Should you take multivitamins, and can they boost health and fitness? Nutritionist Laura Jennings has the answers…

In an era where health and supplements for muscle growth are at the forefront of many people’s minds, the multivitamin market has expanded hugely, with annual sales now estimated at over $1.25bn / £1bn. Despite their popularity, there is no set definition for what constitutes a multivitamin, which means nutrients vary between products.

They are widely advertised as a convenient way of maintaining health and ensuring adequate nutrient intake. With our fast-paced lifestyles and poor food choices the question arises: Should we incorporate multivitamins into our daily routine to bridge potential nutrient gaps?  

Multivitamins often come in specialized formulations for specific demographics and offer support during critical stages of our lifecycle, such as prenatal vitamins for pregnancy. Specialized multivitamins tend to include higher levels of specific ingredients. For instance, higher quantities of vitamin D and zinc are found in men’s supplements, as these are essential in regulating testosterone and improving muscle recovery.

Despite offering targeted formulations, multivitamins are not a one-size-fits all solution. Before incorporating them into your diet, it is useful to explore the pros and cons, allowing you to make an informed decision. 

Benefits of multivitamins 

Convenience: Taking one pill offers a convenient way of obtaining a range of nutrients in a single dose. They can be particularly beneficial for those with busy lifestyles or who have difficulty maintaining a balanced diet. 

Deficiency prevention: For individuals with dietary restrictions or health conditions, multivitamins offer a synthetic bridge between nutritional needs and actual intake. Low levels of vitamins A, C, D and calcium are considered a public health problem due to their role in bone health and immunity. Multivitamins have been shown to reduce these deficiencies only when intakes are below the recommended average requirements. 

Absorption enhancement: Multivitamins can be helpful for individuals struggling with nutrient absorption due to digestive disorders or health conditions. 

Considerations for multivitamins 

Unnecessary supplementation: Many people who consume a balanced diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, proteins and healthy fats may already meet their nutritional requirements. In such cases, relying solely on whole foods may be sufficient. Multivitamins have not been found to enhance athletic performance and are needless for active individuals consuming a diverse diet. 

Health risks: Multivitamins are generally safe. However, taking excessive amounts of certain vitamins can lead to toxicity. For example, excess vitamin A can lead to nausea or even liver damage. It’s important to understand the recommended daily allowances for each nutrient and consult with a healthcare professional beforehand. 

Cost and quality: Multivitamins can be expensive, especially if you opt for reputable brands with good manufacturing practices. Expensive brands may still contain more fillers (e.g. lactose, aspartame) than active ingredients. Third party certifications such as USP can help validate ingredient accuracy to help assess if you’re getting the best value for money.  

Deciding whether to take multivitamins requires consideration of individual circumstances. While they can provide nutritional support, the interaction between nutrients in dietary sources cannot be replicated in a synthetic supplement. Multivitamins should therefore complement, not replace, a well-balanced diet.