I have been meaning to write a blog post on how to pick the best multi-vitamin ever since we had to discontinue our line of Clean Cuisine Supplements earlier in the year. But to be honest, I probably would have procrastinated for who knows how long had it not been for recently discovering I had a pretty significant vitamin D deficiency. The thing is, I was supplementing with 5,000 IU’s of vitamin D at the time I discovered my deficiency. And yes, I was completely baffled as to how my deficiency occurred.
I brought my husband, a physician, in to explain how a vitamin D deficiency can occur even if you are supplementing in my vitamin D deficiency story HERE. But, I figured since I have had to revamp my own vitamin regimen now that we don’t have our own supplement line, it’s as good of time as any to talk about how to to pick the best multi-vitamin….
***If you don’t want to read the science on how to pick the best multi-vitamin, just skip to the bottom to read my name brand recommendations =) ***
If I Eat Clean Do I Still Need to Take a Multi-Vitamin?
How Do I Choose the Multi-Vitamin That’s Right For Me?
If you head to your natural foods store, you’ll be bombarded with a plethora of multi-vitamin supplements lining the shelves, each one seemingly better than the next. You might just be tempted to buy the one that contains the most “stuff”. But it is super important to realize that if you are trying to pick the best multi-vitamin, more is not always best. Taking a multi-vitamin supplement is designed to complement a clean eating diet, but you don’t want to go overboard. Getting an excess of certain nutrients-such as iron, selenium and copper-can be toxic.
Aren’t All Multi-Vitamin Supplements More or Less the Same?
No. All multi-vitamin supplements are not created equal. In most cases, you get what you pay for.
Cheap and mass-marketed multi-vitamins are often made with cheap ingredients, some of which can cause more harm than good. While it is impossible to list every single thing you should look for on a multi-vitamin label, there are 5 key things that you can quickly check for (see below). If your multi-vitamin has the 5 things listed below, chances are it could be a good one (but it’s also no guarantee). It’s kind of like reading the ingredients label on a packaged food item, if you see the item does not contain corn syrup, hydrogenated oil or sugar then you might assume it’s a great product without investigating further and seeing it contains pro-inflammatory enriched flour and vegetable oil. The point is, the 5 tips below are simply loose and very general guidelines as I have found certain key ingredients to be a quick tip-off about the quality of the mulit-vitamin…
Make Sure Your Multi-Vitamin Contains These 5 Things:
Ok, so these are the 5 things below you want to look for when trying to buy the best multi-vitamin. Again, just because your multi-vitamin has these 5 things does NOT ensure it is superior quality (scroll down to the importance of 3rd party testing), but it’s good to know that you can rule out any that don’t have these 5…
#1 Natural Vitamin E (and ideally a full-spectrum of tocopherols and tocotrienols)
You definitely do NOT want a multi-vitamin that contains synthetic forms of vitamin E (dl-alpha tocopherol). Ideally, you don’t even want one that contains just one of the natural forms of vitamin E (d-alpha tocopherol). In a perfect world, you want the vitamin E in your multi-vitamin to reflect the way vitamin E is found in nature in real food-in the form of mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols. However, that’s not easy to find and so at the very least you want one that contains vitamin E in the form of natural d-alpha tocopherol.
#2 Mixed Carotenoids (Or NO Beta-Carotene)
Research has linked taking isolated beta-carotene to increased risk of lung cancer (in smokers anyway), but isolated beta-carotene is not something you would ever find in nature in your food. In food, you would obtain mixed carotenes. That’s exactly what you want to look for in a supplement. If your supplement contains any carotenes then you want it to be in the form of mixed carotenes, otherwise it’s best to not have any carotene in your supplement.
#3 L-Methylfolate & Methylcobalamin.
You also want to avoid supplements containing synthetic folic acid, and instead look for one containing a methylated folate (in the form of methylfolate) which is the form your body can best absorb and utilize. The same goes for vitamin B12. Avoid supplements containing vitamin B12 in the form of cyanocobalamin and instead look for ones containing vitamin B12 in the form of methycobalamin.
