What to Look for in a Multiple Vitamin and Mineral Supplement

In the last few years more Americans than ever have discovered the benefits of nutritional and herbal supplements. Unfortunately, while the myth that diet alone can provide all the essential nutrition necessary for optimal health, most popular one a day multiple vitamin and mineral formulas provide less than ideal amounts of most key nutrients. It would be great to get all the essential daily nutrients in one tablet, but it just isn’t possible.

Why should I take a high potency multiple vitamin and mineral formula?

While a health-promoting diet is an essential component of good health, so too is proper nutritional supplementation. While some experts say that you can theoretically meet all of your nutritional needs through diet alone, the reality is that most Americans do not. During recent years the U.S. government has sponsored a number of comprehensive studies (HANES I, II, and III, Ten State Nutrition Survey, USDA nationwide food consumption studies, etc.) to determine the nutritional status of the population. These studies have revealed marginal nutrient deficiencies exist in a substantial portion of the U.S. population (approximately 50 percent) and that for some selected nutrients in certain age groups more than 80 percent of the group consumed less than the RDA. 1

These studies indicate the chances of consuming a diet meeting the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for all nutrients is extremely unlikely for most Americans. In other words, while it is theoretically possible that a healthy individual can get all the nutrition they need from foods, the fact is that most Americans do not even come close to meeting all their nutritional needs through diet alone. In an effort to increase their intake of essential nutrients, many Americans look to vitamin and mineral supplements. Current estimates are that more than 70 percent of Americans now regularly take vitamin or mineral supplements. 2,3

It seems that taking vitamin and mineral supplements has become a way of life for most Americans. Sixty-seven percent of supplement users took only one supplement, with the majority of them taking a multiple vitamin and mineral product (46 percent). Unfortunately, most people taking a multiple vitamin and mineral formulas are still not getting what they really need because they are being misled into thinking that a “one a day” type multiple is meeting all their needs for optimum nutrition.

Are minerals important?

Absolutely. The key functions of vitamins and minerals in the human body revolve around their serving the role as essential components in enzymes and coenzymes. Enzymes are molecules involved in speeding up chemical reactions necessary for human bodily function. Coenzymes are molecules that help the enzymes in their chemical reactions. Enzymes and coenzymes work to either join molecules together or split them apart by making or breaking the chemical bonds that join molecules together. One of the key concepts in nutritional medicine is to supply the necessary support or nutrients to allow the enzymes of a particular tissue to work at its optimum levels. 

Most enzymes are composed of a protein along with an essential mineral, and possibly a vitamin. If an enzyme is lacking the essential mineral or vitamin, it cannot function properly. By providing the necessary mineral through diet or a nutritional formula, the enzyme is then able to perform its vital function. For example, zinc is necessary for the enzyme that activates vitamin A in the visual process. Without zinc in the enzyme, the vitamin A cannot be converted to the active form. This deficiency can result in what is known as night-blindness. By supplying the enzyme with zinc, we are allowing the enzyme to perform its vital function.

How can I ensure that I am getting what I need?

For optimum health, a high quality multiple vitamin and mineral supplement is an absolute necessity. A high quality multiple is one that provides optimal levels of both vitamins and minerals. Your body needs all of the important building blocks in order to build health. The following recommendations provide an optimum intake range to guide you in selecting a high-quality multiple. (Note that different vitamins and minerals are measured in different units. IU = International Units; mg = milligrams, mcg = micrograms.)

Vitamin Range for Adults

Mineral Range for Adults

Things to Note:

  • Women of childbearing age who may become pregnant should not take more than 2500 IU of retinol daily due to the possible risk of birth defects (Note: beta-carotene is safe during pregnancy and lactation).
  • People living in northern latitudes should supplement at the high range
  • Women should take 800 to 1,000 mg of calcium to reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Men and postmenopausal women rarely need supplemental iron.

