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Benefits of Multivitamin: What to look for

Medically reviewed on May 13, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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There’s a reason it’s an apple—not a donut—a day that keeps the doctor away. Natural foods contain essential vitamins and minerals that support health, from eyesight to metabolism. But if vitamins are found in food, do you need a daily multivitamin supplement?

With all the health advice flying around online, it can be hard to know what’s right. However, a daily multivitamin might be a great addition to your routine. While not a replacement for nutritious food, a multivitamin can aid in daily and long-term health benefits.

Curious if you need a supplement with your peas and carrots? Let’s explore the ingredients and benefits of a multivitamin to give the full picture. (Note that you can now shop Everlywell Vitamins and Supplements, including tasty multivitamin gummies, plus pregnancy-related vitamins, for your daily needs.)

Multivitamin ingredients and the health benefits of each

When it comes to multivitamins, the ingredients list can range from minimal to scroll-worthy. Anything from turmeric to magnesium could be thrown into the mix. However, common or basic multivitamins almost always contain moderate amounts of the 13 essential vitamins [1].

To understand the power packed inside these daily tablets, let’s explore the purpose of each vitamin and the other common ingredients that basic multivitamins often include.

Water-soluble vitamins

The body categorizes vitamins into two families—water-soluble and fat-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water and are immediately absorbed by body tissues for use.

Each water-soluble vitamin has a specific set of bodily functions it supports, contributing to a comprehensive daily pill. Nine of the thirteen essential vitamins are water-soluble, including [1]:

  • Vitamin B1 – A carbohydrate converter, vitamin B1, also called thiamin, creates energy for the body, supports the nervous system, and contributes to a healthy body, from the skin to the brain.
  • Vitamin B2 – Like a supportive partner, vitamin B2, or riboflavin, also converts food sources into usable energy. It similarly contributes to a healthy body.
  • Vitamin B3 – This gut-based nutrient, also called niacin, facilitates healthy skin, digestion, and nervous system functioning, and has been shown to help manage cholesterol levels [2].
  • Vitamin B5 – Vitamin B5, or pantothenic acid, primarily helps with food-energy conversion and creating fats, neurotransmitters, hormones, and more.
  • Vitamin B6 – This nutrient, also called pyridoxine, regulates a range of functions, from appetite and sleep to cognition and mood stability. Vitamin B6 also converts tryptophan into serotonin, the “happiness” brain chemical.
  • Vitamin B7 – Commonly known by its chemical name biotin, this vitamin helps process all macronutrients from food. It contributes to glucose synthesis, fatty acid absorption, plus overall hair, skin, and nail health.
  • Vitamin B9 – Often called the “pregnancy vitamin,” vitamin B9, or folate/folic acid, can significantly protect against birth defects and several types of cancer. It also helps form red blood cells and promote neural growth.
  • Vitamin B12 – A multi-purpose vitamin, B12, also called cobalamin, contributes to cellular production, nervous system protection, and the absorption of fatty and amino acids. Seniors especially need vitamin B12 supplementation, since older digestive systems often absorb this essential nutrient at a lower rate.
  • Vitamin C – An antioxidant, vitamin C, is known broadly as the “healing nutrient.” It produces collagen, which is essential to healthy skin and fast healing, protects against harmful free radicals, and boosts immune system response.

Fat-soluble vitamins

Out of the thirteen essential vitamins, four are fat-soluble—vitamins A, D, E, and K. The body stores these nutrients in the liver, muscles, and other fatty tissue for long-term use.

While only a small amount of each is necessary, every human needs these essential nutrients to maintain a healthy body, mind, and lifestyle [3]:

  • Vitamin A – From retinol to retinoic acid, vitamin A protects the building blocks of the body like the eyes, skin, teeth, bones, and immune system.
  • Vitamin D – Informally known as the “sunny vitamin,” vitamin D is produced by the body via sunlight exposure and is also derived from some dietary foods. This nutrient helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus, creating stronger bones and teeth.
  • Vitamin E – This antioxidant captures unstable molecules called free radicals to prevent cellular damage. Additionally, vitamin E protects red blood cells and healthy immune responses.
  • Vitamin K – The main benefit of vitamin K is healthy blood coagulation—clotting—but it also assists in bone, kidney, and blood health.

