021

By Anna Varriano

One of the most common questions I get from clients, students, and workshop attendees is:

“I’m not sure if I should be taking any supplements. I eat really well, so wouldn’t I be getting all the nutrients I need from my food?”

My response to the above question is: “Not likely.”

Many years ago, I read an article written by Dr. Mark Hyman, who is currently the Board President of Clinical Affairs for the Institute of Functional Medicine. In it, he stated the following:

If people eat wild, fresh, organic, local, non-genetically modified food grown in virgin mineral and nutrient-rich soils, that has not been transported across vast distances and stored for months before being eaten, and work and live outside, breathe only fresh unpolluted air, drink only pure, clean water, sleep nine hours a night, move their bodies every day, and are free from chronic stressors and exposure to environmental toxins, then, perhaps, they might not need supplements.

As a Registered Nutritional Therapist and Natural Health Practitioner, I do a lot of good things for my health, and I still don’t meet those conditions … in fact, I don’t know anyone who does! Most of you know that I believe just about everyone could benefit from taking high-quality probiotic, omega-3, and vitamin D supplements that deliver therapeutic results; therefore, these are often my top three recommendations. But what about taking a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement (which I’ll refer to as multis moving forward)? Is it necessary?

What are Vitamins and Minerals?

Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that we need in varying amounts through our life. Essential means our bodies cannot manufacture them so we must get them from food and/or supplements. Vitamins and minerals are involved in every single one of the thousands of physiological reactions/processes that occur in our bodies to keep us alive and well, including building muscles and bones, proper nerve conduction, muscle contraction (including that of our beating heart), blood clotting, digesting food, making energy, and destroying pathogens (e.g. viruses, bacteria) and toxins. Each vitamin and mineral has a unique function in our body, and deficiencies in any of them – even small ones – can affect our health and our body’s ability to function optimally.

What’s a Supplement?

The definition of the word supplement is:

Something that completes or enhances something else when added to it’.

Applying this definition to nutrition, it should be clear that nutritional supplements are not a substitute for healthy eating, rather, they enhance healthy eating and are meant to provide nutrients that we may not be getting from even the healthiest of foods for many reasons, including:

  • Soil depletion: Conventional farming leads to nutrient depletion from the soil and therefore crops that are grown in the soil.
  • Food processing and preparation: Certain food processing methods (e.g. pasteurization, high-pressure extrusion, irradiation) and even certain cooking methods often negatively affect the nutrient content of foods.

  • Restricted or special diets: The avoidance of certain food groups can lead to a deficiency of the nutrients that those food groups provide; for example, vegetarians and vegans are at risk for vitamin D, vitamin B12 and iron deficiencies.
  • Medications: Many medications affect digestion and the absorption of certain nutrients.
  • Digestive disorders and food intolerances: These conditions, which unfortunately are so common today, affect the proper digestion of food as well as the absorption of nutrients.

What’s the Deal with Nutrient Deficiencies?

Nutrient deficiencies are more common than we think – especially when you consider that many folks don’t have much variety in their daily food choices. Variety is so important when it comes to getting nutrients from our food. A lack of variety often means a lack of nutrients. Unfortunately, there are mounting studies connecting the dots between nutrient deficiencies and the development of many of today’s top health concerns, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. The growing scientific field of nutrigenomics studies the relationship between nutrition and gene expression, especially regarding the prevention or treatment of disease. Consider multis as a form of health insurance, helping to fill nutritional gaps that may lead to health issues.

There also certain times in our life when we need extra nutrients, including during pregnancy as a brand new mini-human is being created, breastfeeding, as breast-fed baby and a fast-growing toddler, teenage years (commonly zinc for males and iron for females), during stressful times (including recovering from an illness), and during our elderly years when appetite and motivation to cook balanced meals can wane. Indeed, there are a mind-boggling variety of different multis that are customized to meet all of life’s phases and stages.

Which Multi is Right for You?

With so many multis on the market, the issue becomes how to choose one that is right for you, or perhaps even right for multiple members of your family. Many individuals choose a multi-vitamin because it is inexpensive, or because the brand offers a convenient ‘one-a-day’ dosage.

While everyone loves a bargain, there are some problems with shopping for supplements, including multis, using only price as a guideline. As with many things in life, you get what you pay for. In my opinion, the most important factors to consider when selecting a multi (or any supplement for that matter) are quality and bioavailability. These two factors will have a huge impact on how well the supplement is absorbed and utilized by the body, or in other words, how well it will be able to positively impact our health. 

Consider this analogy – although our cars can run on petroleum extracted from sand, they can’t run on sand; in fact, think about what would happen to your car if you put sand in its gas tank! Similarly, the nutrients in some multis are sourced from substances and/or contain ingredients that are as useless – and sometimes as harmful – to your body as sand is to your car.

Many companies don’t produce their own vitamins, and of those, many may not test what they buy. If supplements aren’t tested, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be getting what’s listed on the label. I’ve read several articles that state that many popular brands of supplements commonly purchased in drug stores or grocery stores only have a 7% to 10% absorption rate. That means that if the label says there’s 100 mg of vitamin C, you’re only absorbing 7 to 10 mg of it, or in other words, you’re flushing most of your vitamin C (and the money you paid for it) down the toilet!

What to Consider When Choosing a Multi

Here are just some questions you should consider when choosing a multi:

  • Are the products tested for quality and contaminants?
  • Where did the ingredients come from?
  • How is the tablet or capsule made?
  • How is the product processed and stored?

The bioavailability of a multi can be affected by something as simple as how it is made. Some multis have a list of ‘non-medicinal’ ingredients that are added as fillers, flavours, and preservatives. You may be shocked at the amount of sugar in chewable vitamins – especially ones for children. Many of these ingredients aren’t good for us and others can interfere with the absorption of the nutrients the multi contains.

In conclusion, including a high quality, professional grade multi in your supplement routine is a great way to assist you in meeting the overall nutrient requirements of your body. If you need any guidance regarding the selection of a high quality, professional grade multi, consult a nutritionist like yours truly who has already looked into this topic!

Note that I have access to a variety of multis and offer curb-side pickup (Ottawa west location) and in some cases can arrange for drop-shipments to your home (if you live in Canada), directly from the manufacturer (shipping and handling rates apply). 

Take control of what you can!



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