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What is the easiest and fastest way to dramatically improve your nutrient intake? Take a high-quality multivitamin.

But what constitutes a high-quality multivitamin? Or put another way, how can you identify low-quality multivitamins so that you don’t waste your money on them?

One note upfront: we are biased. We believe that the Life Time supplements are among the best you’ll find. We put an enormous amount of time and effort into ensuring they’re not only pure, but that they work. That said, even if you choose not to use Life Time supplements, this article should help steer you away from the poor-quality options found on many stores’ shelves.

Why You Need a Multivitamin

When we refer to a “multivitamin,” we’re really talking about a multi-vitamin, multi-mineral supplement, or a supplement that includes most, if not all, of your essential micronutrients.

Micronutrient: essential vitamin or mineral that must be consumed through diet or supplementation to maintain normal cellular and molecular function.

If you don’t use a quality multivitamin today, here are three reasons why you may want to consider starting:

1. Vegetables and Fruit Contain Fewer Nutrients

Vegetables and fruit are not nearly as nutrient-dense as they once were. Farming today creates produce that grows bigger and faster, and is more resistant to pests and climate challenges. Unfortunately, these super-sized vegetables and fruit lack the nutrient density of their smaller, more fragile ancestors. On top of that, soil has been depleted of nutrients over the past several decades. Since the soil is less nutritious, the plants that grow in it get less nutrition, too.

Research shows that today’s produce has less protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin, vitamin C, magnesium, zinc, vitamin B6, vitamin E, and vitamin A than in the mid -1900s.

As one study put it, “You’d need to eat eight oranges today to get the same amount of vitamin A that a single orange contained when our grandparents were young.”

2. Today’s Lifestyle Demands More Vitamins and Minerals

We encounter more oxidative stress, emotional and physical stress, pollution, and other toxins than ever. We also get less sleep, movement, and time outdoors, which hampers your ability to recover from those stresses.

Vitamins and minerals play important roles in helping us deal with these stressors, and in helping us maintain normal metabolic function.

3. The Average Meal is Calorie-Rich and Nutrient-Poor

Even if you eat healthier than the average person, the majority of us still fall short of eating the recommended nine to 12 servings of vegetables and fruit everyday. And even if you do, you read above why those servings aren’t as nutritious as they once were.

Please don’t misinterpret these points as justification to avoid vegetables and fruit altogether. They still contain substantial amounts of fiber, phytonutrients, and other nutrition.

While we still want to aim to get as close as we can to that serving size consistently, a multivitamin can help fill in nutrient gaps we’re missing.

Why Some People Believe Multivitamins Don’t Work

We don’t feel we can write an article about why it’s important to take a high-quality multivitamin each day without also addressing why some people believe you don’t need to.

It all comes down to context.

Anyone with a basic knowledge of nutrition understands the negative effects a deficiency in a single micronutrient creates. A multivitamin helps eliminate the chance of developing a deficiency.

In addition, those with a little more nutrition knowledge realize that the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for vitamins and minerals is not an “optimal” amount. The RDI is only a level that should be enough for most people to avoid deficiency symptoms. A multivitamin helps you get a more optimal intake of nutrients, rather than just an “adequate” amount.

Most multivitamin research was completed using cheap, low-quality multivitamins, which often contain 100 percent or less of the RDI. Most also contain low-quality, poorly-absorbed forms of the nutrients. We would not expect to see much of a change from the use of these kinds of supplements either.

Another form of multivitamin research is observational research. In these cases, you might get interviewed by a researcher and asked, “Over the past 20 years, how often have you used a multivitamin?” This type of research is notoriously poor, as most people exaggerate their response when they’re asked about something they think they’re supposed to do, and underestimate their response when it’s something they believe they’re not supposed to do.

When asked that question, someone might reply with “I use them daily,” even though they’ve had the same unopened bottle of multivitamins in the cupboard for the past five years. 

Further, to conduct a solid study of a high-quality multivitamin, you’d need thousands of people using the exact same multivitamin every day for decades, as well as a placebo group that doesn’t. It simply isn’t practical. 

The point is, rather than putting too much stock into research on multivitamins as a whole, it’s instead helpful to recognize and appreciate the research that’s been done on individual nutrients, which helps in understanding how they are all important together.

Who Needs A Multivitamin?

Pregnant women and children under the age of five are at greatest risk of micronutrient deficiencies. Actually, for both men and women, their nutrition and lifestyle choices prior to conception can influence the health of the baby. (A father’s health can impact the health of the sperm, which can effect the future health of the child.)

When you think about everything that has to go right during the time between a sperm fertilizing an egg and a healthy baby being born nine months later, you appreciate the importance of a mother’s nutrition.

During the first five years of life, that baby’s brain develops, its skeleton forms, and the rest of the nervous and muscular systems create coordinated movement, among other developments. What a great time to ensure his or her nutrient intake is optimal!

Most people would raise their eyebrows at a pregnant woman drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes, but give little thought to eating junk food. Not only is junk food low in micronutrients, but metabolizing it can actually reduce existing micronutrient levels.

If you have the opportunity to start your child’s life off with the best building blocks of nutrition, why wouldn’t you?

Based on the reality of today’s lifestyle — and the nutrient density of the foods we eat — nearly everyone could benefit from supplementing with a high-quality multivitamin.

If you have specific needs based on your stage of life, the state of your health, or your fitness goals, you’ll probably want to also consider adding some individual nutrients on top of your high-quality multivitamin. For example, we often reference The Foundational Five, which are the five supplements we recommend for almost anybody.

As with any supplement, always consult with a medical professional or your health care provider before making changes to your nutrition approach.

How Can You Identify a High-Quality Multivitamin?

