Q: I want to start taking a multivitamin but I’m not sure which brand to take? How do I find the best multivitamin for women?
With so many multivitamins on the market, it is often difficult to determine which brands are trustworthy and right for you. Plus, trying to determine how much of certain nutrients you need is enough to give you a headache! The good news is that a women’s multivitamin is designed to meet your unique health and nutritional needs at various stages of your life.
Address Women’s Health Issues
While you can’t expect a women’s multivitamin to address major medical conditions, you should look for the nutrients that support women’s general health issues. Whether your goal is to boost bone density, fight a family history of heart disease, enhance energy levels or make your friends (and enemies!) envy your flawless hair, skin and nails, below are a few things that you should look for in a high-quality women’s multivitamin & mineral supplement.
Bone Supporting Nutrients
Women need to take special care to protect their bones and joints to prevent against osteoporosis. Adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle is integral in maintaining healthy bones. Taking a multivitamin that is formulated with at least 750 mg of calcium as well as other bone supporting nutrients like magnesium, boron, and vitamins D and K is also a good insurance policy. Keep in mind that “one-a-day” multivitamins skimp on these important vitamins and minerals because these nutrients can’t easily fit into a single tablet. If you buy a multi that doesn’t include these bone supporting nutrients in adequate amounts, then you’re looking at taking a Cal-Mag supplement. Taking a women’s multivitamin that includes these bone supporting nutrients keeps things simple and means that you don’t have to juggle yet another bottle of tablets.
Heart disease isn’t a disease that affects just men; it’s our nation’s #1 killer of women. A women’s multivitamin can support a healthy cardiovascular system. Choose a formula that includes B6, B12, and folate at levels at least 150% of Daily Values. These B-vitamins play a role in cardiovascular health by lowering homocysteine – a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. In addition, niacin, another type of B-vitamin, can elevate HDL or “good” cholesterol.
Hair, Skin & Nail Formula
Look for the full complex of B-vitamins – thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin/niacinamide (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7), folic acid (B9) and cyanocobalamin (B12). The B-complex not only helps to support healthy hair, skin & nails but provides a counter-balance to daily stress. The B-vitamins also help support energy levels throughout the day. Look for amounts at least 150% of Daily Values, especially biotin and pantothenic acid.
Quality Makes a Difference
Choosing a high-quality women’s multivitamin ensures that you get the most for your money. The dosing method, inclusion or exclusion of certain ingredients, and how those ingredients are delivered each contributes to the quality of the supplement.
Morning & Evening Dosing
Some vitamins promote energy whereas some minerals support rest and relaxation. The use of daytime and nighttime dosing, or chronotherapy, provides the right nutrients at the right time of day. Divided doses also ensure optimal absorption of the water-soluble vitamins, like vitamin C and the B-complex, which are not stored in the body and need to be replenished throughout the day. While a one-a-day is convenient, taking a multi in a morning and in the evening ensures bioavailability and absorption.
Since Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) are based upon the minimum amount needed to prevent deficiency, getting 100% of a nutrient may be insufficient to meet the demands of your lifestyle. For example, most women take 300 – 500 mg of vitamin C and 200 – 400 IUs of vitamin E daily. If you take a supplement that contains 100% of the Daily Values for vitamin C this is just 60 mg! For vitamin E, it’s just 30 IUs. The ideal women’s multivitamin formula will provide over 100% of the Daily Values for key vitamins including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E and the B-complex.
Natural Vitamin Sources
To keep costs down, lower priced women’s multivitamins are often formulated with synthetic vitamin E. Although more expensive, research has demonstrated that the natural form is more readily absorbed than the synthetic counterpart. How do you know if a supplement uses synthetic vitamin E? Just look at the label. If you see an “l” in the ingredient list as in “dl-alpha-tocopherol acetate” that means the source is synthetic vitamin E. If you see just a “d” as in “d-alpha-tocopherol” that means the source is natural vitamin E.
The vitamin A (beta carotene) source used in many lower priced multivitamins also tends to be a synthetic. Vitamin A Acetate, a synthetic source, is an example. Again, this ingredient is cheaper to use than a natural source like Betatene® which is more readily absorbed by the body.
Full-Spectrum of Vitamin E and Carotenoid Families
In addition to using a natural source, well-designed formulations include a broader spectrum of vitamin E. Although we think of vitamin E as a singular nutrient, in fact, the vitamin is comprised of two families: tocopherols and tocotrienols. Within each of these families are four members – alpha, beta, gamma and delta- totaling eight members. In foods with high vitamin E content, all of the members tend to be present. The members have complementary roles. Some convert more readily to vitamin E whereas others function as potent antioxidants. By isolating just one member, a common practice with supplements, you’re not getting the full spectrum of benefits from the vitamin E family. The ideal women’s multivitamin incorporates the mixed, natural form of both tocopherols and tocotrienols, to confer the widest number of health benefits.
For the same reason, instead of just using beta-carotene, well-designed formulations use a carotenoid blend which not only includes beta-carotene, but lutein, zeaxanthin, cryptoxanthin, lycopene. Each of these nutrients belongs to a family of compounds called carotenoids. Some carotenoids, like beta-carotene, convert readily to vitamin A or have pro-vitamin A activity. However, the vast majority of carotenoids, like lycopene, do not have any vitamin A activity. Instead, they exert powerful antioxidant benefits.
Chelated Minerals for Maximal Absorption
Minerals can be difficult for your body to absorb so formulas that contain chelated minerals are a great choice. Chelation is a technology that attaches an amino acid (protein) to a mineral. When ingested, the body absorbs the amino acid and, as a result, is “tricked” into absorbing the mineral. Look for “soy protein chelates” or “rice protein chelates” in a women’s multivitamin to ensure that the minerals in the formulation are chelated.
Supplemental iron should only be taken by individuals who are iron-deficient, as determined by their physician. Also, for better absorption, iron should be taken separately from other nutrients and should not be included in a multivitamin. Look for a women’s multivitamin formula that is iron-free.
Many women’s multivitamins are formulated with iodine. A lack of iodine is associated with goiter, a condition when the thyroid gland grows larger than normal. In the U.S. most people use iodized salt so it is unlikely that they lack in this element. If you are prone to acne, limit your consumption of foods and supplements that contain iodine as this element is known to exacerbate acne.
No Artificial Ingredients
Lower priced women’s multivitamins often use synthetic dyes and colorants to make the tablets look more appealing (e.g., FD&C Yellow #5, FD&C Yellow #6, FD&C Blue #2 which are used in One-A-Day Women’s). These colorants can cause allergic reactions in some individuals. Why ingest more chemicals than you need? Supplements that use natural colorants, like riboflavin (yellow) and zinc (white), provide a more natural, safer alternative.
No Herbal Ingredients
Some women’s multivitamins include botanicals that are associated with women’s health including Uva Ursi, Black Cohosh, Dong Quai and soy isoflavones. Herbal ingredients are better suited for short-term use and should be taken separately from a multivitamin for enhanced absorption. Importantly, the amount of herbal ingredients in many women’s multivitamins often amount to no more than “window dressing”. Taking an herbal as a separate supplement ensures that you obtain adequate dosing to serve the intended purpose.
In addition to a well balanced diet, supplementing daily with a women’s multivitamin is an important step in maintaining good health. To ensure that the supplement you select provides your body with the nutrients it needs, look for a formula that addresses a spectrum of women’s health issues and is formulated with high-quality ingredients, at efficacious doses.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.