Patients don’t often ask me if they should take a multi-vitamin. They defer to my expertise on supplements. And I thank them for that.

But every now and again someone asks the question. Continue reading to learn the three basic issues regarding multi-vitamins.

1) Are you trying to treat a particular condition?

If you decided to take a multi-vitamin for a specific symptom or condition, you probably shouldn’t count on it helping much. First, most people with health issues need very specific nutrients. Although those same nutrients may be in the multi, they most likely won’t be in high enough amounts to help.

Additionally, when a particular nutrient is needed, it’s often best to take it alone. Generally speaking, you want to treat an imbalance with an imbalance. For example, if you need folic acid, or B12, or B6, you wouldn’t want to take the entire B-complex. It’s usually best and only effective when you take the isolated nutrient in order to help your overall balance return to normal. By taking too many nutrients, you won’t affect the balance as well as if you took the specific nutrient. That said, if you added a multi to a specific protocol of isolated nutrients, you’d probably fare well.

2) How is your diet?

Do you eat a well-balanced diet of whole foods? Or do you eat convenience foods when it’s convenient? If you eat a well-balanced, whole food diet you probably don’t even need a multi. Yes, it can be argued that the soil it was grown in (or the food the animal ate) doesn’t contain many nutrients. If you’re still concerned with a lack nutrients in your diet, it shouldn’t be a problem to take a multi. However, keep in mind that not all multi-vitamins are healthy (see #3 below).

If you eat a poor diet, you simply need to change your diet. You can’t expect a multi to be of much help if your diet is poor. There are so many different nutrients in whole foods (mainly known as phyto-chemicals from fruits and vegetables) that aren’t even in multis. Some of the whole food-sourced multis may contain them, but in negligible amounts. Think of the size of the capsule or tablet, and then the size of the fruit or vegetable portion you eat.

3) Is the multi-vitamin of high-quality?

Most over-the-counter multis are very poor quality and some are outright unhealthy. So it’s possible that you’re actually harming yourself by taking a multi.

First, if a multi contains artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, or fillers, you will be harming your body. Read the labels completely.

Second, most multis contain poor quality vitamins and minerals. Not all nutrients are created equal. For example, vitamin B6 can be in the form of pyridoxine or pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P5P). The active form that your cells use is P5P. Therefore, if you take pyridoxine, your body will have to convert it into P5P. This conversion requires energy and four other different nutrients (phosphorus, zinc, magnesium and vitamin B2). Now, let’s say you are already low in magnesium (whether you know it or not) and you decide to take a multi with pyridoxine. You may actually further deplete your magnesium levels as your body uses it to convert the pyridoxine into the active P5P. Wait, your multi has magnesium, so you’re covered. This isn’t necessarily true because if the magnesium is of poor quality (magnesium oxide, relatively speaking), you won’t absorb and be able to use that mineral well.

Think twice before just popping a multi. It may cause more harm than good. Or it may be of little use. That said, a high-quality multi can be fine and possibly helpful, all things considered…

Dr. Rob D’Aquila – NYC Chiropractor – Diplomate and board-certified teacher of the International College of Applied Kinesiology

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