Vitamins are organic compounds that are essential for health and wellbeing because they cannot be produced by the body. In total, there are 13 vitamins of which they are further classified into fat-soluble (vitamin A, D, E and K) and water-soluble (vitamin C and the vitamin B-complex).
Except for vitamin B12, they are all synthesized in plants where they play the same role as they would in the humans and animals that consume them. Vitamin B12 on the other hand comes from bacteria and is normally acquired through the consumption of animal sources.
As humans we have lost the ability to create our own vitamins even though they are essential for life. This evolutionary paradox can be explained by the fact that these vitamins are in bountiful supply in the environment and in the human food chain.
However, this fact was only true during pre-agricultural times when fruit, vegetables, nuts, fish and meat were freely available. Today’s modern diet in the developed world, although varied, is plagued by vitamin deficiencies with increased levels of chronic diseases.
A Balanced and Varied Diet
A balanced and varied diet is the best source of essential vitamins and minerals, however, nutrient deficiencies do occur even in societies with bountiful supplies of nutrient-rich foods. Common advice is to eat sufficient fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains, lean protein, and low fat dairy products to maintain health and prevent disease.
Multivitamins can be useful in providing one or more nutrients in cases where consumption of a particular food is less than the recommended daily amount. Deficiencies in one or more key nutrients can lead to non-optimal functioning and even serious health consequences.
Certainly, even in the general population there are often periodic lapses in micronutrient quotas and when these periodic gaps become persistent, the nutrient shortfall can result in serious health issues. This is often described as hidden hunger, which is when people eat adequate calories but inadequate micronutrients.
Hidden hunger is often the case in developing countries where modern eating patterns are dominated by energy-dense but nutrient-poor foods. In one large population study in the USA, micronutrient levels were recorded to be below the recommended amount for vitamins A, C, D and E as well as for minerals such as calcium and magnesium.
Furthermore, data from this study showed that for those who take multivitamin supplements, these deficiencies were less common across all age groups.
Multivitamin Supplement Health Benefits
At present, there is considerable research and public acceptance on multivitamin and mineral supplementation to help with health issues such as anemia (iron), neural tube defect (folic acid), and osteoporosis (vitamin D).
However, new research is suggesting that cognitive performance, athletic output and physical performance an also be maintained or improved with multivitamin supplementation as well as longevity in older individuals. Although multivitamin supplements are not substitutes for a balanced diet, they are able
- to replace nutritional inadequacies
- to maintain good health
- to improve metabolic processes
- to prevent chronic diseases
Multivitamin Supplement #1 – Vitamin B Complex
The vitamin B-complex is a family of eight B vitamins that are essential micronutrients for optimal health and wellbeing. These include: thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7), folic acid (B9), and cobalamin (B12).
Each of the B vitamins have closely inter-related functions acting as co-enzymes in key reactions in each cell of the human body. In particular, B vitamins support important cell metabolism and energy production reactions that are necessary for life.
Every aspect of energy production in cells requires at least one B vitamin. Thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic acid are all essential co-enzymes that are absolutely critical in catabolic energy production. Without these vitamins there are serious and broad negative health consequences.
Other B-vitamin dependent processes include anabolic processes that require these compounds to assist in the metabolism of substances such as amino acids, fatty acids and pyrimidines, all of which are essential for most other cellular processes.
Overall, the health benefits of B-vitamin supplementation are:
- Co-enzyme in many important metabolic reactions
- Prevents B-vitamin deficiency
Multivitamin Supplement #2 – Vitamin C
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is usually combined with minerals, such as calcium ascorbate and magnesium ascorbate or others, or is present in high concentration in Acerola- or Camu-Camu fruit powder. These vitamin C forms are known to be more natural rather than just synthetically derived ascorbic acid.
In contrast to humans, many animals, including some species of monkey, can produce their own vitamin C. Therefore humans need to acquire vitamin C solely from the diet notably from fresh fruit and vegetables.
Vitamin C supplements are mainly used to help prevent or treat the common cold. In a large meta-analysis study that included 29 trials and involving over 11.000 participants, researchers were able to show that regular consumption of vitamin C reduced the duration of the common cold by a significant 8% in adults and 14% in children.
Furthermore, children who consumed between 1 and 2 grams of vitamin C had a reduced severity of the cold as well as a significant reduction of 18% in the duration of their cold. Although the results were not always consistent it would seem that regular vitamin C supplementation is beneficial for some.
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant and is also used for many other purposes including: enhancing exercise metabolism, photo-protection of skin, improving negative moods, lowering high blood pressure, and for maintaining optimal joint health.
The multiple beneficial effects of a multivitamin with added vitamin C:
- Preventing and treating the common cold
- Enhances collagen biosynthesis in cartilage helping to maintain healthy joints
- Potent antioxidant
- Photo-protection of the skin during sun bathing
- Anti-inflammatory action and useful in treating dermal conditions
Multivitamin Supplement #3 – Fat-Soluble Vitamins
Fat-soluble vitamins include the vitamins: vitamin A (retinol), vitamin D (25-OHD), and vitamin E (tocopherols and tocotrienols), and vitamin K. Deficiencies in these vitamins have been associated with a number of diseases and poor health.
Vitamin A, or retinoic acid, is an essential vitamin that has many important roles including healthy liver metabolism, eye health as well as healthy skin, hair and nails. Vitamin A deficiencies have been associated with an increased risk of cancer and diabetes.
