The benefits of multivitamins

by Hannah de Gruchy July 10, 2023

The benefits of multivitamins

There are many types of nutritional supplements available, from everyday, individual vitamins and minerals to the less common functional mushrooms and superfood powders that contain a multitude of different antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds.

However, perhaps the most well-known, and the most consumed, is a multivitamin. These types of supplements contain the traditional “A-Z” array of nutrients, both vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A to zinc, and lots in between.

A multivitamin is a good way of ensuring we’re getting enough of each of the micronutrients that we need to consume on a regular basis to support our general health and wellbeing. For this reason, many people choose to take one daily to cover any gaps in their diet.

Multivitamins: fast facts

  • Vitamins and minerals are known as micronutrients and are essential for supporting our overall health.
  • Multivitamins are a type of food supplement that contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals.
  • A multivitamin supplement can help to cover any gaps in our diet that may lead to a vitamin deficiency.
  • Multivitamins can support our wellbeing but aren’t a substitute for a poor or unhealthy diet.

What is a multivitamin?

Human body

The proteins, fats, and carbohydrates in our diet provide calories, and therefore energy, and are known as the macronutrients. Vitamins and minerals (as well as other advantageous plant chemicals, or phytonutrients, such as polyphenols and antioxidants) are called micronutrients.

Micronutrients provide no calories or energy, but they’re responsible for the normal functioning of every organ and system in the body. They play an essential role in the health of our hearts, guts, brains, bones, muscles, and skin, as well as in supporting digestion, breathing, cognitive function, and the cardiovascular system. Without them, we’d soon become unwell.

A multivitamin – sometimes called a multivitamin and mineral supplement – contains a wide range of micronutrients. Most commonly found in tablet or capsule form, they’re also available as powders that can be added to smoothies and juices.

What do multivitamins contain?

There are many multivitamin products available, however, most will contain the B vitamins and vitamins A, C, E, D, and K. Most will also contain minerals including calcium, copper, iron, iodine, magnesium, selenium, and zinc.

Among the most important daily vitamins are B12, C, and D, so look for supplements that contain these nutrients along with a wide variety of minerals. The nutrient reference value, or NRV listed on the packaging will tell you, in percentage terms, how much of each nutrient the recommended daily intake provides. The higher the percentage of NRV, the more of each nutrient you’ll be getting.

The best daily multivitamins will also contain high-quality ingredients, with no artificial fillers or binders.

What are the benefits of taking a multivitamin?

Vegan diet

Many people choose to take a multivitamin as a form of ‘insurance policy’ against possible deficiencies.

More specifically, certain micronutrients can be missing from our diet if we choose to eat a certain way, such as a following a vegetarian or vegan diet, or because we don’t eat certain foods for religious or cultural reasons.

Vitamin B12 is difficult to obtain from plant-based foods, and therefore a supplement is advised if we avoid them. A vegan diet may also mean a lower intake of vitamin D, calcium, iodine, and iron.

We may also need to avoid some foods for health reasons, for example, if we have an allergy or intolerance to gluten or lactose. Avoiding wheat and dairy products may put us at a higher risk of insufficiencies of the B vitamins and calcium.

If we lead a particularly active, sporty lifestyle, we may need extra help from a supplement, and if we’re experiencing or recovering from an infection or illness, we may also benefit from taking one.

Do multivitamin supplements work?

Taking a multivitamin is believed to support general wellbeing, to a certain extent. Taking any kind of supplement isn’t going to completely negate the effects of eating a poor, unhealthy, unvaried, or restricted diet. But it can help to fill in any gaps where we might not be getting all we need, nutrition-wise.

An observational study, published in the BMJ in 2020, found that taking a daily multivitamin was “associated with better self-reported overall health across all race, sex, and education groups”.

The researchers found no “clinically measurable health benefits” to taking such supplements, but they put the self-reported better health down to two possible reasons.  Either “regular users of these supplements simply believe they work and that they confer health benefits in the absence of hard evidence to that effect”, or they’re “inherently more positive about their personal health, irrespective of their supplement use”.

But since there are no known major side effects to taking a daily multivitamin for the general population, it’s still considered worthwhile.

A severe nutritional deficiency, either linked to a health condition or following a serious illness, is unlikely to be rectified with a standard multivitamin. If you think this may apply to you, seek medical advice.

Should I take a multivitamin every day?

Taking a multivitamin

Yes. Like any food supplement, a multivitamin is best taken daily, for maximum benefit. Vitamins are broken down into two classifications – the B vitamins and vitamin C are the water-soluble vitamins and vitamins A, D, E, and K are the fat-soluble ones.

If we have an excess of fat-soluble vitamins, the body can store what it doesn’t immediately need in our fat reserves and liver. But it cannot store the water-soluble vitamins - any excess is excreted in the urine daily.

If we choose to take a multivitamin, it’s therefore important to take them every day to ensure we keep our levels of vitamins B and C topped up. Most multivitamins contain enough of the fat-soluble vitamins to avoid too much of an excess.

It’s also generally accepted that supplements should be taken at the same time every day. There’s no right or wrong time, instead, it’s more important to get into a routine of taking them each day, at the same time.

The fat-soluble vitamins are best taken with a meal that contains healthy fats to aid absorption. For most people, this means lunch or dinner, rather than breakfast so it can be helpful for both maximum absorption and as a reminder, to take your multivitamin with your midday or evening meal.

How long before they take effect?

Clock time

Each person will notice the benefits of taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement differently. How soon you may notice the effects will depend on factors such as your age and level of health.

It will also depend on your starting point – if you’re deficient in a particular micronutrient, you may notice the effects sooner than if your levels were already at an acceptable level.

Different nutrients are absorbed at different rates, and this is particularly so with the water-soluble vitamins that are absorbed by the body more quickly.

For example, being low in vitamin B12 may mean that you feel tired a lot of the time. Topping up your levels may have an effect within a week or so. A vitamin D deficiency can lead to weakened bones, and you may not know it until many years later. Reversing this may naturally take some time, as much as a few months.

The general advice is to take a supplement each day for 12 weeks before assessing whether you feel any benefit.

How will I know if they’re working?

General signs of a vitamin or mineral deficiency include feeling lethargic and low in energy, weak or brittle nails and hair, dry, irritated skin, and a low mood.

These can all be signs of other health issues, so if you’re concerned, speak to your GP. But if you start taking a multivitamin, you may notice an improvement that will indicate that they’re starting to work for you.

The benefits of a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement

Consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean animal-based protein, and/or a range of plant-based proteins is likely to provide all the vitamins and minerals we need.

But often, a busy, stressful life and juggling a healthy work-life balance will mean that our food choices aren’t always as we intended. Also, allowing ourselves to enjoy treats, nights out, and celebrations will mean that some days we’re just not perfect. Choosing to avoid animal-based foods may also mean that we lack certain nutrients.

Taking a daily multivitamin, such as one from our range of nutritional supplements, will help to cover your vitamin and mineral needs and help to ensure you don’t become deficient.

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Hannah de Gruchy
Hannah de Gruchy


Health and wellness author and biologist specialised in sustainability, nutrition and eco-living.

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