Buying a quality multivitamin is not an easy task for the average consumer. It is delicate balance between getting quality ingredients and good value. Once you know what to look for, you should be able to quickly assess the quality of your vitamins.
I believe that whole food based powders are ideal (e.g. Pranin A-Z) but cost prohibitive for some, so I will concentrate on synthetic based multis, which make up most of the market. I will write about vitamins now and save minerals for another time.
Nutrients come in different forms and this makes a big difference in our body. It only makes sense to me that we supplement with the most biologically available and absorbable forms possible. What this means is that they are in a form that is ready for the body to use them or as close as possible. Our ability to convert nutrients, through various enzymatic activities, is different from person to person and is often not ideal. It is quite a task to find 1 multi that has done everything 100% right. It usually boils down to trying to get the best possible value for what you require. If your multi doesn’t even tell you what forms they are in, start looking for a new one! You can bet they are the cheapest forms and they just don’t want to advertise that fact.
Vitamin A/Beta Carotene: Beta carotene is a precursor to vitamin A and is often mistakenly described as vitamin A (but perfectly legal to do so). Beta carotene is a carotenoid found in sweet potatoes, carrots, leafy greens, squash etc. It must be converted to vitamin A in your body, which some can not do efficiently. Vitamin A comes as either retinol palmitate (best) or retinol acetate and we get this from egg yolks, cod liver oil, tuna, grass fed dairy etc. The palmitate form is what your body uses to carry vitamin A naturally.
Vitamin B1/Thiamin – Best form, although difficult to find would be cocarboxylase or pyrophosphate. Most B1 vitamins are complexed with a hydrochloride molecule. Benfotiamine is sometimes referred to as B1, but it actually is readily converted to Thiamine in the body and is considered significantly more active than traditional Thiamine. You can sometimes find Benfotiamine in a B complex, but not so often in a multi.
Vitamin B2/Riboflavin – Bioactive form is Riboflavin 5’ Phosphate.
Vitamin B3/Niacin – Niacin is known for it’s ability to dilate blood vessels and create a sensation of warmth, called a “niacin flush”. If you react to a new multivitamin and it contains niacin or the form nicotinic acid, this could be the reason. The niacinamide form does not have the same vasodialating effects so it does not lead to skin flushing. This does not make it better, just different. If you want to take niacin for its cholesterol-lowering effect higher doses of nicotinic acid are usually taken. For general use, any form is fine.
Vitamin B5/Pantothenic Acid – Most commonly found form is Calcium-D-Pantothenate, which is almost as effective as pure vitamin B5 in d-pantothenic acid form.
Vitamin B6/Pyridoxine – Phridoxine hydrochloride (hcl) has to be converted in the body to Pyridoxal-5-phosphate so the latter form is best, sometimes referred to as P-5-P.
Vitamin B12 – Cyanocobalamin is the cheapest and most popular form of B12 found in supplements and this form is not found in nature. Methylcobalamin is the naturally occurring (better form).
Folic acid/Folate – together with B12, folate is the gateway to methylation. Methylation is involved in the conversion of thyroid hormones, reducing symptoms of depression and pain, is anti-cancer and has a direct link to production of glutathione, our master antioxidant. This occurs in every cell on a continual basis. We do not want to impede methylation! This is where a multi can shine if it includes any of these active forms – 5-MFHFR (Methyltetrahydrofolate), folinic acid or methylfolate. If your multi just says folic acid or folate, it is not in the right form and it can impede the important process of methylation.
Vitamin D – Vitamin D3 as cholecalciferol. Vegan versions of Vitamin D have been only been as D2 in the past but they are now available in D3, which is considered superior.
Vitamin E – There are 8 distinct vitamin E molecules: four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. If you can find a multi that includes all 8, that is a bonus. Synthetic forms are labeled with a dl-prefix, such as dl-alpha tocopheryl acetate and are definitely inferior to a natural vitamin E that would be listed as d-alpha tocopherol, d-alpha tocopheryl acetate or d-alpha tocopheryl succinate. Alpha-tocopherol is the most biologically active form.
Vitamin K – available as K1 or K2. We get K1 from foods like leafy green vegetables and its primary role is in blood clotting. K2 is more difficult to obtain directly from foods but can be synthesized in the gut by our microflora. These are really two distinct vitamins that are commonly mistakenly lumped together. Vitamin K2 can generally be found as MK4 or MK7 and is known more for it’s role in keeping calcium in check. That means putting calcium where it is needed, like the bones, and teeth and keeping calcium out of places it doesn’t belong, like calcifying in our arteries or soft tissues (which can happen with high calcium supplementation).
MK7 stays in the body longer and is considered superior to MK4 as you only need to take it once a day. If you have the MK4 form, divide your dose in half and take it morning and night for optimal results. Vitamin K is not always found in a multi, so consider it a bonus if yours does.
AOR has a high potency multivitamin called Ortho Core that is the best that I know of, but at $50-75/month I don’t know many who are willing to pay this. My second choice is Multi-Encap by Thorne. Contact me for details.