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Is it good to take a multivitamin?

These little powerhouses may contain all the vitamins and minerals your body needs to maintain good health

In an ideal world, we’d get all the nutrients we need from eating a healthy, balanced diet, but it can be tricky for some people to get enough. That’s where a multivitamin comes in handy.

A 2014 study published in Nutrition Journal found that while a varied diet is the best source of essential vitamins and minerals, a multivitamin may help fill in any small but critical nutritional gaps that could otherwise lead to deficiencies.

Taking a multivitamin not only tops up your vitamin and mineral levels, it also has a number of benefits for your body and brain. Find out why these tiny tablets can have a big impact on your health.

Who needs a multivitamin?

Eating a wide range of fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, wholegrain foods and healthy sources of protein should provide us with a good balance of nutrients, but not many of us eat this well.

Only around a quarter of adults in England ate five or more portions of fruit and veg a day in 2015, according to a survey by NHS Digital. Furthermore, nearly 50% of adults ate less than three portions a day, with adults aged 16 to 24 being the least likely to eat the recommended five portions a day.

And even if you do eat plenty of fruit and veg, chances are you won’t be getting as many vitamins and minerals from these foods as you would have a century ago.

An ongoing study by McCance and Widdowson found that nutrient levels in fruit and vegetables have declined significantly over the past 70 years, with modern farming methods and new plant varieties believed to be the cause.

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The way we process certain vitamins also means we need to keep replenishing them. The fat-soluble vitamins – A, D, E and K – can be stored in our bodies, giving us a ready supply. But others need to be consumed every day to help our bodies function normally.

These are all the B vits and the powerful antioxidant vitamin C. These are water-soluble vitamins, so we need to consume enough of them each day, whether that’s from our food or via a supplement. Certain groups of people will also benefit from taking a multivitamin, such as:

  • those with allergies or intolerances – they may not be eating enough fruit and vegetables or are not eating widely from a range of different food groups
  • vegetarians and vegans – they could be missing out on certain micronutrients that are mainly found in meat, like vitamin B12 and iron, but a multivitamin will include these micronutrients in the right quantities for optimum health
  • pregnant women – pregnancy increases your body’s need for certain nutrients, such as iron and folate, so you may benefit from taking a multivitamin if you’re pregnant or trying for a baby
  • the over 50s – after this age, our bodies find it harder to absorb some of the essential nutrients that we need, including vitamin B12
  • children aged six months to five years – the government recommends young children take vitamin supplements containing vitamins A, C and D every day

Your GP may also recommend a multivitamin if you’ve been ill recently or have a medical condition that means you need a top-up.

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What happens if we don’t get enough vitamins?

Our bodies need a balance of nutrients to function normally. If we don’t get enough nutrients from food, or can’t absorb the nutrients properly, we could end up with nutritional deficiencies.

The most widespread nutritional deficiency in the world is a lack of iron. We need iron to help produce the red blood cells that transport oxygen around our bodies. Symptoms of an iron deficiency include fatigue, weakness and anaemia.

According to the World Health Organisation, around 25% of people worldwide are anaemic due to an iron deficiency. But a multivitamin supplement will include the right amount of iron to help plug any gaps in our diet.

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What else can multivitamins do?

A good quality multivitamin should contain a whole range of micronutrients that our bodies need for normal functioning and repair, from vitamin A right through to zinc.

But taking a multivitamin supplement has a protective effect on your health too.

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Multivitamins may improve your memory

A review of 10 studies on memory and multivitamin use, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2012, concluded that taking multivitamins can improve your short-term memory.

Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
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Sources

  1. Ward E. Addressing nutritional gaps with multivitamin and mineral supplements. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4109789/
  2. Statistics on obesity, physical activity and diet, England 2017. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/statistics-on-obesity-physical-activity-and-diet-england-2017
  3. McCance RA, Widdowson EM. The Mineral Depletion Of Foods Available To Us As a Nation (1940–2002) – A Review of the 6th Edition of McCance and Widdowson. Available from: http://www.mineralresourcesint.co.uk/pdf/Mineral_Depletion_of_Foods_1940_2002.pdf
  4. Medical News Today. All you need to know about fat-soluble vitamins. Available from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320310.php
  5. Vitamins: Their functions and sources. Available from: https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/tc/vitamins-their-functions-and-sources-topic-overview#1
  6. National Institutes of Health. Vitamin B12. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional/
  7. Sullivan K, et al. Multivitamin use in pregnant and nonpregnant women. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2663874/
  8. Older adults: 9 nutrients you may be missing. Available from: https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/features/missing-nutrients#1
  9. NHS Choices. Vitamins for children. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/vitamins-for-children/
  10. NHS Choices. Do I need vitamin supplements? Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/chq/pages/1122.aspx?categoryid=51&subcategoryid=168
  11. Nutritional deficiencies (malnutrition). Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/malnutrition
  12. Food Fact Sheet: Iron. Available from: https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/iron_food_fact_sheet.pdf
  13. World Health Organisation. Global anaemia prevalence and number of individuals affected. Available from: http://www.who.int/vmnis/anaemia/prevalence/summary/anaemia_data_status_t2/en/
  14. Grima N, et al. The effects of multivitamins on cognitive performance: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22330823
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