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Multivitamins: Good idea or bad?>

We all know vitamin and mineral supplementation is essential because of weaknesses in our food distribution system. You have multiple issues to consider when considering a multiple vitamin or any vitamin or mineral supplement:

  • Compliance
  • Label Reading
  • Potency vs. Toxicity
  • Processing: Cold vs. Hot
  • Profile
  • RDA
  • Storage
  • Special circumstances
  • Timing
  • Your Own Needs
  • Conclusions
Letís cover each of these.

Compliance

Can you really swallow all those pills? One of the problems with individual vitamins or minerals is people eventually tire of opening bottle after bottle. One cure to this is to get a dispenser system, in which you load the pills you want to take for a given day. This allows you to vary your dosage depending on what day it is. This system has its limits, of course, but it is fairly easy to use if you donít mind the bulk of a dispenser or the fact that you have to fill its bins every week.

Another cure is to take a multivitamin. For some people, a combination strategy works best. They take a multivitamin as a base, and add in whatever vitamins and minerals they feel they should take for a given dayófor example, on a weight-lifting day.

Label Reading

Take a look at the RDAs. Most multivitamins have excessive amounts of vitamin A. Weíll cover this more in the section on potency vs. toxicity. Look for the doses to be roughly proportionate to the RDA, understanding that RDAs are low for certain nutrients.

Youíll want to see if the supplementówhether multivitamin or singleóis cold-processed. If it is not, the enzymes, phytochemicals and other essential substances will not be there and what you buy will mostly end up in your urine. So, a cheap hot-processed supplement is actually quite expensive because your body utilizes so little of it.

So, to compare a multivitamin supplement to individual supplements, compare only cold-processed ones.

Potency vs. Toxicity

Most vitamin A supplements are just plain toxic because they contain so much vitamin A. Taking them leads to kidney failure. Then again, most multivitamins have too much vitamin A. So, look at the profile for your multivitamin. You should see betacarotene rather than vitamin A in the ingredients.

Itís one thing to have a cold-processed supplement that your body absorbsóthatís potency. Itís another to have a supplement that is so high in any one item that it overloads your bodyóthatís toxicity. Most people measure potency by the amount of a given vitamin or mineral shown on the label, but that is misleading because your body simply canít absorb or use some nutrients well at all if they are hot-processed. See the section on RDA to understand where you need to be to stay under the toxicity limit.

Keep your diet in mind. If you eat organ meats (like kidney), you must not supplement with any vitamin A. Thus, a multivitamin is completely out of the question for you. As are yellow vegetables (such as squash or sweet potatoes, unless you are eating them raw). If you are eating lots of carrots (raw is fine, but cooked is hard on your pancreas), you are taking in a vitamin A precursor not vitamin Aóand so far nobody has found a limit to this. That is, you wonít overdose on beta carotene.

Potency suffers if you donít have enough of the right fats in your diet. Some nutrients are water-soluble, and some are fat-soluble. Thus, you may need to supplement with EFAs (discussed later in this text). You should, at the very least, add the following items to your diet:

  • Raw nuts, in small amounts. You can find these at Wild Oats and other natural food stores.
  • Flaxseed oil (high in Omega 3) or something like Udoís Oil. Other good oils include olive, peanut, and safflower. If an oil is liquid at room temperature, itís good. If itís solid at room temperature, donít go near it.
 

Processing: Cold vs. Hot

This is an area of much debate among the vitamin companies and so-called "nutritionists." There is no debate in this area among high-level athletes, endocrinologists, and independent researchers. The logic is very simple: hot processing destroys nutrients.

When you see "ascorbic acid" rather than "vitamin C" on a label, you are seeing a hot-processed chemical devoid of the nutrients that allow your body to use vitamin C. Cold-processed rose hips, for example, contain all the phytochemicals, enzymes, and complementary nutrients (other than B vitamins) that give natural vitamin C sources their cancer-fighting and regenerative powers. Ascorbic acid does not.

Cold-processed supplements cost more. But, their absorption is far higher and so your cost per unit used is far less than for hot-processed. To get the same nutritional results, you would spend far more on hot-processed supplements.

Profile

You need the B vitamins to process vitamin C. You need calcium, magnesium and phosphorous in the correct ratio for you to use the calcium. If your multivitamin supplement is cold-processed, it will very likely have the right nutrients in the right proportions, because cold processing is a higher quality process than hot and it is unlikely cold-processors will leave out nutrients that naturally go together. Still, make sure you read the label, especially for the B-C and C-M-P profiles. These should roughly meet the same proportion of RDA. If you take individual supplements, you will very much need to address this issue when you take each supplement. Never take C without a B-complex, and never take calcium without phosphorous and magnesium.

Keep in mind that vitamin and mineral supplementation is just that. It doesnít ensure you get the fiber, protein, essential fatty acids (EFAs), and other substances you need. It does make up for just one class of nutritional deficiency. You can buy EFAs and other supplements here at a great cost-savings over normal retail.

