The health benefits of multivitamins have always been challenged, and use has declined in recent years as people apparently believe that eating a good diet will provide all they need for excellent health. But this simply isn’t the case. Most people don’t eat as well as they should, and food isn’t as nutritious as it once was.
Furthermore, strong research shows that one of the biggest health benefits of multivitamins is their ability to help us live not only healthier, but longer lives. Bruce Ames, PhD, published a study in October 2018 titled “Prolonging Healthy Aging: Longevity Vitamins and Proteins.” In it, he explains how vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients are not only essential for our current health and well-being, but also have a strong influence on how rapidly and gracefully we age.
Humans require at least 30 vitamins and minerals plus a handful of other nutrients that are not produced by the body but must come from outside sources. These nutrients serve as cofactors or coenzymes—helper molecules, if you will—for the metabolic processes that sustain life. Magnesium, for example, is a cofactor for 500 enzymes, and zinc is required by 2,000 proteins. If you lack any one of these crucial nutrients, you will die.
All these micronutrients are present in food. But considering so many Americans don't exactly eat a healthy diet, why aren’t we sick most of the time? Because the body has a built-in rationing system. It preferentially directs whatever micronutrients are available towards carrying out vital functions that keep us alive.
Unfortunately, this often leaves little left over for repair, regeneration, and other activities that ensure long-term health. So energy production and other functions necessary for short-term survival are preserved—at the expense of preventing DNA damage and maintaining tissue repair. But there is an upside. By maintaining optimal nutritional status, your body doesn’t have to “choose.”
Why Multis Matter
Most of the nutrients necessary for survival, such as magnesium, selenium, vitamins C, D, and K, and omega-3 fatty acids, are also required for healthy aging. They are so important that Dr. Ames refers to them collectively as “longevity vitamins” and maintains that deficiencies at any time in life result in cumulative damage that increases risk of chronic disease, premature aging, and shortened lifespan.
Our increase in life expectancy over the past decades is an enormous achievement, but our “health span”—the number of years we’re not just alive but healthy—could use some work. Living a long life, free of disease and disability, depends on a number of factors, some of which are beyond your control. However, as Dr. Ames concludes, “...in addition to keeping physically fit, the low-hanging fruit in prolonging a healthy aging lies in optimizing V/M [vitamin and mineral] intake.”
And if that isn't enough to convince you that supplementation is a good idea, here are 15 other health benefits of multivitamins:
- Improve short-term memory. According to a meta-analysis of 10 randomized, placebo-controlled trials, taking a daily multivitamin can help improve short-term memory.
- Detoxify your body. The robust levels of minerals, antioxidants, and B-complex vitamins present in a high-quality daily multivitamin help clear toxins from the body, facilitate enzymatic reactions required for detoxification, and keep the liver and other organs in tip-top shape.
- Maintain muscle strength. Age-related loss of muscle mass is associated with free radical damage. An antioxidant-rich daily multivitamin helps keep free radicals in check. Vitamin D has also been shown to improve muscle strength in older people.
- Prevent falls. Numerous studies have found that a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement—particularly one with therapeutic dosages of vitamin D (at least 1,000 IU) and calcium (1,000 mg)—can improve balance and reduce risk of falls.
- Improve sense of smell. Anosmia, the inability to detect odors, may be caused by a deficiency of zinc. Low levels of vitamins B12 and A along with copper are also associated with changes in sense of smell (and taste).
- Protect against hearing loss. Several studies have found correlations between hearing loss and deficiencies in B-complex vitamins. In one study, people with elevated homocysteine levels had a 64 percent increased risk of hearing loss. The best way to lower homocysteine levels? B-complex vitamins.
- Improve your skin. Beta-carotene and vitamins C and E are important for maintaining healthy, younger-looking skin.
- Stave off asthma and allergies. People with asthma and those prone to allergies often have depleted levels of vitamin C, zinc, selenium, and magnesium.
