Medically reviewed on May 13, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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There’s a reason it’s an apple—not a donut—a day that keeps the doctor away. Natural foods contain essential vitamins and minerals that support health, from eyesight to metabolism. But if vitamins are found in food, do you need a daily multivitamin supplement?
With all the health advice flying around online, it can be hard to know what’s right. However, a daily multivitamin might be a great addition to your routine. While not a replacement for nutritious food, a multivitamin can aid in daily and long-term health benefits.
Curious if you need a supplement with your peas and carrots? Let’s explore the ingredients and benefits of a multivitamin to give the full picture. (Note that you can now shop Everlywell Vitamins and Supplements here.)
Multivitamin ingredients and the health benefits of each
When it comes to multivitamins, the ingredients list can range from minimal to scroll-worthy. Anything from turmeric to magnesium could be thrown into the mix. However, common or basic multivitamins almost always contain moderate amounts of the 13 essential vitamins .
To understand the power packed inside these daily tablets, let’s explore the purpose of each vitamin and the other common ingredients that basic multivitamins often include.
The body categorizes vitamins into two families—water-soluble and fat-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water and are immediately absorbed by body tissues for use.
Each water-soluble vitamin has a specific set of bodily functions it supports, contributing to a comprehensive daily pill. Nine of the thirteen essential vitamins are water-soluble, including :
- Vitamin B1 – A carbohydrate converter, vitamin B1, also called thiamin, creates energy for the body, supports the nervous system, and contributes to a healthy body, from the skin to the brain.
- Vitamin B2 – Like a supportive partner, vitamin B2, or riboflavin, also converts food sources into usable energy. It similarly contributes to a healthy body.
- Vitamin B3 – This gut-based nutrient, also called niacin, facilitates healthy skin, digestion, and nervous system functioning, and has been shown to help manage cholesterol levels .
- Vitamin B5 – Vitamin B5, or pantothenic acid, primarily helps with food-energy conversion and creating fats, neurotransmitters, hormones, and more.
- Vitamin B6 – This nutrient, also called pyridoxine, regulates a range of functions, from appetite and sleep to cognition and mood stability. Vitamin B6 also converts tryptophan into serotonin, the “happiness” brain chemical.
- Vitamin B7 – Commonly known by its chemical name biotin, this vitamin helps process all macronutrients from food. It contributes to glucose synthesis, fatty acid absorption, plus overall hair, skin, and nail health.
- Vitamin B9 – Often called the “pregnancy vitamin,” vitamin B9, or folate/folic acid, can significantly protect against birth defects and several types of cancer. It also helps form red blood cells and promote neural growth.
- Vitamin B12 – A multi-purpose vitamin, B12, also called cobalamin, contributes to cellular production, nervous system protection, and the absorption of fatty and amino acids. Seniors especially need vitamin B12 supplementation, since older digestive systems often absorb this essential nutrient at a lower rate.
- Vitamin C – An antioxidant, vitamin C, is known broadly as the “healing nutrient.” It produces collagen, which is essential to healthy skin and fast healing, protects against harmful free radicals, and boosts immune system response.
Out of the thirteen essential vitamins, four are fat-soluble—vitamins A, D, E, and K. The body stores these nutrients in the liver, muscles, and other fatty tissue for long-term use.
While only a small amount of each is necessary, every human needs these essential nutrients to maintain a healthy body, mind, and lifestyle :
- Vitamin A – From retinol to retinoic acid, vitamin A protects the building blocks of the body like the eyes, skin, teeth, bones, and immune system.
- Vitamin D – Informally known as the “sunny vitamin,” vitamin D is produced by the body via sunlight exposure and is also derived from some dietary foods. This nutrient helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus, creating stronger bones and teeth.
- Vitamin E – This antioxidant captures unstable molecules called free radicals to prevent cellular damage. Additionally, vitamin E protects red blood cells and healthy immune responses.
- Vitamin K – The main benefit of vitamin K is healthy blood coagulation—clotting—but it also assists in bone, kidney, and blood health.