Minerals and vitamin-like compounds

Alongside the essential vitamins, most multivitamins also include crucial minerals and vitamin-like compounds in varying amounts, including [4]:

  • Magnesium
  • Calcium
  • Choline
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Chloride
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Iodine
  • Sulfur
  • Cobalt
  • Copper
  • Manganese
  • Selenium

Like vitamins, these substances also facilitate crucial, biological processes.

Why should I take a multivitamin?

If the list above was any indication, the nutrients contained in multivitamins are beyond important for daily wellness. And that was just the tip of the iceberg.

But if your diet is already full of vitamins and minerals, do you need a multivitamin?

The answer is, it depends. From diet alone, the body might receive enough nutrients. But if you have limited food intake or special health conditions, then a supplement could boost your health and improve things like constant weariness. And in the case of water-soluble vitamins, toxicity is very rare because our bodies naturally eliminate any excess.

Even better? There are other long-term multivitamin benefits supported by research.

Meeting your daily nutritional needs

If you eat a rainbow-colored plate, then you are more likely to meet your daily nutrient needs. But for the vegetable-averse or more limited eaters, a multivitamin supplement may be able to help you reach the levels of nutrients you need.

One study tracked nutrition adequacy across 90,000 men and women ages 45 and older. Compared to control subjects, men and women who took a multivitamin had a respective 12% and 8% higher nutritional adequacy. The more adequate nutrition, the more support for a healthy body [5].

Considering the importance of meeting your daily nutritional needs, you might wonder, 'What vitamins should I take daily?'. Learn more about personalized nutrition by taking our Vitamin Quiz.

Long-term disease prevention

Vitamins provide more than daily health support. They also create long-term protections against disease and dangerous conditions—everything from cancer to stroke. Multiple studies demonstrate the correlation between multivitamins and preventing health risks, including:

  • Colon cancer – In men and women, multivitamins have proven beneficial for colon cancer prevention and mortality. Over 16 years, one study found that men and women who took a multivitamin had an 18% lower risk of colon cancer than those who did not [6]. Another 16-year study found that multivitamin users had an 11% lower mortality risk from colon cancer [7].
  • Breast cancer – While more research is needed, some studies have demonstrated a correlation between multivitamin intake and lower breast cancer mortality. A Women’s Health Institute study of 7,728 women with invasive breast cancer found that multivitamin users had a 30% lower death rate [8].
  • Cardiovascular conditions – Multivitamins are significantly linked to a lower risk of heart conditions. For males over 39 years old, one study found multivitamin users had a 14% lower risk of coronary angioplasty, while users for more than 20 years had a lower risk of stroke and ischemic heart disease. For women, another study found a 44% lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality in those who took multivitamins [9]. Discover which healthy heart supplements and vitamins would benefit you most.

Prenatal and natal health

You’ve probably heard the term “eating for two” for pregnant women. You could also say a developing mother needs “vitamins for two.”

Enter the prenatal vitamin.

These specialty formulas combine the top nutrients that doctors recommend for expecting mothers, including:

  • Folic acid (vitamin B9) – Almost every pregnant woman needs vitamin B9 supplements. Research shows that a 400mg dose of this vitamin protects against neural tube defects for growing babies [10].
  • Iron – Due to increasing iron needs, about 52% of pregnant women have anemia, which is often connected to iron deficiency [11]. Anemia during pregnancy is correlated with premature birth, low birth weight, baby respiratory issues, and other complications. To combat any deficiency, the World Health Organization recommends pregnant women take about 60mg of elemental iron per day [12].
  • Basic multivitamins – Even a broad-spectrum multivitamin is beneficial for pregnant women. One study found that multivitamin use during pregnancy reduced the low-birth-weight rate by 12% and premature birth rate by 10% [13]. Another study found that in adolescent pregnant women (below 20 years old), a multivitamin lowered the same risks by 13% and 12% [14].
  • Vitamin D – Once born, newborns need a lot of bone-building vitamin D to thrive. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants supplement at least 400 IU of vitamin D until completely weaned or drinking sufficient fortified formula [15]. Otherwise, the risk for rickets soars.

What should be in a multivitamin?

Choosing the right multivitamin can be challenging given the sheer number of options on the market. To ensure you're selecting a quality supplement, consider the following criteria:

Full-Spectrum Coverage and Correct Daily Values

A good multivitamin should contain all essential vitamins in a recommended daily value (DV). Check the label for "100% DV" or higher for key vitamins. However, some minerals like magnesium, iron, and calcium may be in lower quantities due to capsule or tablet size limitations.

