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Multivitamins compared.

Tuesday April 2, 2013
Multivitamins compared.

Comparing multivitamins can be tricky. This article asks, and answers, some of the key questions.

Why take a multivitamin?

A multivitamin is a formulation that includes the important vitamins and minerals necessary for health. Although those nutrients are provided in food, if we are honest with ourselves, do we really consume 7-11 vegetables and fruit daily, plus unprocessed sources of wholegrains, legumes, proteins and fats?


Everyday living can be a frenetic juggle of family, career, and social time and often the planning and preparation of wholesome food is limited. In addition, several studies have indicated that the levels of vitamins and minerals are declining in food due to monoculture agriculture and soil depletion.


Furthermore, those that are dealing with health conditions may have a greater need for certain nutrients to stall the progression of the condition. Whilst certain groups of people may be at risk of lowered nutrient intake, such as, highly active people, menstruating women, those following a vegan or vegetarian diet besides the elderly, those on restricted diets plus pregnant or breastfeeding mothers.


Additionally, it is known that smoking and drinking more than 14 units of alcohol weekly puts an extra nutritional demand on the body to deal with these substances.

Multivitamin capsules vs tablets.

Did you know that 50% of a tablet is made up of glues, known as binders, to hold the tablet together? Yet these substances hold no nutritive value and there are suggestions that they may evoke an inflammatory response in individuals with gastrointestinal-related health conditions. In addition, it is common to see Magnesium stearate, colourants, deodorisers, flavourings, and sugar in tablets.


Vegan capsules are derived from the sustainable wood industry and break down as quickly as 20 minutes after ingestion. This allows the nutrient to be released and be available for absorption. Whereas if you think about a tablet, the tablet has to breakdown, this can be a lengthy process especially in those who do not digest very well, which can lead to the tablet passing through them wholly intact.

What about chewable multivitamins?

Chewable multivitamins, although attractive and popular, invariably include sugar or artificial sweeteners. Vitamins do not generally taste very pleasant in their pure state, and for a chewable or fizzy tablet, a sweet taste will need to be added.


The same is true of the jelly-type vitamin supplements, which will often also include non-vegetarian/vegan ingredients such as gelatine. There will also likely be artificial colourings in these products. These chewable-gummy type products have used social media influencers to gain attraction but, unfortunately, use low potency ingredients, making them very poor value for money.

Low potency or high potency?

Let’s look at the RDAs (recommended daily allowances). These were created to ensure that the population does not suffer from deficiency diseases such as beri beri, rickets or scurvy. The RDAs however, do not reach the requirement for optimum health, especially if the individual has a greater requirement such as that due to stress or health conditions.

A typical RDA, such as for vitamin C is 80mg for an adult. This will ensure that the average individual does not exhibit signs of scurvy. However, studies show that the common cold can be reduced in longevity and severity by using 1000mg daily during the infection.

Are multivitamins usually vegetarian or vegan?

Some vitamins and minerals can be sourced from both animal and plant source. However vegan nutrients allow the formulation of a wholly vegan multivitamin. Historically vitamin D3 was sourced from sheep wool, however recent findings have shown that vitamin D3 is rich in lichen and so, vegan Vitamin D3 is a common and popular nutrient.


Coatings such as shellac and certain colourings found commonly in mass-market brands can be from animal derivatives. Animal derived soft gels are common, and generally we would recommend that you avoid them, however the Viridian Nutrition Sustainable Scandinavian Rainbow Trout Oil uses soft gels made from fish and vegetable gelatine, of which, both are by-products of the food industry that otherwise would go to landfill.


One thing to be sure of is to check the labels.


Can multivitamins be kosher?

Multivitamin formulations that achieve Kosher standards will be certified by the London Beth Din and/or the Kashrus & Medicines Information Service. Kosher certified Viridian Nutrition food supplements are marked with the logo on the website. Should you have a query regarding Kosher status, do not hesitate to contact us for clarification.

Can vitamins be organic?

Organic is now a legally recognised term, governed by certification bodies such as the Soil Association.  Soil Association regulations cover animal and land management, through to the finished item on the shelf, and apply to foods, toiletries and cosmetics and even textiles.

In relation to plants, the Soil Association guarantees that a crop is grown without the use of artificial chemicals and sprays, protecting the environment and the public from dangerous pesticides, herbicides and other toxic chemicals.

Clearly, vitamins found in organically grown foods are, by definition, organic. Vitamins found in food supplements can be concentrates of food sources, grown on yeast, or created in a controlled environment (a laboratory) and involve specialist processes. Regardless of the source, these vitamins are utilised by the body in the same way as vitamins found in food.

Is irradiation relevant to multivitamins?

