Should You Take a Multivitamin?

For many men and women, multivitamins are part of their everyday startup routine. They are the number one dietary supplement but the real question is, are those multivitamins really doing anything for you?

Look to your diet
Dr. David Totton, Ambulatory Pharmacist with Shore Physicians Group in Somers Point offered his advice on multivitamins. “In general, most people will get the daily required amount of vitamins and minerals through consuming a well-balanced diet and do not require a multivitamin supplementation,” said Dr. Totton. “There are, however, certain instances where multivitamin supplementation may be beneficial, such as during pregnancy, different dietary strategies or if a deficiency is found on routine lab work.”

What is in your Multivitamin?
But what is really in most multivitamins? Dr. Totton said what most people are referring to when they say multivitamins are specifically multivitamins with minerals which generally contain the daily required amounts of vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K along with potassium, iodine, zinc, calcium, magnesium and/or iron. Dr. Totton suggests if you choose to take a multivitamin, choose one that best fits your individual needs. The multivitamins are available in a variety of formulations based on age, sex and specific nutritional needs.

No Thanks, Herbals
Herbal supplements such as St. John’s Wart and ginko are usually lacking research and do not go through the same regulatory processes set in place for most other supplements. “I recommend looking for products that contain the recommended daily allowances and the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) seal of approval on the label. This certifies that the product contains all ingredients listed on the label in the declared potency and is free from contaminants,” concluded Dr. Totton.

Who Benefits from Multivitamins?
Dr. Totton points out that those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet are often found to be lacking in some essential nutrients due to their strict dietary restrictions. “Some of the ones to be mindful of are vitamins B12, D, calcium and iron. Vegetarians and vegans may benefit from a multivitamin, however they should be aware that most multivitamins contain low amounts of calcium and iron so they may require a specialized product or individual supplements to meet their specific needs,” said Dr. Totton.

One group that is advised to take a multivitamin is pregnant women. Dr. Totton said those multivitamins are to support healthy development of the child. “During pregnancy it is important to be cognizant of six key nutrients: folic acid, iron, calcium, vitamin D, DHA (Omega-3’s), and iodine. The expectant mother needs the folic acid for proper development of the nervous system and can prevent birth defect such as spina bifida,” explained Dr. Totton. “Prenatal vitamins are also unique in that the vitamin A component comes in the form of beta-carotene (which is converted to vitamin A in the body). This is important because the consumption of too much vitamin A during pregnancy can increase the risk of birth defects, however this risk does not apply to beta-carotene.”

Cut it out!
Dr. Totton offers Medicare wellness visits in conjunction with the primary care physicians at Shore Physicians Group. He suggests to patients during a review of their medications, that if they are currently taking a multivitamin that has not been prescribed by their physician, they should discuss the necessity of taking the vitamin at their next visit. “You may find that you do not need it and that is one less expense and one less pill to worry about each day,” added Dr. Totton.

Acidic beverages can actually aid in the absorption of certain supplements, like the iron supplement ferrous sulfate. Dr. Totton cautions patients from adding grapefruit juice to their diet without first consulting their doctor or pharmacist because it can interact with certain medications and increase the risk of adverse effects.

According to Dr. Totton, multivitamins do not generally interact with most medications, but there are a few notable exceptions. “If you take the blood-thinner warfarin (brand name Coumadin), you should talk to your doctor before taking any product that contains vitamin K as this can decrease the effectiveness of your blood-thinner. Depending on which multivitamin product you take, there may be high enough levels of calcium or magnesium to interact with thyroid hormone medications such as levothyroxine (brand name Synthroid). In this case, it would be recommended that you space the two products out by at least 4 hours.”

The Best Way to get the Vitamins
Rather than taking a multivitamin, Dr. Totton suggested we all adopt a diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, good protein sources and healthy fats. Those components will provide most of the nutrients your body needs. While consuming multivitamins at the recommended dosage is not harmful with the only downside being the cost of the supplement, Dr. Totton said to save the money spent on unnecessary supplements and instead incorporate more healthy foods on a daily basis.

Dr. Totton is seeing patients at all Shore Physicians Group’s primary care offices. To make a Medicare Annual Wellness Visit appointment, contact your SPG primary care provider.