Many people take multivitamin mineral supplements (MVMs), either as “insurance” against nutrients that are likely missing from their diets, or in addition to regular intake of healthy whole foods. Is this a good idea? That depends. It is always best to get your nutrients from food, if possible, and a MVM will not make up for bad dietary habits. There are pros and cons to taking MVMs, and all MVM supplements are NOT created equal. I do often recommend good quality MVM’s to my clients. However, when I learn that clients are using Centrum or similar product, I always advise them to stop.
Pros: A good MVM can boost intake of important nutrients such as zinc, magnesium, and vitamin C when illnesses challenge absorption or there is an increased need.
Cons: Some MVMs may provide too much or the wrong forms of certain nutrients, such as folic acid, iron, and copper, which can be harmful, and often include controversial ingredients.
So what about Centrum? Centrum and other popular MVM supplements may provide cheap, synthetic forms of vitamins and poorly absorbed forms of minerals. For example, inorganic copper is metabolized differently that copper which is derived from food, and is potentially toxic. Likewise, cheaper, synthetic forms of vitamin E, such as dl-alpha tocopherol or all rac tocopherol may actually be increase mortality and risk of some diseases. The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT) demonstrated that synthetic Vitamin E increases risk of Prostate Cancer. Centrum and other MVMs include unwanted ingredients like food coloring, polyethylene glycol, the main ingredient in stool softeners, and BHT, which has been associated with liver and kidney damage. These and other “yucky” ingredients are just a few of numerous reasons to avoid common, inexpensive MVMs such as Centrum.
If you want to take an MVM in addition to a healthy, whole food diet, look for one with whole food ingredients, such as fruit and vegetable concentrates, and without additives. Look for MVM’s with natural forms of vitamin E (mixed tocopherols or mixed tocopherols and mixed tocotrienols), and minerals in their most bioavailable forms. For example, calcium and magnesium as glycinate, citrate or malate. I suggest finding an MVM without iron unless you are a woman of childbearing age, pregnant or breastfeeding.
More is not always better and iron is a nutrient that can be harmful in excess amounts.