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If people were only allowed to choose one discount vitamin supplement from the myriad of products available at a vitamin store, the choice would be simple, albeit painful.  Multivitamins form the core of any vitamin supplement regimen, whether your goal is building muscle, loosing weight, or general health and wellness. The typical human diet, and American diets in particular, lack many key vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients such as digestive enzymes, anti-oxidants, and phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables. Even the most nutritionally sound diet still needs a little help from a supplement. Unless you're purchasing and consuming your entire dietary intake in the form of organic, unprocessed foods from all four food-groups, you most likely have some dietary vitamin deficiency. Many factors attribute to vitamin/mineral deficiencies. If you're reading this thinking: I eat a balanced diet from a wide array of foods that contain plenty of vitamins and minerals, so this doesn't apply to me, think again.

One key reason for deficiencies is that because of farming practices aimed at producing as much product as quickly as possible, an apple or an orange today doesn't contain the same amount of vitamins, minerals, and trace nutrients as it did fifty years ago (1). Also, the more people rely on processed, pre-packaged, pre-made, or fast-food, the more important a multi-vitamin supplement becomes. Have you ever read the ingredients of a product and noticed that it contains enriched flour? The reason the food industry has to enrich their foods is because key vitamins get stripped out during processing. While the manufacturer replaces natural, whole-food sources of these vitamins (usually B-vitamins and a few minerals) with inferior, synthetic vitamins, they do not replace micronutrients, anti-oxidants, and fiber. You may have noticed that since the FDA approved the statement that whole-grain flour reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, food manufacturers are now using whole-grain flour wherever they can; and they're letting you know, in big writing, across the front of your cereal box.

Similarly, other food products, such as milk, fruit juice, and canned goods, loose much of their nutritional value during processing. Even eggs, which are not processed at all, have less nutritional value today as they did fifty years ago (1). In the process of becoming bigger, faster, and better, the food industry is inadvertently robbing consumers of key vitamin nutrients, creating the need for multi-vitamin supplements. Long-term multivitamin deficiencies can cause neurological damage, damage to the eyes, liver and kidneys in extreme cases, and even increase cardiovascular risk factors (2,3).

A 2002 article published by JAMA recommended that every adult take a multi-vitamin supplement in addition to a healthy diet. In addition, the FDA even stresses the importance of multivitamins.  An article published on the FDA's website advises that a multi-vitamin supplement high in folic acid significantly reduces the chances of birth defects (4). This may not seem like a big deal, but realize that the FDA has traditionally been reluctant to admit that anything natural can treat, cure, or prevent an illness or disease, it says so on almost every bottle of any discount dietary supplement- even multivitamins.

Picking the Right Multivitamin Supplement:
Everyone's dietary needs are unique. Unfortunately, multivitamin formulas are not tailor-made to fit each individual. However different multivitamin formulas are developed based on lifestyle, age, even health-conditions. For example, diabetics can purchase diabetic formulas, which contain no added sugars or starches as fillers (any quality vitamin shouldn't), in addition to ingredients that support healthy blood sugar levels, such as alpha-lipoic acid, inulin, vanadium (a trace mineral), or Cinnulin, a patented cinnamon extract. Diabetic vitamin formulas may also help those looking to shed extra pounds due to their positive effect on blood sugar and insulin sensitivity. Prenatal vitamins are higher in iron and folic acid, men's/women's vitamin formulas often contain gender-specific herbal extracts such as black cohosh or wild yam for women, saw-palmetto or yohimbe for men, as well as less iron and more zinc in the men's vitamin formulas. 

Some things to look for when shopping at a vitamin store besides ingredients are quality assurance seals: either the Good Manufacturing Process (GMP) seal, or the United States Pharmacopia (USP) seals printed on the vitamin bottle guarantee that your multivitamin supplement contains what it claims to, in the doses printed on the label. In addition, look for formulas that use a combination of synthetic and whole-food vitamins; that is, vitamins extracted from actual food products. One example of this is Coral Calcium. Harvested from coral, it is more bioavailable than regular calcium, and contains many trace nutrients that have numerous health benefits. In addition, liquid vitamins, or powdered vitamins in capsules rather than tablets, may be easier for the body to absorb. However there's nothing wrong with tablets, providing the manufacturer doesn't use excessive binders and fillers, which prevent the vitamin supplement from breaking down. Tablets shouldn't be excessively hard, and should break down if left in a glass of water for two hours. Finally, taking your multivitamin supplement two-three times per day rather than once a day may lead to enhanced absorption, and provides a steady stream of vitamins rather than one large dose. Multivitamins were the very first dietary supplement. In a sense, they are also the polar-opposite of drugs: They're taken when you're well, so you stay well. Also, unlike drugs and many discount supplements, you don't feel them working until you stop taking them, which ideally should be never.

1. Trudeau, Kevin. Natural Cures They Don't Want You to Know About.  Alliance Publishing Group, Inc. 2004. Pp: 345-356.
2. Fujimori, J Et. al. A case of various neurological deficits caused by multi-vitamin deficiency associated with malabsorption syndrome after pancreatomy and small bowel resection. Clinical Neurology. 1999 Aug;39(8):830-5
3. Volek, JS.  “Effects of an 8 Week Weight-Loss Program on Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors and Regional Body Composition.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2002 Jul;56(7):585-92.  Available: PubMed.
4. Williams, Rebecca D. Decreasing the Chance of Birth Defects. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Available: http://www.fda.gov/fdac/features/996_bd.html

Discount Vitamin Supplements and Multivitamins Importance