Vitamin D is known to help promote calcium absorption, which in turn helps to maintain strong and healthy bones. Vitamin D naturally comes from exposure to the sun but with the commitments of work and long hours spent indoors, many people do not get adequate amounts of vitamin D.
Vitamin D deficiencies have also been connected with multiple sclerosis, a chronic neurological disease mediated by the immune system. There is strong evidence that populations with low vitamin D levels are more susceptible to developing the disease.
Vitamin E is a group of eight chemically similar compounds that come with a range of essential benefits for human health. As potent antioxidants, these compounds can help protect the body from free radicals, which are implicated in ageing and the development of chronic and metabolic diseases.
Vitamin E also helps to maintain blood circulation and improves blood vessel health as well as a keeping a healthy strong heart. Supplementation with vitamin E has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks as well as protecting against calcification of arterial walls.
Vitamin K complex consists of two fat-soluble compounds known as vitamin K1 and vitamin K2 and are highly concentrated in green leafy vegetables. Vitamin K is a co-factor for an enzyme that is critical in cellular processes such as optimal bone and arterial health.
Vitamin K2 is particularly helpful at protecting and strengthening bones by maintaining calcium levels in the bone. Through this, vitamin K also assists in making sure that the calcium is kept in the bones and not building up in arteries (calcification) causing hardening and ultimately heart disease.
Multivitamin Supplement #4 – Minerals
Minerals such as potassium, calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium make up the majority of minerals that are included in multivitamin tables. The following list describes the main benefits for including these minerals in multivitamin tablets:
- Potassium is an essential mineral for maintaining healthy blood pressure and bone health
- Calcium helps to build strong bones and teeth
- Iron helps red blood cells carry oxygen through the blood
- Magnesium is an essential mineral for overall health but is notable in maintaining healthy muscle function, bone health and nerve function
- Zinc is necessary for a strong immune system
The relationship between calcium, potassium and magnesium levels is of importance due to their role in maintaining optimal blood pressure. Therefore the levels of these minerals in the body are currently being investigated to determine whether deficiencies in these minerals could contribute to hypertension.
Multivitamins Supplement #5 – Trace Elements
Trace elements that are essential for human life include the elements copper, manganese, chromium, selenium and molybdenum. These minerals may only be required in small quantities but are absolutely essential for human life and maintaining optimal health and wellbeing.
- Copper is an important trace element that is needed as a cofactor for enzymes involved in inflammation and angiogenesis
- Selenium is necessary for maximizing the activity of an important antioxidant enzyme, glutathione peroxidase
- Chromium may help maintain proper blood glucose levels and is currently being researched in people with type II diabetes
- Molybdenum is an essential trace element that is involved as a cofactor for many enzymes. Notably this includes the important enzyme, sulfite oxidase, which metabolizes sulfur containing amino acids.
Multivitamin Supplement #6 – Carotenoids
Dietary carotenoids are natural compounds found in many fruits and vegetables. The most common carotenoids include alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, cryptoxanthine and zeaxanthine. Each of these carotenoids are of significant clinical interest due to their role in human health and disease.
Carotenoids are potent antioxidants that have many beneficial effects on human health. Furthermore, carotenoids have also been shown to:
- Decrease the risk of some cancers
- Reduce the risk of eye diseases
- May reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases
Multivitamins Supplement #7 – Amino acids
Amino acids such as tyrosine, phenylalanine, theanine, and tryptophan are precursors for many types of neurotransmitters that are important for optimal brain functioning. Supplementation with these specific amino acids can naturally assist the production of these neurotransmitters.
The monoamine neurotransmitters include dopamine, melatonin, noradrenaline and serotonin which all play a role in mental processes such as cognition, emotion, memory formation and mood. These monoamine neurotransmitters also help maintain brain integrity and plasticity, which is important to help healthy brain ageing.
Precursors of dopamine and noradrenaline are the amino acids phenyalanine and tyrosine, whereas the serotonin and melatonin precursor is tryptophan.
Supplementation with these precursor amino acids has the following health benefits:
- Boosts cognition and intelligence
- Enhances attention span and focus
- Improve memory formation
- Encourages healthy brain ageing
- Stabilizes moods and emotions
Multivitamin Supplement #8 – Enzymes
Enzymes are often included in multivitamin supplements to help with digestion and improve absorption of nutrients. The enzymes often included are papain or bromelain, both of which are natural digestive enzymes and are derived from papaya and pineapple, respectively.
In addition, digestive enzymes can help with the maintenance of the digestive tract particularly in people who suffer with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Papain has been shown to be a natural remedy for constipation, bloating and heartburn all of which are painful symptoms of IBS.
- Reduce bloating
- Improve digestion
- May help treat people suffering from IBS
Who Should Use Multivitamins?
- People who may have nutrient deficiencies
- People looking to maintain optimal health
- People looking to prevent chronic diseases
Multivitamin supplements are often combined with the following natural additives:
- Trace elements
- Plant extracts
- Digestive enzymes
Why Take Multivitamins?
Multivitamin supplements may help prevent a number of health problems as well as bridging the gap in any nutritional deficiency. Certainly research would seem to say that multivitamin supplements are safe and beneficial at reducing the risk of chronic disease in at-risk populations. Multivitamins are able to
- support a busy lifestyle
- keep the brain sharp
- help digestive health
- help liver health
- help heart heath
- support strong bones
- improve mild mood issues
- help with menopause
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