Food irradiation is a processing technique that exposes food to electron beams, X-rays or gamma rays. Food absorbs energy when it is exposed to ionising radiation. The amount of energy absorbed is called 'absorbed dose', which is measured in units called grays (Gy) or kilograys (kGy), where 1kGy = 1,000Gy. 


The energy absorbed by the food causes the formation of short-lived molecules known as free radicals, which kill bacteria that cause food poisoning. They can also delay fruit ripening and help stop vegetables, such as potatoes and onions, from sprouting.

Though numerous government departments around the world have said that irradiation is safe, others disagree.

According to the Organic Consumers Association “Irradiated fruits and vegetables benefit the packer and grocer, not the farmer or consumer. The consumer receives an inferior product that appears fresh, but has depleted vitamins and enzymes.”

Though vitamins and minerals are not commonly subjected to irradiation, plants often are. If your multivitamin contains other plant / herbal elements, you will need to check that these have not been irradiated.

Is there a GMO issue with multivitamins?

This is a question well-worth asking of your multivitamin manufacturer, as there are genetic modification issues within the natural products sector. Specifically, some years ago, the supply chain for vitamin E was contaminated with genetically modified material.


Natural vitamin E is sourced from soy, unfortunately, the supply of soy was mixed with GM soy and although the processed vitamin E was certified GM-free, it was derived from GM soy. This issue has been resolved by the industry insisting on segregated crops, but it is worth asking your health food store about this issue to get a guarantee from the manufacturer.

Tell me about natural and synthetic vitamins?

This question comes up often in health food stores, and is a little more complex than it seems. Vitamin and mineral supplements are sourced from international suppliers, often pharmaceutical companies who specialise in extracting nutrients from fruits and vegetables or cultivated on yeast in a specialist process involving natural chemical reactions in a controlled environment. Regardless of the source, these vitamins are utilised by the body in the same way as vitamins found in food.

The term ‘natural’ when used in relation to vitamins is especially important when it comes to the fat-soluble vitamins beta carotene, A, D and E. Look for natural source, as these are better utilised by the body.

Tell me about additives in multivitamins.

The best multivitamins are made without excipients, such as binding agents, coatings and fillers. Common excipients are dicalcium phosphate, magnesium stearate, titanium dioxide and shellac. These unnecessary additives are used to help speed manufacture but at best offer no nutritional value and at worse, may trigger an unhealthy response.


Viridian Nutrition food supplements include only 100% active ingredients, therefore each formula provides 100% nutrition.

What’s the best type of vitamin C for a multivitamin?

A buffered vitamin C, such as magnesium ascorbate or calcium ascorbate have greater alkalinity than ascorbic acid and so they are popular with those who may experience acidity after using the ascorbic acid form of vitamin C.

Vitamin C is an important nutrient for health and it plays an essential role in numerous areas of human health. It contributes to normal collagen formation for the normal function of bones, cartilage, skin, gums and teeth.


Vitamin C also enhances iron absorption and the normal energy-yielding metabolism, plus the maintenance of the immune system including during and after intense physical exercise. In addition, Vitamin C contributes to normal psychological function, the functioning of the nervous system and to the protection of cells from oxidative damage. Oxidative damage plays a role in several chronic diseases.

Rich sources of vitamin C include acerola, rosehips and amla, though food concentrates tend to be too ‘large’ to fit into multivitamin formulas.

Why are B-vitamins important in a multivitamin?

B vitamins play several roles in health, they contribute to the reduction in tiredness and fatigue besides a role in normal psychological function and mental performance. They further play a role in energy-yielding metabolism, the regulation of hormonal activity, and the functioning of the immune, cardio and nervous systems besides the maintenance of normal skin, mucous membranes, vision and red blood cells.

However, each of the B vitamins are not required in equal quantities. Rather than a set amount of each nutrient, more scientific formulations offer ratios of the B vitamins in line with the body’s requirements.

It is highly important that a multivitamin formula provides every member of the B vitamin family in good quantities, in relation to primary health goals.

What’s the difference between fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins?

Water soluble vitamins such as vitamin C and B vitamins are not stored in the body and therefore must be consumed daily. These vitamins dissolve in water and are eliminated through urine. Fat soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, D, E and K are stored in the liver and fat cells and therefore pose a greater risk of toxicity if consumed in excessive amounts. These vitamins are found in foods that naturally contain fats, such as dairy, nuts and seeds besides animal derived foods.

Vitamin and mineral RDAs explained.

RDAs (Recommended Daily Allowances) were created to ensure that the population does not suffer from deficiency diseases such as beri beri, rickets or scurvy.


The RDAs provide a basis; however, an individual may require a greater quantity of each nutrient if they are managing a health condition, stress or smoke or drink more than 14 units of alcohol each week.


