Not sure what should be in a multivitamin? Our experts break it down.
If a walk down the vitamin and supplement aisle has ever sent your head spinning, you’re not alone. When thousands of bottles line the shelves, it seems impossible to know where to look and what to choose, especially if you haven’t been given any guidance beforehand.
While a quick internet search will tell you anything from multivitamins are necessary for everyone to multivitamins are a scam, the truth is, every individual is different, and some people need them while others may not. Like anything that has to do with your health, it’s important to talk to your doctor first to figure out a regimen that’s tailored to you and your lifestyle.
If you already know you need a multivitamin because there are some nutritional gaps in your diet that need to be filled, we’ve scoured the shelves and talked to experts to help you shop. Mastaneh Sharafi, Ph.D., RD, from Ritual and Lana Butner, ND, LAc, explained what a good multivitamin contains and why you may consider taking one.
What is a multivitamin?
Essentially, a multivitamin is there to fill in the gaps — it’s nearly impossible to get every single vitamin and mineral you need from your diet, and a daily multivitamin adds those in wherever you need them. “A multivitamin is important to provide nutrients to help support functions like bone, heart, and brain health,” Dr. Sharafi says.
“While you should aim to meet most of your nutrient needs through a healthy diet, it’s important to also note that no matter how healthy you eat or what kind of diet you follow, it can be difficult to get enough of all the nutrients you need,” she says. “Every diet can have gaps — whether you’re vegan, paleo, keto, or eat everything.” Plus, factors like genetic variations, your age, or current life stage also play a role.
Dr. Butner also explains that, “some people struggle to absorb nutrients due to a factors such as gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, small intestine bacterial overgrowth, food sensitivities, or leaky gut, or due to autoimmune conditions such as fibromyalgia, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, as well as in hormonal imbalances like hashimotos, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and even hormonal cancers.”
In these cases, it’s especially hard to get the nutrients you need through food alone. “I always recommend getting vitamins, minerals, and nutrients from food first (or in the case of vitamin D, sunshine!), as supplements are meant to do just that: Supplement!” she says.
Why should you take a multivitamin?
“Key nutrients like Vitamin D3 are important to help support normal immune function, calcium helper-nutrients like D3, K2, Magnesium, and Boron help maintain bone health, magnesium and D3 also help contribute to normal muscle function,” Dr. Sharafi says. “Nutrients such as Omega-3 DHA and Vitamin B12 can help support brain health.”
Dr. Butner also recommends looking for a vitamin that includes a variety of the B vitamins, which are essential to overall nervous system health. These would appear in the ingredients section of your multivitamin bottle under thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), and methylcobalamin (B12).
Why do you need a different multivitamin after you turn 50?
Fifty isn’t the magic age where your body stops processing certain nutrients, but it’s around the age most women experience menopause. Once you stop menstruating, you actually need less iron because you aren’t losing as much as when you’re having a regular period.
“When we no longer have a period, iron needs are considerably less, and most women can meet those needs through diet alone in foods like spinach and other leafy greens, meat, seafood, beans, tofu, eggs, and broccoli,” Dr. Sharafi says.
“Another nutrient you often hear discussed is calcium. Before menopause, estrogen helps out a lot with calcium absorption in our bones, so after menopause, bone health becomes an important focus. However, supplementing with calcium is not necessarily the answer,” she says. “At Ritual, we keep a close analytical eye on emerging science on calcium and its role in aging, and the debate around the ideal and safe amount of calcium, with risks of being linked to over-supplementation. That’s why we emphasize eating a diet rich in calcium, and looking to a multivitamin for ‘helper-nutrients’ that help with supporting calcium absorption like K2, magnesium, D3 and boron.” Dr. Butner says that other nutrients that help support proper calcium absorption are vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, boron, and molybdenum, which you should look for in your multivitamin.
Overwhelmed? Thankfully, these two doctors shared their recommendations for the best multivitamins for women over 50.
The information provided on this site isn’t intended as medical advice, and shouldn’t replace professional medical treatment. Consult your doctor with any serious health concerns.