Your body needs vitamins and minerals to function properly. You get minerals, vitamins and nutrients from the food you eat as long as you're eating a balanced diet. If you eat a vegetarian or vegan diet, are pregnant or are on a very low calorie diet, it may be difficult to meet your nutrient requirements from diet alone. Certain health conditions and medications also increase the risk of vitamin or mineral deficiency.
Types of Multivitamins
Multivitamins aren't "one size fits all." Men and women need differing amounts of some vitamins and minerals. Pregnant women and children also have different nutritional requirements. Vitamin and mineral requirements also change with age. Older people are not only less likely to eat a balanced diet - they may not absorb some vitamins and minerals as well. As a result, a multivitamin or supplement may be important for people as they advance in age. There are vitamin supplements made specifically for adults over the age of 50. These formulations usually contain no iron. Seniors usually don't need supplemental iron unless they have an underlying illness that reduces iron absorption or causes bleeding, and getting too much iron can be harmful for them from a health standpoint.
There are also combined multivitamin and mineral supplements for women going through menopause. These supplements contain calcium for healthy bones and may have added antioxidant and B vitamins which may help to maximize heart and skin health. Some contain isoflavones, compounds that come from soy. Research shows soy isoflavones may help with some of the symptoms of menopause including hot flashes.
Multivitamins with Added Nutritional Support
Some multivitamins have added nutrients like DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid. DHA has been linked with brain health. The best source of DHA is fatty fish. It can be hard to get DHA through diet alone unless you eat fatty fish like salmon at least twice a week. Other vitamin supplements contain key ingredients like probiotics. Probiotics are "good" bacteria that help keep your intestinal tract healthy and support a healthy immune system. You can also choose vitamins and minerals combined with protein, fiber and antioxidants for added nutritional support. These may be ideal for people who don't eat a nutritionally-balanced diet.
Choosing a Multivitamin
With so many options available, how do you know which is right for you? Most people choose a multivitamin based on their age and sex. Men and women shouldn't share multivitamins since nutritional needs differ between the two sexes. If you're over the age of 50, most doctors don't recommend taking supplements that contain iron. If you're pregnant or have a medical condition, you may need more nutritional support than a standard multivitamin provides. In these cases, you should talk to your doctor about what type of nutritional supplements are best for you. There are special prenatal vitamins that provide the vitamin and mineral support that you need during pregnancy.
Many multivitamins come in tablet form that you swallow with water. If you have problems swallowing a tablet, look for a chewable form. There are even "gummy" multivitamins for adults! Consider the available options and consult with your doctor to make sure you're getting the vitamin, mineral and nutrient support you need for good health.
This summary is intended for general informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of purity, strength, or safety of the products. As a result, effects may vary. You should read product labels. In addition, if you are taking medications, herbs, or other supplements you should consult with a qualified healthcare provider before taking a supplement as supplements may interact with other medications, herbs, and nutritional products. If you have a medical condition, including if you are pregnant or nursing, you should speak to your physician before taking a supplement. Consult a healthcare provider if you experience side effects.