- Prevent diabetes complications. Diabetes increases urination and thus loss of water-soluble vitamins and minerals, resulting in deficiencies that dramatically increase risk of additional problems that affect the eyes, nerves, blood vessels, kidneys, and extremities. The best way to prevent these complications, in addition to keeping blood sugar under control, is taking a potent daily multivitamin and mineral supplement.
- Manage stress. Along with boosting mood, a daily multivitamin—particularly one containing therapeutic dosages of B-complex vitamins—can help reduce stress and anxiety.
- Enhance weight loss. In a randomized, double-blind study, researchers divided obese women into three groups and gave them either a multivitamin and mineral supplement, a calcium supplement, or a placebo daily for 26 weeks. At the end of the study, the women who took the multivitamin and mineral supplement lost an average of 7.9 pounds, compared to 2 pounds for those taking calcium, and half a pound in the placebo group.
- Improve sexual function. Optimal sexual function is dependent on robust flow to the organs that are responsive to sexual hormones. Vitamin C, vitamin E, and B-complex vitamins protect the arteries and improve blood flow throughout the body. Zinc is a requisite for testosterone production, the hormone of desire in both men and women—yet another reason why taking a potent daily multivitamin can boost libido and performance.
- Prevent dry eyes. A lifetime of free radical damage takes its toll, and our eyes are no exception. One of the most common complaints is dry eyes, caused by a dramatic decline in tear production as we get older. Antioxidants, especially vitamin A, are essential for maintaining lubrication and overall eye health. That’s why shoring up on these crucial nutrients can help correct or prevent problems from developing in the first place.
- Stop telomere erosion. Chromosomes, found in the nucleus of all your cells, carry the genetic blueprints for your growth, development, and physiological function. At the tips of every chromosome are protective “caps” called telomeres, which naturally get shorter as we age. Research has found that taking a daily multivitamin can help slow and even reverse this erosion.
- Prevent dental problems. Vitamin C plays a key role in the prevention of gum disease, as it helps maintain the integrity of the supporting structures of the oral tissues. Other antioxidants, including vitamins A and E as well as selenium, have also been shown to improve the health of the gums. Perhaps even more important is zinc, which stabilizes cellular membranes and inhibits plaque growth. Deficiencies in both zinc and vitamin A are also common in patients with periodontal disease.
How to Choose a Quality Multivitamin
All multivitamins are not created equal. A good, high-quality multi will contain optimal doses of several key vitamins and minerals. Here’s a list of the optimal dosages to look for in your multivitamin:
Vitamin A: 15,000 IU (primarily from beta-carotene)
Vitamin C: 1,000–1,500 mg
Vitamin D: Enough to achieve a blood level of 50–80 ng/mL
Vitamin E: 200 IU
Thiamin: 50 mg
Riboflavin (B2): 50 mg
Niacin (B3): 100 mg
Vitamin B6: 75 mg
Folic Acid: 800 mcg
Vitamin B12: 150 mcg
Biotin: 300 mcg
Pantothenic Acid: 50 mg
Choline: 200 mg
Calcium: 1,000 mg
Iodine: 150 mcg
Magnesium: 500 mg
Zinc: 30 mg
Selenium: 200 mcg
Copper: 2 mg
Manganese: 10 mg
Chromium: 200 mcg
Molybednum: 130 mcg
Multivitamin Tips and Tricks
Once you’ve found a good multi, there are a few things you should do to make sure you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck.
- If possible, take your multi in divided doses. In the morning and then again around dinnertime is preferable. This will help ensure you’re getting essential nutrients throughout the day.
- Take multivitamins with food, to avoid stomach upset.
- Take your multivitamins at the same time every day to make it routine. If you have trouble remembering, try setting an alarm on your phone or computer.
- If your multi doesn’t come in daily packets, make your own in a pill container or use Ziploc bags to stay organized and on track.