Just like you, I’ve spent a lot of hard-earned money on multivitamins through the years, figuring they will work behind the scenes to improve or maintain my health. I was never really sure if they did anything for me, so I kept switching brands. It’s not like I felt anything happening, nor did I feel more energy. If I missed a day, I wouldn’t even notice. Was I just making expensive urine?
My mind sweeps back to the 1980s when I was a pharmacy student at the University of Florida and my pharmacology professor told us that vitamins don’t work, they just make your urine worth a fortune. As a practicing pharmacist, I have watched thousands of you roaming up and down the vitamin aisles at my pharmacy in search of some magic pill, one that really works. But just like me, how would you know if they were working? Do you depend on the brands that advertise the heaviest? Even if you take a multivite and get a little boost of energy, does that mean the ingredients are safe for you, and does it assure you that you’re not being exposed to potentially-toxic colorants and other additives? Companies spend billions of dollars each year to market their multivitamins to you.
Call me cynical, but if you have to spend that much money to convince me your stuff is good, how much money have you put into the formula? Is it possible that your advertising budget is causing you to skimp on ingredients? And in order to produce massive quantities of multivitamins, are cheap excipients used to make your machines run faster? It’s a universal dilemma, one that I have faced myself: to take a multivitamin or not?
Well, after years of research on my end, I don’t. I actually went through my kitchen cabinets and threw all the multivitamins out. And I don’t carry a general multivitamin formula in my Script Essentials line because I haven’t figured out a way to ethically create and encapsulate nutrients so that they’ll actually work and be safe. Until I can figure that out, I won’t be selling multivitamins as part of my product line.
I used to think multivitamins filled a nutritional gap, but today I think differently. Here’s my rationale:
Negligible amounts – There are so many nutrients in a multivitamin that the amounts of each become negligible. There’s no way that 1 mg of pyridoxine (B6) could impact you metabolically-speaking. I think it’s on the label for show as clearly, this amount doesn’t optimize health. By the time this 1 mg gets past your digestive tract, hardly anything could have made it to your bloodstream, much less your nerves where B6 is required. The same goes for cyanocobalamin, a typical form of vitamin B12. One popular multibillion dollar brand has 1 mcg cyanocobalamin in it! 1 MICROGRAM, folks! That is just one-thousandth of a milligram. With hundreds of B12 dependent metabolic reactions (including methylation), what do you think that 1 microgram has the power to do for you? I’ll tell you: nothing!
Allergies – Multivitamins have upwards of 68 different ingredients, some of which are synthetic. Are you sure you’re not allergic to any of this stuff? All of the supplements in my Script Essentials line are free of the most common food allergens, like soy, dairy and wheat. Multivitamins you find at the store often contain soy and may contain any of these other food ingredients as well as any non-food ingredients to which you may be sensitive.
Inactive forms – It’s one thing to take insignificant amounts of a nutrient, but there are often completely inactive vitamins in your multivite, and they remain inactive until converted by your liver to something that could work. After you take cyanocobalamin B12, for instance, your body breaks it into cyanide and cobalamin, and then you have to methylate it. Superior forms of B12 are methylcobalamin, hydroxycobalamin or adenosylcobalamin.
Potential toxins – Let’s revisit that cyanocobalamin B12, which I consider to be inferior to other B12 supplements. It contains minute amounts of cyanide which has low potential to do harm when bound to organic cobalamin, but still, I don’t want it in my body, even in teeny-tiny amounts. No thank you!
Cramps and diarrhea – Yep, you could get cramps and diarrhea due to the addition of cheap forms of magnesium such as the “oxide” form. Gentler forms of magnesium include the “chelated” forms, or threonate, or glycinate.
Artificial colors – One popular brand contains three artificial colors, FD&C Red #40, Blue #2 and Yellow #6. There is valid controversy over the safety of those dyes. I’m not sure why the color of a multivitamin matters but apparently the biggest makers like to use them. Titanium dioxide is a common colorant used in supplements. I always wonder, if they must use food dyes, why not choose natural ones?! There are many, including blueberry juice concentrate, carotene from carrots, paprika, beet juice, purple sweet potato, hibiscus, natural astaxanthin, and CoQ10, which is a beautiful golden color.
Other Additives – One thing that just kills me is when I “check out the competition” and see all the unneccesary, and sometimes downright dangerous, additives that are put into other companies’ supplements. Mag stearate is a common one, a lubricant used to make the machines that make supplements run faster, which I’m happy to say is absent in my entire product line. Hydrogenated oils, which many of us try to avoid consuming, are common additives in supplements as well… and there are scores of others.
Absorption – The greatest deception is that the minerals from these multivitamins will get into your bones. Magnesium oxide and calcium carbonate don’t penetrate your bone cells well. They have a tough time leaving your intestines.
Interactions with Medications – Do you know if every nutrient in your multivitamin is safe to take with your prescription medications? Maybe they lower the absorption or make a drug you are taking more potent! Maybe taking a certain vitamin with a medication you’re on causes unsafe side effects. I always recommend that my customers who are on prescription medications speak with their physicians before starting any supplement. Read more about taking supplements with medications here.
As you can see, I’m not a big fan of multivitamins. In my opinion, it’s simply not possible to take a multivitamin once daily and receive all the biologically active nutrients you need. At least not enough of them to advance your health. If your health is failing, or you are not able to eat good food, then perhaps you can take one. But for most people, nutrients need to be taken in single supplements to get enough to advance your health. That’s why I threw out all my multivitamins. I’m convinced that I can get biologically active nutrients if I just eat real food, and nothing from a box or can.
Your diet should include a variety of delicious whole foods like salads, greens, nuts, seeds, citrus fruits, berries and of course, lean, clean protein. We need to stop fooling ourselves into thinking we can eat garbage and take one pill to fix it all.
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.