Chances are, you are among the 60 percent of Americans who take a multivitamin/multi-mineral supplement (or “multi) on a regular basis. 

Most people don’t really know if what they are taking is what works best for them. Some are not sure if the multi actually has all the components that the nutritional label reflects.

There are certainly many well-supported reasons for this confusion, as Tod Cooperman, MD,  and president of www.consumerlab.com, explains: “For starters, the Daily Values (DV) on labels are outdated (from 1968) and don’t match the latest Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs); labels don’t inform you if you are exceed the Upper Intake Limit (UL); and labels are not always written properly and clearly.”

On top of that, “a person’s needs vary depending on their diet and people have a hard time knowing the nutritional composition of their diet. And of course, as Consumer Labs has shown, some brands mislabel the amounts of nutrients they provide,” says Cooperman.

First Step

But before letting you know what to look for when buying your multi, evaluate if you even need to take one. Cooperman encourages that the first question that you should ask is: Do you really need to take a multi?

“It depends on what you’re getting from your diet already. If you’re not eating well, then you may consider a supplementation. Likewise, supplementation is important with certain conditions, such as pregnancy,” states Cooperman. “There is no evidence that a multi-vitamin will improve your life and increase life span; unless you have a deficiency, [it] may not make a difference.”

Debunked Myths

1.  More is better

Susan B. Dopart, MS,RD, C.D.E,  author of the book A Recipe for Life, http://www.susandopart.com/store/ elaborates that the water-soluble vitamins (B- complex and C) cannot be stored in the body, so they need to be replenished. The body will use what it needs while fat-soluble vitamins ( A, D, E, K) are not eliminated by the body when ingested in large quantities, but instead are stored in the liver and fat tissue.

“However, there are some water soluble vitamins that do have certain side effects. It’s also important to know which ones interact with certain drugs,” writes Dopart in her book.

Some of the most popular ones that can bring you more harm than good, Cooperman points out are:

a)   Vitamin A: It’s easy to go over the limit. Even products still marked as providing 100 percent of the DV may be higher than upper limits for younger children. It can cause bone weakening and other types of toxicity as well.

b)   Folic Acid: You don’t want to get too much. It’s important to get the basic amount, which is 400 mcg per day (imperative for pregnant women—800 mcg). You don’t want to go over 1,000 mcg (especially for men) because it may increase the risk of prostate cancer. Eating a lot of fortified foods and beverages can easily cause you to exceed this.

c)   Vitamin C: Too much (more than 2,000 mg for adults) can cause diarrhea.

d)   Vitamin D: You shouldn’t really need to push the limits (more than 4,000 IU for adults) unless it’s medically necessarily.

e)    Calcium: 1,000-1,200 mg—no more than 800 mg a day from supplements. You can’t absorb more than 500 mg at a time.

A recent study evaluating white women between the ages 55-69 who were followed for 22 years showed that higher intake of calcium (900mg per day) and iron supplement in particular increased the risk of death. However, when calcium was taken less than 900mg per day, it actually reduced the risk of death by 3.9 percent.

The Consumer Lab review about the results of this study state this: “The bottom line: Don’t take a supplement you don’t need. If you want to know how much of each vitamin and mineral you need from your total diet and how much is too much, see our chart at www.consumerlab.com/RDAs.”

2.  If it’s a supplement sold in a drugstore, it should be safe

Cooperman affirms “that claims on most supplements are not verified by anyone other than the manufacturer and sometimes they are not even checking. We find that one quarter of the supplements we test don’t provide what they claim or have other problems with their quality.”

Tune in Sunday for more myths about multis.

Marta Montenegro inspires people to live healthy lives by giving them the tools and strength to find one’s inner athlete through her personal website MartaMontenegro.com. She created SOBeFiT, a national fitness magazine for men and women, and the Montenegro Method DVD workout series – a program she designed for getting results in just 21 days by exercising 21 minutes a day . Marta is a strength and conditioning coach and serves as an adjunct professor of exercise physiology at Florida International University.

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Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning coach and master trainer, who teaches as an adjunct professor at Florida International University. Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website, martamontenegro.com, combines fitness, nutrition and health tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.

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