Minerals and vitamin-like compounds
Alongside the essential vitamins, most multivitamins also include crucial minerals and vitamin-like compounds in varying amounts, including :
Like vitamins, these substances also facilitate crucial, biological processes.
Why should I take a multivitamin?
If the list above was any indication, the nutrients contained in multivitamins are beyond important for daily wellness. And that was just the tip of the iceberg.
But if your diet is already full of vitamins and minerals, do you need a multivitamin?
The answer is, it depends. From diet alone, the body might receive enough nutrients. But if you have limited food intake or special health conditions, then a supplement could boost your health and improve things like constant weariness. And in the case of water-soluble vitamins, toxicity is very rare because our bodies naturally eliminate any excess.
Even better? There are other long-term multivitamin benefits supported by research.
Meeting your daily nutritional needs
If you eat a rainbow-colored plate, then you are more likely to meet your daily nutrient needs. But for the vegetable-averse or more limited eaters, a multivitamin supplement may be able to help you reach the levels of nutrients you need.
One study tracked nutrition adequacy across 90,000 men and women ages 45 and older. Compared to control subjects, men and women who took a multivitamin had a respective 12% and 8% higher nutritional adequacy. The more adequate nutrition, the more support for a healthy body .
Long-term disease prevention
Vitamins provide more than daily health support. They also create long-term protections against disease and dangerous conditions—everything from cancer to stroke. Multiple studies demonstrate the correlation between multivitamins and preventing health risks, including:
- Colon cancer – In men and women, multivitamins have proven beneficial for colon cancer prevention and mortality. Over 16 years, one study found that men and women who took a multivitamin had an 18% lower risk of colon cancer than those who did not . Another 16-year study found that multivitamin users had an 11% lower mortality risk from colon cancer .
- Breast cancer – While more research is needed, some studies have demonstrated a correlation between multivitamin intake and lower breast cancer mortality. A Women’s Health Institute study of 7,728 women with invasive breast cancer found that multivitamin users had a 30% lower death rate .
- Cardiovascular conditions – Multivitamins are significantly linked to a lower risk of heart conditions. For males over 39 years old, one study found multivitamin users had a 14% lower risk of coronary angioplasty, while users for more than 20 years had a lower risk of stroke and ischemic heart disease. For women, another study found a 44% lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality in those who took multivitamins .
Prenatal and natal health
You’ve probably heard the term “eating for two” for pregnant women. You could also say a developing mother needs “vitamins for two.”
Enter the prenatal vitamin.
These specialty formulas combine the top nutrients that doctors recommend for expecting mothers, including:
- Folic acid (vitamin B9) – Almost every pregnant woman needs vitamin B9 supplements. Research shows that a 400mg dose of this vitamin protects against neural tube defects for growing babies .
- Iron – Due to increasing iron needs, about 52% of pregnant women have anemia, which is often connected to iron deficiency . Anemia during pregnancy is correlated with premature birth, low birth weight, baby respiratory issues, and other complications. To combat any deficiency, the World Health Organization recommends pregnant women take about 60mg of elemental iron per day .
- Basic multivitamins – Even a broad-spectrum multivitamin is beneficial for pregnant women. One study found that multivitamin use during pregnancy reduced the low-birth-weight rate by 12% and premature birth rate by 10% . Another study found that in adolescent pregnant women (below 20 years old), a multivitamin lowered the same risks by 13% and 12% .
- Vitamin D – Once born, newborns need a lot of bone-building vitamin D to thrive. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants supplement at least 400 IU of vitamin D until completely weaned or drinking sufficient fortified formula . Otherwise, the risk for rickets soars.
Support your health with Everlywell
From sharp vision to healthy babies, multivitamins can provide significant health support. To find the best formula for your health needs, consult your healthcare provider. Equipped with the right information, they can point you towards the specific nutrients that your body might need. Then, consider trying a monthly Everlywell subscription for the nutrient(s) of your choice, including:
Everlywell Vitamins & Supplements are here! Meet the new nutritional essentials for a healthier you
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