RDA

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for most vitamins and minerals is low. The RDA for vitamin C, for example, is 60 mg. You need at least four times that amount. The RDA for the B vitamins, E, selenium, calcium, zinc, and magnesium are also low. But, donít worry. If your diet is reasonably healthy (you donít eat highly processed foods and you do eat plenty of greens), it will most likely make up for the difference. So, a good way to address the RDA issue is to supplement to the RDA levels and let your diet do the rest.

Not sure what the RDAs are? Most supplements express their quantities as a percentage of the RDA. You can find absolute quantities (the number of IUs you should get) in various references, too. But the % RDA is the more useful value.

Storage

If you go with very many individual supplements, you will need a refrigerator door bay or shelf in which to store them. If you buy cold-processed, remember these are essentially compressed foodóthese need to be kept refrigerated. Yes, they can tolerate days of non-refrigeration, but they lose potency if left sitting out. If you travel, a multivitamin plus 2 or 3 selected nutrients (for example, a B complex and C) will save space while providing you with good vitamin and mineral insurance. You may need to "bone up" on calcium, etc., when you get back.

Special circumstances

Doctors keep saying nutritional requirements donít vary with activity level. Doctors have almost no training in nutrition, so they donít know. They are simply parroting the party line. And itís a stupid thing to say. Your body needs a slew of nutrients for cell repair. Intense exercise breaks down cells. The conclusion here is obvious.

Sometimes, you will need more nutritional supplementation than at other times. These times include everything from emotional stress to physical exertion. Listen to your body. If you are feeling run down, increase supplementation for a few days. If you are on a multivitamin, you will increase across the whole spectrum. And this means you will be getting more than you need of some nutrients. A woman would need to supplement iron during menstruation. Doing that with a multivitamin is just not practical and probably not safe. So, think about what nutrients you will most need to "up the dose on" and keep a small supply of those on hand. To cope with physical stress, extra B, C, and E do the trick. If you have an illness, you need extra zinc.

If you eat bread, take a look at the label. If you see "hydrogenated oil" or "partially hydrogenated oil," just replace that text with "bowel cancer" or "prostate cancer" and make your purchase decision accordingly. You can buy bread that doesnít have these poisons in it. If you do decide to buy these items, then consider that you will need to supplement with extra B, C, and E. You should also eat plenty of blueberriesóthe most potent anti-oxidant food known to man.

If you drink soft-drinks, you place extra stress on your body. Soft drinks are essentially osteoporosis in a can. You should begin taking 25% extra of the RDA of calcium/
magnesium/phosphorus for each glass of any soft-drink you take in each day. For more information, see http://www.supplecity.com/articles/softdrinksunsafe.htm.

Timing

You must take complementary nutrients together. A multivitamin, of course, makes this happen. However, thatís not the only timing issue.

A cold-processed multivitamin is low-potency per pill. That means you need to take more than one each day to get your RDA. Donít take them at the same time. Take one with breakfast, and one with a later meal. This spreads out the dosage and increases absorption dramatically.

Some people have developed complex regimens where they separate all the nutrients out into doses over the day. This strategy is very hard to keep up. Yes, you may increase absorption. But, a multivitamin gets results that are probably as good for a lot less effort.

Your Own Needs

You need to decide how much supplementation you need. Then, you can determine if you need just a multivitamin/multimineral supplement, a whole range of individual vitamin and mineral supplements, or a strategy that combines both in some way. Here are some things to consider:

  • How likely are you to take many pills, vs. one or two a day?
  • Do you have unusual stress levels or activities that require supplementation of a specific nutrient?
  • Do you have a good diet? Over 95% of people do not. That is, if you define a good diet as one that is essentially devoid of processed carbohydrates and resembles the food pyramid with the "grains" turned to "greens." The worse your diet is, the more supplementation you need.
  • Are you getting enough unsaturated and mono-saturated fats in your diet? Most people do not. You may need an EFA supplement in addition to the othersóa multivitamin reduces the amount of work involved.

Conclusions

For most people, taking a multivitamin is preferable to taking individual vitamins. The main reason is simplicity. Taking any supplement without understanding the RDA and how much you are getting can cause sickness you wonít recover from.

There really is no one "best" answer. Using the information provided here, you can find the answer that is best for you. Be sure to re-evaluate your strategy as things change in your life.

Now, check out these vitamin products.
 

 

 

 

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  • Every contributor is an expert in his or her field.
  • The articles comply with the accepted principles of the bodybuilder literature.
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 Where an article is not bylined with a specific author's name, it was written by Mark Lamendola (see photos on home page and elsewhere on this site). Mark is a 4th degree blackbelt, has not been sick since 1971, and has not missed a workout since 1977. Just an example of how Mark knows what he's talking about: In his early 50s, Mark demonstrated a biceps curl using half his body weight. That's a Jack LaLanne level stunt. Few people can even come close. If you want to know how to build a strong, beautiful body, read the articles here.

 
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