What should I look for in a multivitamin?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
The typical multivitamin contains about 10 vitamins and 10 minerals, including vitamins A, C, D, E, K and minerals such as potassium and zinc. Make sure your multi contains iodine, a mineral that is sometimes omitted by certain manufacturers and is important for your heart, thyroid, brain, and other vital organs.

When purchasing your multivitamins, look for bottles labeled 100% Daily Value (DV). In addition, avoid megadoses, such as supplements containing 500% DV, taking into account that you’ll also be absorbing vitamins and minerals from foods you eat.

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Dariush Mozaffarian, MD
Internal Medicine
If you wish to take a multivitamin, the following advice should guide you in choosing a multivitamin supplement:
  • Look for a seal of approval. Choose products that bear the U.S. Pharmacopeia Dietary Supplement Verification Program (USP-DSVP) mark, which indicates that the supplement manufacturer has complied with certain standards. Supplements vetted by the USP-DSVP should contain the ingredients noted on the label in the amounts and strengths stated. The product should dissolve within 30 to 45 minutes so that the nutrients enter your bloodstream, rather than passing through your body intact. It shouldn't contain more than allowable levels of contaminants. Other product safety organizations include, which ranks herbs and supplements based on quality and content, and NSF International, a not-for-profit organization that develops standards and certifies products related to public health, safety, and environmental protection.
  • Consider safe levels. Supplements vary so widely, it's essential to read the labels. Much like packaged foods, all dietary supplements have a "Supplement Facts" label that lists the Daily Values (DVs) of nutrients in a single serving. It also notes the actual amount of each nutrient included. For trace minerals, such as iron, fluoride, and zinc, it's safest not to exceed the DV at all. Some experts even recommend getting these micronutrients only through food. If you take individual supplements (such as extra vitamin D tablets) as well as a multivitamin, be sure to total up the amounts you're getting from every source, including food. Fortified breakfast cereals can bump up your intake of vitamins and minerals considerably. A single serving of certain breakfast cereals can deliver as much as or more than your daily multivitamin. That may not be a problem with vitamin C, but it might pose health risks with iron or vitamin A.
  • Consider price. Compare active ingredients on the labels, then let price be your guide. Store brands spend less on advertising than nationally known brands and pass on the savings to the consumer.
  • Ignore marketing gimmicks. It doesn't matter whether vitamin C is derived from organic rose hips or synthesized in large batches in a laboratory; your body will use the resulting product similarly. In fact, your body absorbs certain micronutrients more efficiently in synthetic rather than natural forms. Vitamin K and folic acid are two examples.
Start by talking to your doctor about whether taking a multivitamin is right for you and which type of multivitamin might be best. If you are pregnant, your doctor will probably recommend a prenatal vitamin for you. If you hope to become pregnant sometime soon, you should make sure your multivitamin contains adequate amounts of folic acid, important in the prevention of some birth defects.

If you are a premenopausal woman, your doctor might suggest a multivitamin plus iron to replace the iron you lose in menstruation. For older women and men, taking a multivitamin that contains calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12 might be best. Unless otherwise instructed by your doctor, avoid multivitamins that contain levels of nutrients that far exceed the Daily Value or Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of any nutrient.
Big thanks to Dr. Roizen for detailing exactly what should be in a multivitamin! Ideally we are getting most of our nutrients from food, but today's food quality has diminished drastically in the last 20 years.

Another thing to consider is whether your body will even absorb all those vitamins. Most pills absorbency rate is around 30%; even from name brands. A lot of research has shown the Isotonix multivitamin that comes in a powder form initially and then is mixed with 2 ounces of water has the best absorbency rate of all the vitamins. Visit my profile page for more information.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
When you shop for a multivitamin, first read the label. The multivitamin should have the usual recommended daily allowances (RDAs) of vitamins and minerals. Then you need to supplement that amount, so that you obtain the RealAge Optimums (RAOs) -- the dose you need to stay young -- for each vitamin and mineral listed below. Then you have to remember five minerals (sorry, there's no shortcut).

  • Vitamin A -- More than 2,500 international unit (IU) is too much
  • Vitamin B6 -- 4 milligrams (mg) a day
  • Vitamin B12 -- 800 microgram (mcg) a day (25 mcg, in a supplement. B12 in a supplement is absorbed much better than the B12 found in food)
  • Vitamin C -- 400 mg x 3 (remember it's water-soluble, so you need several doses over the day), or 1,200 mg a day (reduce this to 100 mg a day from supplements if you're taking a statin drug, for example, Zocor, Lipitor, Pravachol, or Crestor)
  • Vitamin D -- 400 IU a day if under age 60; 600 IU a day if 60 or over
  • Vitamin E -- 400 to 800 IU a day (400 to 800 IU of mixed tocopherols is the form of vitamin E I favor). Reduce this to at most 100 IU a day from supplements if you're taking a statin drug.
  • Vitamin F (folate) -- 800 mcg a day (folic acid or folate, or folicin, which is sometimes listed as vitamin B9)
  • Thiamin -- 25 mg
  • Riboflavin -- 25 mg
  • Niacin -- At least 30 mg a day, preferably more (check with your doctor) if you're taking a statin drug
  • Biotin -- 300 mcg
  • Pantothenic acid -- 10 mg
  • Calcium -- 1,200 mg a day in divided doses (1,600 mg for women)
  • Magnesium -- 400 mg a day
  • Selenium -- 200 mcg a day
  • Zinc -- 15 mg
  • Potassium -- Four fruits plus a normal diet should do it.
Additional vitamin-like substances daily:
  • Lycopene -- Ten tablespoons of tomato sauce a week (400 mcg) should do it.
  • Lutein -- A leafy green vegetable a day (40 mcg) should do it.
  • Acetyl-L-carnitine -- If you want it, then take 1,500 mg a day.
Add 200 mg of coenzyme Q10 if you're taking a statin drug. Make sure your multivitamins contain an amount that means you will get less than 2,500 IU (less than 1.6 mg) of vitamin A as too much vitamin A or beta carotene age you.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.