***Recommendations on L-Methylfolate and Methylcobalamin are especially important for individuals with the MTHFR gene mutation (see below for more on MTHFR.)***
Unless seaweed is a staple in your daily diet, food sources of iodine are scarce. In fact, it’s thought up to 40 percent of the population is at risk of iodine deficiency. However, according to Dr. Brownstein, a family practitioner board certified in holistic medicine who has been researching iodine for over two decades, over 95 percent of the patients in his clinic are iodine deficient. Approximately 74% of normal, “healthy” adults may no longer consume enough iodine.
Although most people associate iodine with optimizing the health of the thyroid, iodine is a critical nutrient for the production of many other hormones in your body. An iodine deficiency can wreck serious havoc on your health. Iodine is also one of those key raw materials that help the body safely and naturally detox.
While it is always best to get your nutrients from real food, the whole idea behind this blog post on how to pick the best multi-vitamin is to find one that fills in nutritional gaps. You want to make sure your multi-vitamin contains a small amount of iodine considering it is a nutrient that a large number of people could use more of and considering that a good number of popular but lower-quality multi-vitamins do not contain it.
#5. Balance of Fat Soluble Vitamins A, D & K
Balancing the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K is also critical. This is because when you take one fat-soluble vitamin, you increase your body’s need for the other fat-soluble vitamins. For example, one of the roles of vitamin D is to activate osteoblasts (bone-building cells) to increase bone density, while one of the roles of vitamin A is to promote bone breakdown so that new bone can be laid down. Although these processes seem to oppose each other, they are both necessary to maintain bone health. Vitamins A and D work closely together, and if you take one you need to take the other.
There is an intimate relationship between fat-soluble vitamins and they all play a vital role in optimizing health. Mainstream foods do not supply adequate amounts of vitamins A, D or K2, so supplementation is especially important. For what it is worth, vitamin D3 (also called cholecalciferol) is four times more potent than the synthetic vitamin D2 typically found in low-quality multi-vitamins. However, most multi-vitamin supplements do not contain the optimal dosage of the important fat soluble nutrients K2 or D3 (it is important to note that most multi-vitamins do however usually contain enough vitamin A.) Note: Every other day I currently supplement my multi-vitamin with 5,000 IU of Klaire Labs brand vitamin D3.
Even the Best Multi-Vitamin Often Falls Short on Vitamins K2 & Vitamin D3
Additionally, the vast majority of multi-vitamin/multi-mineral supplements only contain vitamin K1, which is rather easy to get from a healthy diet, rather than vitamin K2, which is extremely important for heart health and bone health, but not at all easy to get from a healthy diet.
Vitamin K1 is primarily responsible for blood clotting, but vitamin K2 is responsible for driving calcium into bones and keeping calcium out of arteries, veins and soft tissue where it can cause damage (Note: atherosclerosis is a build-up of calcium-laden plaque that clogs the coronary heart arteries, or any artery in the body for that matter.) Vitamin K2 is so important for heart health that the Rotterdam Study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that this single vitamin reduced the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by an incredible 50 percent, and was also associated with a reduced risk of dying from all causes. In this study, vitamin K1 had no effect. Another study conducted in 2009 showed similar results. Vitamin K2 also plays a key role in keeping teeth strong, veins healthy and skin smooth and wrinkle-free.
Although most multi-vitamin/ multi-mineral supplements contain vitamin D, they often contain way too little. Also, as mentioned above, it is super important to make sure the vitamin D you are getting is in the form of vitamin D3 (also known as cholecalciferol), the most absorbable form, rather than the synthetic form of D2. Like vitamin K2, vitamin D3 is also limited in the food supply and found in relatively few sources-fatty fish, egg yolks and certain mushrooms are about the only natural sources (Note: Dairy foods do not naturally contain Vitamin D, they are artificially fortified.)
