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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Multiple Facts About Multivitamins

Get your minerals. Lick a rock.

Or take a multivitamin. Either way, you might not be doing your body any good. As with everything you consume, you must make safe, sensible choices about your multivitamins.

A recent article in Consumer Reports (also covered by NPR, which is how I learned about it) compared 18 brand-name and generic multivitamins.

CR tested vitamin and mineral content, and ‘dissolvability’ (whether the pills break down fast enough to be absorbed). The good news: CR found the major multivitamin brands were the most reliable, meeting all label claims, and remaining free of contaminants.

CR also recommended multivitamins for people with specific nutritional requirements. One group in that category caught my eye (and my nose): people with gastrointestinal disorders.

The reason: Having a GI disorder means your digestion system is out of whack, so it’s not properly processing and distributing 100% of the nutrients it needs—so taking a multivitamin might help the GI system get back on track.

But before all you GI-symptom-sufferers hail multivitamins as the latest quick-fix, take a good, hard look at your diet. Is it fatty? Over-refined? Processed? Nutrient-deficient?

Refined and processed foods lack the enzymes your body needs to break down, extract, and absorb nutrients. These are the same nutrients, incidentally, that you need to manufacture brain chemicals, which, in turn, promote digestion.

When your diet is heavy on fatty, refined, processed foods (read: unhealthy); when you eat too fast; or when you’re under stress, it’s only a matter of time before you start experiencing GI symptoms: GERD, acid reflux, heartburn, gas, bloating, or worse.

Conversely, when you follow a balanced (and, ideally, organic) diet—that’s fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish, low-fat meats and dairy products—your body will get all the nutrients it needs, usually without the need for a multivitamin.

Here’s the best part: modifying your diet based on the advice above can even alleviate GI symptoms. CR correctly reports that giving your body a steady diet of nutrient-rich foods provides benefits that no multivitamin or pill can, including:

* Fiber. Fiber exercises and cleans your GI tract in digestion, and keeps the plumbing working. The clearer you keep your GI tract, the less likely you are to experience symptoms like gas, bloating, or cramping.

* Phytochemicals. These natural compounds work with nutrients and dietary fiber to protect against disease. They also have a bunch of ‘anti’ effects—antioxidant, antibacterial, and antiviral.

* Weight loss. Eating nutritious foods keeps you from eating the unhealthy stuff, so your body will naturally shed any excess pounds.

The solution is clear in my mind. Adopt good eating habits before reaching for a multivitamin. If your doctor recommends one, choose a well-tested, major brand, such as those recommended by CR (disclaimer: I don’t support, invest in, or endorse any multivitamin vendors).

Lastly, make certain to roll in moderate exercise (such as a nice 30 minute walk every day or so). This will help your body—and your GI system—truly rock.


  • ~ Anonymous Anonymous said …

    Bill, this is something I've always wanted to know - what's the value in consuming vitamins? I am a firm believer in vitamins on top of eating the right foods. I buy my vitamins from Rite Aid and take a B, C, and multi vitamin every morning on top of my three meals a day. Are you saying I am wasting my money on all the vitamins I consume in addition to my meals?

  • ~ Anonymous Anonymous said …

    I was quite intriqued by this post. I'd love to hear what you have to say about those meal replacement or protein bars that are supposedly loaded with vitamins as well. They can really have an effect on my digestive system. And what about the vitamin loaded protein shakes they sell at my local gym? Let's hear more...

  • ~ Anonymous Anonymous said …

    Bill, I've been reading your postings and can honestly say i've been watching my diet and the foods i'm consuming which is choosing healthier options of course. Over the past couple of weeks, i've noticed a difference in my bowel movements. They are pretty normal now!

  • ~ Anonymous Anonymous said …

    Even if you change your diet to limit or eliminate GI problems, a multi-vitamin is still a good idea for other reasons, isn't it??


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