A new generation of smarter, more sophisticated multis is appearing on store shelves.
The humble multivitamin made headlines in late 2013. A widely publicized medical journal editorial concluded that everyone should stop taking multivitamins altogether, based on selected evidence from study results. The opinion piece received an unusual amount of media attention, complete with sensational headlines declaring the case against multivitamins closed.
Evolution of multis
Researchers behind the Physician Health Study II—the largest and most rigorous trial to examine the effects of long-term multivitamin use in the prevention of cancer in men—highlighted a particular limitation of their study, published in 2012. This limitation concerned “the evolution of multivitamin preparations over time, reflecting evolving perspectives and priorities in nutrition.”
In recent years a new generation of smarter, more sophisticated multis has been appearing on store shelves. These combine traditionally sourced nutrients along with vitamins and minerals from whole foods. Examples of the latter include iodine from kelp, selenium from sprouts, vitamin K2 from fermented legumes, and vitamin C from amla (Indian gooseberry).
The impetus for this evolution is the growing appreciation for food synergy, an understanding that the biological constituents from food are coordinated. Food-based nutrients likely buffer and balance one another in subtle ways that enhance biological activity. By combining elements originating from nature with proven, standard sources of vitamins and minerals, the basic multi is capturing the importance of synergy in nutrient delivery. Why not a supplement made entirely from food? These, too, are making appearances, but so far they are cost prohibitive for many consumers.
A promising feature of the new, food-based multis is the inclusion of “superfood” concentrates and extracts. These potent versions of antioxidant-abundant fruit and herbs provide nutrient-dense fare from the earth and sea that may be a source of ultratrace minerals, which are yet-to-be identified food components that round out the known micronutrient profile.
Optimal nourishment is based on eating a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods at every meal. A daily multi is a convenient way to bridge nutrient gaps. As long as we continue to view our daily multi as affordable insurance for overall wellness and not as a panacea for chronic disease, the case against multivitamins is far from closed—and the case for them is wide open.