Choosing a Good Multivitamin

Choosing a Good Multivitamin

Confused about which multivitamin & mineral formula to invest in?  You’re not alone: it is reported that over 40% of Americans opt to use a multivitamin1, and with over 450 registered US dietary supplement manufacturers and thousands of multivitamin formulas sold on the shelves of health food shops and conventional supermarkets alike, the options can be overwhelming.  

How can one decide which multivitamin is the best of the many options available?  Keep in mind, not all multivitamins are created equal.  The following are some tips and questions to ask while researching your options:

  • Don’t judge a book by its cover.  The supplement industry is highly competitive. Millions of dollars are spent annually on market research analyzing the shopping behaviors of natural products consumers.  While catchy slogans (i.e. '#1 selling multivitamin') and impressive label designs may catch your eye, this doesn’t necessarily guarantee a quality product.  
  • Select a multivitamin manufactured by a reputable company.  Criteria to look for include FDA registration, cGMP certification and/or NSF certification, in addition to a record of ethical behavior as a company.  cGMP compliant manufacturers must meet quality standards set forth by the FDA.  These Good Manufacturing Procedures ensure that proper control methods have been established, in an effort to protect the consumer.2 Consumer Lab is also a good resource for third party product reviews.  
  • Pick out a multivitamin tailored to your specific needs.  Many multivitamins are formulated to suit consumers of different age groups, genders or specific health conditions.  These will vary not only in the RDAs of vitamins and minerals, but often contain additional nutrients or herbs to support age- or gender-related conditions such as acne, PMS, menopause or prostate health.
  •  Investigate the form of each nutrient.  This is an important factor in determining the quality of a multivitamin.  A nutrient’s form refers to what other molecules are attached to it: for example, calcium may be delivered as calcium citrate, calcium carbonate or calcium lactate, amongst others.  The form of a nutrient affects not only its bio-availability (the ability of the nutrient to be utilized by the body) but also how effectively it can be delivered to certain areas within the body (i.e. the brain).  A nutrient’s form also determines whether it is in a biologically active state, or if it requires further transformation in order to carry out a particular task within the body. 
To illustrate, let's look at a couple of examples:
  • Magnesium:  Many supplement manufacturers use a less expensive, inorganic form of this mineral known as magnesium oxide.  For example, a manufacturer may claim that their multivitamin contains an impressive 200 or 400mg of magnesium per serving, which may at first appear substantially higher than that of a neighboring product.  However, if it is in the form of magnesium oxide, studies have shown that its absorption rate may be as low as 4%.  Alternatively, an organically chelated or food state form of magnesium may yield only 50 to 100mg per serving, but its bio-availability has been shown to be substantially higher than that of oxide in multiple studies. Simply put, you'll get more out of it.3-6
  • B Vitamins:  Likewise, many multivitamins use inexpensive forms of B vitamins rather than biologically active co-enzymated forms.  In the case of B12, the non-coenzymated cyanocobalamin form requires further processing within the body to be converted into its more active co-enzymated form, methylcobalamin.  Only very small levels of orally ingested cyanocobalamin are actually converted to this methyl form of B12, which comprises around 70% of total blood plasma B12 reserves.7,8
  • Read supplement facts carefully.  It’s important to understand what a serving actually consists of and how much of a particular nutrient is delivered per serving.  Ask yourself the following questions:
  • How many tablets am I willing to take per day?  One, or six?  Am I willing to take a greater number of tablets in exchange for a smaller tablet size?
  • Do I prefer a multivitamin in capsule, tablet, liquid, powder or chewable form?
  • Do I have any medical contraindications?  Some multivitamins are designed to exclude iron, vitamin K, copper, iodine, or herbs that may conflict with certain pharmaceuticals.  Be aware of your individual medical concerns when choosing an appropriate supplement.
  • Read the ‘other ingredients’ label.  This is usually listed in fine print beneath the supplement facts box.  Does the product contain allergens or other problematic ingredients?  Gluten, corn, soy, yeast, citrus, food coloring, artificial flavors and animal products are common ingredients that consumers may avoid due to food allergies, chemical sensitivities or lifestyle choices.

The most important point to remember when selecting a multivitamin is that making a good decision requires a bit of investigation.   Each person's needs are different, and seeking personalized advice can go a long way towards helping you make better choices, whether it be guidance from your medical practitioner or from a member of our knowledgeable staff.  As a consumer, knowing what you want and taking the time to educate yourself on the range of options available is key to making better, well-informed purchasing decisions.


1  Dietary Supplement Use Among U.S. Adults Has Increased Since NHANES III (1988–1994).
U.S. Centers for Disease Control, NCHS Data Brief, April 2011.  link

2 Dietary Supplement Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs) and Interim Final Rule (IFR) Facts. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 22 June 2007.  link

3 Firoz M, Graber M. Bioavailability of US commercial magnesium preparations. Magnes Res 2001;14:257-62. link

4 Lindberg JS, Zobitz MM, Poindexter JR, Pak CY. Magnesium bioavailability from magnesium citrate and magnesium oxide. J Am Coll Nutr 1990;9:48-55. link

5 Walker AF, Marakis G, Christie S, Byng M. Mg citrate found more bioavailable than other Mg preparations in a randomized, double-blind study. Mag Res 2003;16:183-91. link

6 Claire, Alison.  The Definitive Guide to Magnesium & Magnesium Supplements.  Metabolics, April 10 2013.  link

7 Vitamin B12 – Forms.  In-Tele-Health.  Hyperhealth Pro 10.0, 2010.

8  Kelly, G. The Coenzyme Forms of Vitamin B12: Toward an Understanding of their Therapeutic Potential. Alternative Medicine Review 1997;2:459-471