Although it is certainly true your skin cells can manufacture vitamin D when they are exposed directly to the sun, vitamin D-deficiency is estimated to affect more than 70 percent of us. And although calcium often gets all the credit for building strong bones, your body must have vitamin D in order to absorb calcium from foods. Vitamin K2 is also a critical bone-building nutrient as it guides the calcium into your bones where it is needed… and away from your arteries where you don’t want it!
Many health-conscious consumers are aware of the important role vitamin D plays in disease-prevention, and as such, they often supplement their multi-vitamins with additional vitamin D. However, it is super important to note that taking vitamin D will increase your need for vitamin K2, so it is important to make sure you take BOTH fat-soluble vitamins and not just cherry pick one or the other.
Choosing the Best Multi-Vitamin for the MTHFR Gene Mutation
MTHFR-what?!? If you have not yet heard of this one, please stay with me while I try to explain…
Methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase (or more conveniently known as MTHFR), is an enzyme that works as a catalyst for very important biochemical reactions in your body. One of the main actions of the MTHFR enzyme is to convert synthetic folic acid and dietary folate (found in whole foods such as fruits and vegetables) into its active form, L-methylfolate. However, it is estimated that approximately 60% of the population carry a mutation of their MTHFR gene, including the vast majority of people with an autoimmune disease (on a personal note, it is not a surprise that I have multiple sclerosis and also have an MTHFR gene mutation.) Individuals with the MTHFR gene mutation have a reduced capacity to create L-methylfolate and thus a reduced ability to methylate.
When optimal methylation occurs, it has a significant positive impact on many biochemical reactions in the body including those relating to the following:
- DNA production
- Neurotransmitter production
- Histamine metabolism
- Estrogen metabolism
- Eye health
- Fat metabolism
- Cellular energy
- Liver health
It should be no surprise that when optimal methylation does NOT occur that the body is compromised in all of the areas listed above.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of nutrition supplements contain the synthetic (or “man-made”) folic acid rather than the L-methylfolate form that your body uses best. Even more concerning, if you happen to have the MTHFR gene mutation (and again, it is estimated that over 50% of the population does) then your body cannot properly utilize the synthetic form of folic acid that is found in your typical low-quality multi-vitamin (Centrum is a good example of a popular, but low-quality multi-vitamin that contains synthetic folic acid.) If your body cannot utilize the synthetic form of folic acid then it can actually build up in your body and potentially become hazardous.
But here’s the important part: Whether you have the MTHFR gene mutation or not, the safest thing to do is to avoid supplements containing folic acid and only take the L-Methylfolate form of folate, which is the form everyone’s body can use best.
If you are trying to select the best multi-vitamin, it is also important to make sure that the ingredients label lists B12 in the form of methylcobalamin rather than the cheap, synthetic and slightly-toxic inactive form of B12 (cyanocobalamin) used most frequently in low-quality multi-vitamins. Both folate and B-12 work synergistically, so you need to take both together for best results.
The Importance of Third Party Testing
And finally, as we discussed in my vitamin D deficiency story, you don’t always get what you pay for when it comes to supplements. Although we admittedly do not have a definitive answer as to why I was vitamin D deficient while supplementing with 5,000 IU’s of vitamin D, we suspect that the supplement I was taking might not have contained what the label claimed it did.
I think most people these days are aware that the 30 billion dollar a year supplement industry is not regulated. In other words, your vitamin supplement bottle may CLAIM it contains 5,000 IU’s of vitamin D3 but who knows if it even has any? Even worse, what if it contains a potentially toxic 10,000 IU’s of vitamin D? The point is, a vitamin deficiency can be equally as harmful as a vitamin overload and if you have no idea what is REALLY in your vitamin bottle then you could potentially be at risk for either a deficiency or an overload.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of either buying your supplements directly from your physician (because physician’s have access to high quality supplement brands) or buying one of the third party tested supplements I have included below.