A typical RDA, such as for vitamin C is 80mg for an adult. This will ensure that the average individual does not exhibit signs of scurvy. However, studies show 1000mg daily during an infection such as the common cold may reduce the duration and severity of the illness.

How to take a multivitamin.

Ideally, a multivitamin should be taken with a meal. Some multivitamins are two-a-day, in which case you could take one at breakfast and one with lunch.

Is it ok to take a multivitamin with tea or coffee?

It is best to take the multivitamin with water. Then leave 30 minutes before having a hot drink. Tea and coffee contain compounds that may interfere with the absorption of minerals, therefore leaving a 30-60-minute window is good practice when taking food supplements.

What time of day should I take my multi?

A multivitamin will fit into your lifestyle and so it is best to take it with a meal. If your multivitamin is a two-a-day, take one at breakfast and one with lunch.

Are multivitamins important for those aged over 65?

Those aged over 65 may benefit from a specifically formulated multivitamin that supports digestion as well as the provision of the full spectrum of nutrients necessary for health.

Digestion can be less effective in those aged 60 and onwards plus one issue with poor digestion is the difficulty in vitamin B12 absorption. This is because over the years, our levels of stomach acid begin to decline.

Stomach acid produces a compound called ‘intrinsic factor’ which is a glycoprotein responsible for the active absorption of vitamin B12. As vitamin B12 enters the stomach, it forms a complex with intrinsic factor, this allows for the absorption of vitamin B12 into the bloodstream. This process is reliant not only on enough stomach acid but stomach acid that has a low pH.

Vitamin D is the most deficient nutrient in the UK, and one of the single most important nutrients in the body. It is involved in the maintenance of normal bones, teeth, muscle function and immune function.

Vitamin D has now also been shown to be fundamental for normal cellular growth and division. As most vitamin D is produced in the skin upon contact with sunlight, depletion of this nutrient is rife in the UK, especially amongst people who do not get out or remain covered in the sunshine. In addition, vitamin D cannot be produced via the skin in the UK in the winter months.

How do I choose a good multi for children?

A good diet, plenty of fresh air and exercise plus lots of love and attention will generally keep your child healthy, bright and happy. But a good diet is not always easy to maintain in a child and it assumes that your child enjoys eating leafy green foods and oily fish on a regular basis.

No-one would suggest that stuffing your child full of vitamin pills is the solution either, but a balanced diet topped up with a good quality multivitamin can give reassurance to parents that their children are avoiding any obvious nutritional deficiencies. Additionally, from time-to-time, as children suffer with occasional colds and infections, earache, stomach problems and so on, natural remedies can be recommended once a proper diagnosis has been obtained from a qualified health practitioner.

Choosing the right multi for your kids is a challenge. Cartoon shapes, blackberry flavours, syrups and powders are all on offer usually packed with sugar.

Are there multivitamins designed to help with conception?

Yes there are and the requirements for men and women do vary.


Male Fertility

Most causes of male infertility reflect an abnormal sperm count or quality. Although it only takes one sperm to fertilise an egg, in an average ejaculate a man will eject 15 - 200 million sperm per millilitre of semen. In about 90% of the cases of low sperm count, the reason is deficient sperm production. 

Unfortunately, in about 90% of cases, the cause for the decreased sperm formation cannot be identified and the condition is labelled ‘idiopathic oligospermia or azoospermia’. Oligospermia means a low sperm count while azoospermia is defined as a complete absence of living sperm in the semen.

Possible causes of male infertility include environmental toxin exposure (e.g. smoking, xenoestrogens), nutritional deficiency, stress, ductal obstruction, ejaculatory dysfunctions, and infections (Chlamydia being the most common serious infection) or disorders of accessory glands. Therefore a good male fertility support formula would provide the nutrients known to play a role in normal fertility.

Female Fertility

In female fertility, both dietary and lifestyle changes can be beneficial. Several nutrients have been shown to be involved in the female reproductive system and so improving the availability of those nutrients in the diet is vital.

B vitamins including folic acid are highly involved in cell proliferation which is the generation of new cells such as those that would develop in response to the fertilisation and implantation of the human egg. Furthermore, nutrients that counter oxidative damage too are necessary, these are prolific in plants and by selecting vegetables of different colours will help to provide them in abundance.

Minerals such as zinc, manganese, copper and selenium add additional support, and finally Iodine is highly involved in thyroid function, a key function in reproductive health and a healthy pregnancy.


Choose fertility multi supplements which have been specifically designed to maximise the vital nutrients required to support male or female reproductive function and help optimise fertility. Ideally both partners should take the supplements at least 90 days ahead of planned conception. 