To find a multiple vitamin and mineral formula that meet these criteria, read labels carefully. Be aware that you will not be able to find a formula that can provide all of these nutrients at these levels in one single pill – it would simply be too large. Usually, it will require at least four to six tablets to meet these levels. While many “one-a-day” supplements
provide good levels of vitamins, they are woefully insufficient in the levels of minerals.

What kind of benefits can I expect to gain from taking a high-quality multiple vitamin and mineral formula?

In addition to the enormous number of studies showing benefits from the individual nutrients in a high potency multiple, studies have shown that people taking a multiple vitamin and mineral formula may experience higher energy levels, improved brain function, fewer colds or infections, improved ability to deal with stress, greater sense of
well-being, and other health benefits.4-8 However, the reality is that many people taking a multiple may feel nothing. But just because they may not feel anything it doesn’t mean that the higher nutrient levels they are ingesting are not being used by the body. For example, there is evidence that people taking nutritional supplements may have a lowered
risk of heart disease, cancer, cataracts, and other degenerative diseases.9-11

In one of the most recent findings, it was found that women taking a multiple vitamin and mineral formula for more than 14 years had a 75% reduced rate of colon cancer.12 While it is extremely unlikely that these women felt the awesome protection they were being given by their supplement, nonetheless, they definitely realized the benefits.
Simply stated, the entire human body functions more optimally when it has a steady supply of high-quality nutrition.

Do men and women have different nutritional needs?

Yes. For example, women require higher calcium and vitamin B6 levels than men while men tend to require higher magnesium levels. Also, men rarely need to supplement their diet with iron. There are many subtle differences in nutritional requirements not only in men and women, but also based on a person’s age. The multiple vitamin and mineral formulas that I recommend, the MultiStart™ products from Natural Factors, are designed to meet the different nutritional needs of different ages and gender. These formulas contain not only gender and age-specific levels of vitamins and minerals, but also appropriate digestive factors and herbal extracts based on gender and/or age.


  1. National Research Council: Diet and Health. Implications for Reducing Chronic Disease Risk. National Academy Press,
    Washington, D.C., 1989
  2. Ervin RB,Wright JD, Kennedy-Stephenson J. Use of dietary supplements in the United States, 1988-94. Vital Health Stat 1999;Jun(244):1-14.
  3. Balluz LS, et al. Vitamin and mineral supplement use in the United States. Results from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Arch Fam Med 2000;9:258-62.
  4. Schlebusch L, et al. Double-blind, placebo-controlled, double-centre study of the effects of an oral multivitamin mineral combination on stress. S Afr Med J 2000;90:1216-23
  5. Carroll D, et al. The effects of an oral multivitamin combination with calcium, magnesium, and zinc on psychological well-being in healthy young male volunteers: a double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Psychopharmacology 2000;150:220-5
  6. Benton D, Haller J, Fordy J. Vitamin supplementation for 1 year improves mood. Neuropsychobiology. 1995;32:98-105.
  7. Benton D, Fordy J, Haller J. The impact of long-term vitamin supplementation on cognitive functioning. Psychopharmacology 1995;117:298-305.
  8. Johnson MA, Porter KH. Micronutrient supplementation and infection in institutionalized elders. Nutr Rev 1997;55:400-4.
  9. Meyer F, Bairati I, Dagenais GR. Lower ischemic heart disease incidence and mortality among vitamin supplement users. Can J Cardiol 1996;12:930-4.
  10. Blot WJ. Vitamin/mineral supplementation and cancer risk: international chemoprevention trials. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med 1997;216:291-6.
  11. Jacques PF, et al. Long-term nutrient intake and early age-related nuclear lens opacities. Arch Ophthalmol 2001;119:1009-19.
  12. Giovannucci E, et al. Multivitamin use, folate, and colon cancer in women in the Nurses’ Health Study. Ann Intern Med 1998;129(7):517-524.
  13. Benton D, Roberts G. Effect of vitamin and mineral supplementation on intelligence of a sample of schoolchildren. Lancet 1988;1:140-3.
  14. High KP. Micronutrient supplementation and immune function in the elderly. Clin Infect Dis 1999;28:717-22.