How to Pick the Best Multi-Vitamin
So, after taking ALL of the above into consideration, here are the three best multi-vitamin brands below I have found that I recommend as a replacement for our Clean Cuisine multi-vitamin (Note: I am sure there are plenty of other high-quality multi-vitamin brands and if you have one you are in love with I would love for you to tell me about it in the comments below!) Also, please be sure to see the additional supplements I take listed at the end of this blog post.
- Hardy Nutritionals brand “Daily Essentials.” This is a clinical-strength broad-spectrum multi-vitamin (and micronutrient) formula that is backed by independent, peer-reviewed research studies and is recommended by physicians worldwide to enhance mood, mental clarity, and behavior in patients. If you suffer with any mental health issues, Hardy Nutritionals is backed by solid research and most definitely the one I would choose. Hardy Nutritionals was developed by a physician, Dr. David Hardy, out of a quest to find answers to serious mental health concerns that plagued his close friends and family members, including two of his own children. Dr. Hardy’s supplements have been studied extensively by independent researchers at many universities, including Harvard, Ohio State, Calgary (Canada), and Canterbury (New Zealand), for various aspects of health—particularly mood and anxiety-related disorders such as bipolar disorder, depression, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, and OCD. This research has resulted in nearly 30 publications in medical journals. A recent article in BMC Psychiatry noted that there is “more published and ongoing research on this formula† [the micronutrient formula David co-developed] for mental health than on any other complex formula anywhere in the world.”Buy Hardy Nutritionals HERE. ***Watch Hardy Nutritionals founder, Dr. Hardy, below discuss with Kathy Ireland how his supplements work to help patients with a wide variety of mental health issues.***
- Klaire Labs brand “Multithera 1 Capsule Formula Plus K”. This is the company we used to private label our Clean Cuisine supplement line with and we can 100% standby the quality of their products. This is a physician-quality formula and we know for sure you are getting what you pay for with this brand. I know for certain that this brand is third-party tested, GMP certified and all products are manufactured in one facility in Reno, Nevada. I also know that I was tested for vitamin deficiencies every year for the entire five years we had our own Clean Cuisine supplement line and I never once tested deficient in anything. Again, maybe it is all coincidence, but one thing is for sure, you can’t go wrong buying your supplements from a company that is third party tested. However, if you were taking our Clean Cuisine AM/ PM supplement packs in the past it is important to note that this multi-vitamin is not a direct substitute because it does not contain the extra calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, evening primrose oil or fish oil that our AM / PM packs contained. But as far as multi-vitamins go, this one gets a solid A. The problem is, Klaire Labs only sells to physicians. Since we no longer carry our own Clean Cuisine brand line of vitamins, I called Klaire Labs and found out that they do sell online to only one authorized Amazon seller, Ritual Health. So, if you do decide to order this one from Amazon, just be sure it is sold only through Ritual Health (otherwise, you might not be getting what you pay for!). Buy Klaire Labs HERE.
- Smarty Pants brand “Organic Women’s Complete.” Each batch of Smarty Pants is third-party lab tested for purity and potency, so you know you are getting what you pay for. Smarty Pants products are made in North America from in a GMP-Compliant (Good Manufacturing Practices) facility and they test at every stage of the manufacturing process. I also love that this brand includes 341 mg of omega-3 (in the form of ALA) and probiotics. SmartyPants are non-GMO, allergen-free, and made with eco-friendly ingredients. And finally, the biggest advantage Smarty Pants has over the other 2 brands is that it is chewable (and actually tastes good!) Buy Smarty Pants HERE.
Additional Essential Supplements that I Currently Take…
- Every other day I take 5,000 IU of from Klaire Labs brand vitamin D3
- Every day I take 4,000 mg high-potency/ ultra-pure fish oil with EPA / DHA from Amare OmMega
- Every day I take 234 mg GLA from evening primrose oil from Barlean’s
- Every day I take a comprehensive probiotic targeted to optimizing the gut-brain axis from Amare Fundamentals.
If YOU have a multi-vitamin you love please tell us about it in the comments below!