How do I choose a multivitamin for pregnancy and lactation?

Choosing an appropriate multivitamin for pregnancy or lactation can be confusing, there are a lot of food supplements available. However, we recommend that you read the label, look for a multivitamin that provides a wide spectrum of nutrients both vitamins and minerals. While also, keep an eye out for non-nutritive substances, these are known as excipients.


Items such as titanium dioxide, which is a white dye, magnesium stearate, this is a flow agent and does not provide an absorbable form of magnesium. While colourants, flavourings and added sugar too should be avoided.


It is considered that the additional nutrient requirement during pregnancy continue into breastfeeding, in fact the European Food Standards Agency recommend that the increased nutrition should be continued during the initial 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding.

Do women have special needs when choosing a multivitamin?

The personalised supplemental requirements for women are based on their dietary intake, current health conditions and lifestyle pressures. For a personalised recommendation please discuss your personal needs with the experts in your local independent health food store.

Do men have special needs when it comes to choosing a multivitamin?

Yes, men have higher requirements for most nutrients, especially zinc. Choose a multivitamin specifically formulated to support overall male health. This may include broccoli extracts, nettle, pumpkin and ginseng or other herbal ingredients specific to male health. Discuss your personal needs with the experts in your local independent health food store.

Which multivitamins are best for sports people and athletes?

It is plausible that those involved in regular strenuous physical activities such as aerobic exercise, weight training, circuit training, body building, running and professional sporting events would have a greater nutritional requirement.

Every professional football, rugby, cycling and athletics team now has a nutritionist connected with the squad ensuring their daily nutritional needs are met. Sports nutrition has developed considerably over recent years, with specialist degree level courses.

A Sport supporting multivitamin will include ingredients such Coenzyme Q10 and amino acids, together with good potencies of the key vitamins. Discuss your personal needs with the experts in your local independent health food store.

Does a multivitamin replace the need for a good diet?

A diet that provides a broad range of different wholefoods is the basis of any nutritional regimen. However, it can be difficult to make a huge change, so we recommend that you make one small dietary change each week which over the course of a few months will produce the necessary change to nourish and support you nutrient requirements.

During the change phase, it may be useful to consider a multivitamin. A well formulated multivitamin will provide the full spectrum of nutrient necessary for health and may top up a good, balanced diet.

Tell me about time-release multivitamins, do they work?

Timed-release vitamins are a controversial area. The theory is that we need a regular intake of vitamins and minerals throughout the day and that a specially ‘layered’ or ‘compressed’ tablet will release the nutrients gradually.

The reality though is that a multivitamin is only broken down in the stomach and then the nutrients are absorbed during their time in the small intestine, so once the compressed tablet has passed through this area, the nutrients will no longer be absorbed.

The transition time for a capsule or tablet will be identical, and for optimum release, the vessel must be digested and absorbed before it transits past the small intestine.

Are chelated minerals important in a multivitamin?

To chelate literally means ‘to claw’. A chelation agent, such as citric acid or malic acid, locks on to the mineral and keeps the mineral or trace element stable. Citrates, malates, amino acid chelates and picolinates are some of the better absorbed presentation of minerals and these are the preferred forms. These properly chelated forms of minerals offer the mineral in a highly absorbable biologically active form. Look out for iron bisglycinate, chromium picolinate and selenomethionine.

Are multivitamins safe?

Food supplements formulated in the UK and EU must adhere to the standards laid out by the European Food Standards Agency, while outside of this region the standards are known to be inferior. Choose your multivitamins from a trustworthy and reliable health food store, where the retailer has experience and integrity.

A good independent health food store will help you choose the right multivitamin for you and will invite you back to assess the effectiveness on a regular basis. Avoid unknown websites and mass-market outlets, as you will get little advice or support. Multivitamins on sale in good health food stores will be formulated by expert suppliers and manufactured in high quality manufacturing facilities.

Is it ok to take a multivitamin with prescribed medication?

Always check with the health food store where you buy your multivitamin, and with your prescribing health professional before taking any food supplements with medication. Interestingly, a side-effect of certain prescribed medications can be to deplete the body of nutrients, in which case a multivitamin may be advantageous or even essential, however it is important to take advice from your healthcare professional.

Is there any reason not to take a multivitamin?

If you are on prescribed medication, please check with your GP before considering a multivitamin.

The information contained in this article is not intended to treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a health practitioner. Please consult a qualified health practitioner if you have a pre-existing health condition or are currently taking medication. Food supplements should not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet.

Others in this series:

 Benefits of Multivitamins


 Science of Multivitamins


 Vitamins Explained


 Immune Supporting Nutrition

Viridian explains Why Diet Matters


TAGS: MultivitaminsVitamins


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