Like most anything else, you get what you pay for.

If you use a low-quality, once-per-day multivitamin, it might not break down and then can pass through your body without the nutrients being absorbed at all. Even when low-quality multivitamins do break down, if they contain low-quality forms of the nutrients, they also might not be absorbed. In fact, some synthetic micronutrients could even be detrimental to some people’s long-term health.

The following are some of the criteria we use to identify a high-quality multivitamin:

Does the multivitamin contain natural folate, or folic acid?

This is one of the first places to look when considering if a multivitamin is high-quality or not. If it contains folic acid instead of natural folate, it’s a non-starter.

Vitamin B9, or folate, is most well-known for its relation to neural tube defects during pregnancy. However, low folate levels can also cause depression, reduced fertility, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, headaches, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, changes in skin, hair or fingernail pigmentation, and many other issues. Low folate in adults can also raise homocysteine, which increases risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, dementia, and certain cancers.

Unfortunately, most dietary supplements do not use natural folate. Instead, they use folic acid, which is a highly-absorbed — but poorly-converted — synthetic form of vitamin B9.

Though the average person’s intake of folic acid is quite high, a large percentage of people cannot convert it to folate. Instead, folic acid levels remain high in the body, which can mask deficiencies in vitamin B12, affecting energy levels and mental function, and increasing the risk of cognitive decline with aging. For those who cannot convert folic aid to folate, they may also have an increased risk of cancer.

Look for a multivitamin that contains natural folate, such as – 5-MTHF, methyltetrahydrofolate, Metafolin®, and Quatrefolic.

Does the multivitamin contain methylcobalamin, or cyanocobalamin?

Both methylcobalamin and cyanocobalamin are forms of vitamin B12, which is a vitamin that’s important for red blood cell and energy production. Cyanocobalamin is a cheap, poorly-absorbed form of vitamin B12 — it’s a synthetic form not found in nature.

Note: We’re not suggesting all synthetic nutrients are detrimental to health. Some can be produced as an exact match to what’s found in nature. But there are some cases, like folic acid and cyanocobalamin, where they could contribute to poor health.

Without getting too technical, to metabolize cyanocobalamin, your body must donate a methyl group, which can decrease glutathione levels, your body’s primary antioxidant. Methylcobalamin already has the methyl group attached, and is the natural form of vitamin B12 already found in nature. So, your body absorbs it properly.

Does the multivitamin contain high-quality mineral chelates?

Minerals like calcium, magnesium, and zinc are poorly-absorbed in general. However, it’s possible to bind a mineral to an amino acid — which is called a chelate — and dramatically increase the rate at which it’s absorbed.

The best-absorbed mineral chelates are bisglycinates or glycinates. They are minerals bound to the amino acid glycine.

There’s a dramatic difference in cost between magnesium sulfate (a mineral salt) and magnesium bisglycinate, but if you can’t absorb the magnesium sulfate, what’s the point in taking it?

With that said, bisglycinate minerals take up a lot of space. Based on the design of a supplement, it’s possible that another form may be used to avoid the need for additional capsules or tablets. Because of the size, certain minerals like calcium and magnesium take up so much space that it isn’t possible to squeeze them into most multivitamins at optimal doses. That’s why we often recommend taking a standalone magnesium supplement.

Does the multivitamin contain vitamin K2?

Vitamin K2 appears to be more cardio-protective than vitamin K1. We also tend to get more K1 through other foods and nutrition. When a manufacturer takes the extra steps to include K2, which of course is more expensive than K1, it can be a signal that they put some serious thought into the formula.

Does the multivitamin contain additional unique health-promoting ingredients?

Once the above criteria are addressed, we’ll then look at what else the product has to offer. For example, the Life Time Performance Multivitamin includes TeaCrine® in the morning dose, which supports mental energy and clarity. The evening dose contains Relora®, which supports a calm mind and restful sleep.

A word of caution here, though: Many companies use these extra ingredients as “window dressing.” They put a dusting of them in the product so they can talk about them on the label. Life Time only puts the extras in our supplements if they’re in doses high enough to make a difference.

There you have it: Why you need a high-quality multivitamin, and how to separate the good from the bad. The next question is, are you going to start taking one?

Bailey RL. The Epidemiology of Global Micronutrient Deficiencies. Ann Nutr Metab. 2015;66(suppl 2):22-33.

Committee on Micronutrient Deficiencies, Board on International Health, Food and Nutrition Board; Howson CP, Kennedy ET, Horwitz A: Prevention of Micronutrient Deficiencies: Tools for Policymakers and Public Health Workers. Washington, National Academy Press, 1998.

Coppen A, Bolander-Gouaille C. Treatment of depression: time to consider folic acid and vitamin B12. J Psychopharmacol. 2005;19(1):59–65.

Earth Talk. Dirt Poor: Have Fruits and Vegetables Become Less Nutritious? Scientific American. 2011. Retrieved Aug 6 2017

Ebisch IM, Thomas CM, Peters WH, Braat DD, Steegers-Theunissen RP. The importance of folate, zinc and antioxidants in the pathogenesis and prevention of subfertility. Hum Reprod. 2007;13(2):163–74.

Food and Nutrition Board: Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc. Washington, National Academy Press, 2001

National Institutes of Health. Folate: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet. Retrieved Aug 9 2017.

Shea MK, Holden RM. Vitamin K status and vascular calcification: evidence from observational and clinical studies. Adv Nutr. 2012;3(2):158-65.

West KP, Stewart CP, Caballero B, Black RE. Nutrition; in Merson MH, Black RE, Mills AJ (eds): Global Health: Diseases, Programs, Systems, and Policies, ed 3. Burlington, Jones and Bartlett Learning, 2012, pp 271–304.

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