Demographic-Specific Formulas

Multivitamins can be tailored to specific needs, depending on age, sex, or health factors. Here are some common formulas:

  • For those 50 and older: These contain higher levels of calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B3, and vitamin B12 to support bone health and other age-related needs. They can also address a nutritional gap that arises from a changing diet [16].
  • For pregnancy: Prenatal vitamins are recommended for those who are pregnant or may become pregnant, typically containing at least 400 micrograms of folic acid to reduce birth defect risks. They can be an essential dietary supplement for expecting mothers to maintain a healthy diet [17].
  • For children: Kid-friendly multivitamins, such as gummy vitamins, provide essential vitamins for growing bodies.
  • For athletes: Athletic-focused multivitamins may support performance, though they should not replace a balanced diet. These supplements can help athletes who aim for weight loss or enhanced muscle recovery.
  • For chronic health issues: If you have health issues affecting vitamin absorption, a multivitamin may help fill nutritional gaps.
  • For restrictive diets: Vegans, vegetarians, and pescatarians might need a multivitamin to supplement nutrients missing from their diets.

Are there any risks when taking a multivitamin?

Support your health with Everlywell

From sharp vision to healthy babies, multivitamins can provide significant health support. To find the best formula for your health needs, consult your healthcare provider. Equipped with the right information, they can point you towards the specific nutrients that your body might need. Then, consider trying a monthly Everlywell subscription for the nutrient(s) of your choice, including:

Everlywell Vitamins & Supplements are here! Meet the new nutritional essentials for a healthier you

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1. Listing of vitamins. Harvard Health. URL. Accessed May 13, 2022.

2. Niacin. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed May 13, 2022.

3. Fat-Soluble Vitamins. National Research Council (US) Committee on Diet and Health. URL. Accessed May 13, 2022.

4. Vitamins and Minerals. National Institutes of Health. URL. Accessed May 13, 2022.

5. Murphy SP, White KK, Park S-Y, Sharma S. Multivitamin-multimineral supplements’ effect on total nutrient intake. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2007;85(1):280S284S.

6. Lim J-E, Weinstein SJ, Liao LM, Sinha R, Huang J, Albanes D. Multivitamin Use and Overall and Site-Specific Cancer Risks in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study. The Journal of Nutrition. 2022;152(1):211-216.

7. Jacobs EJ, Connell CJ, Patel AV, Chao A, Rodriguez C, Seymour J, McCullough ML, Calle EE, Thun MJ. Multivitamin use and colon cancer mortality in the Cancer Prevention Study II cohort (United States). Cancer Causes Control. 2001 Dec;12(10):927-34.

8. Wassertheil-Smoller S, McGinn AP, Budrys N, et al. Multivitamin and mineral use and breast cancer mortality in older women with invasive breast cancer in the women’s health initiative. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. 2013;141(3):495-505.

9. Bailey RL, Fakhouri TH, Park Y, et al. Multivitamin-mineral use is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease mortality among women in the United States. The Journal of Nutrition. 2015;145(3):572-578.

10. Is There Really Any Benefit to Multivitamins? Johns Hopkins Medicine. URL. Accessed May 13, 2022.

11. Abu-Ouf N, Jan M. The impact of maternal iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia on child’s health. Saudi Medical Journal. 2015;36(2):146-149.

12. Standards for Maternal and Neonatal Care. World Health Organization (WHO). URL. Accessed May 13, 2022.

13. Haider BA, Bhutta ZA. Multiple-micronutrient supplementation for women during pregnancy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017 Apr 13;4(4):CD004905.

14. Keats EC, Akseer N, Thurairajah P, Cousens S, Bhutta ZA; Global Young Women’s Nutrition Investigators’ Group. Multiple-micronutrient supplementation in pregnant adolescents in low- and middle-income countries: a systematic review and a meta-analysis of individual participant data. Nutr Rev. 2022 Jan 10;80(2):141-156.

15. Wagner CL, Greer FR; American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Breastfeeding; American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition. Prevention of rickets and vitamin D deficiency in infants, children, and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2008 Nov;122(5):1142-52.

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