The Multivitamin Menagerie

Multivitamins: we hear the word all the time, but there can certainly be hesitation around what they provide and how exactly they work. Where should we get our multivitamins from? How many should we take? Are they worth the money? We called in a professional.

MaryLou Cassidy has been practicing family medicine for a little over a decade, with an MSN from the University of New Hampshire. Her clinic – the Integrative Health and Wellness Clinic over in Dublin – offers help with acute and chronic health management, provides physical exams, recommends lifestyle medicine options and wellness group programs and more. With over 20 years of experience in the field, it’s safe to say Cassidy has plenty of insight to offer on the matter.

Those who may be supplement hesitant might have read studies that conclude that multivitamins aren’t actually that helpful. Cassidy replies that although that could be true -multivitamins do only have trace amounts of supplements in them - they are not supposed to fully supplement any one vitamin, but are there to give that extra boost that may be needed in certain circumstances. Just as prenatal vitamins are tailored for pregnant woman and over 50 supplements are for folks within that age range, these products will help aid in the body’s navigation for particular circumstances.

“For example,” Cassidy said, “we live in the Northern Hemisphere, where we don’t get the sun exposure that we need. In order to get our daily vitamin D supplement, we would need about 80% of our bodies exposed in the sun for about 15 minutes every day.”

With the colder, darker months encompassing most of our lives over here, it is tough to get that vitamin D exposure our bodies need, so a reputable vitamin D supplement is a great way to provide that extra boost we don’t normally get in the colder months.

On the other hand, melatonin, for example, is always thought of as a natural sleep aid. In reality, Cassidy explained, melatonin is a hormone, not a pill: younger folks typically don’t need a melatonin supplement because they produce so much of it naturally. The older you get, the less melatonin you produce, so younger folks who have trouble sleeping might want to look into other alternatives or lifestyle changes instead of assuming it’s an easy and fast fix.

Cassidy explained that because multivitamins are not FDA regulated, it is important to know where said vitamins are coming from. “People need to realize that vitamins and supplements are not considered a drug,” Cassidy explained, “they are regulated as a food.”

In other words, what is in the supplement might not necessarily be on the label. Cassidy explained that some twenty years ago, an independent lab dubbed Consumer Labs tested several different varieties of vitamins that were on store shelves at the time. The results were astonishing – most of the vitamins and supplements that had been tested had products in them that were not listed on the bottle, like added sugar or even lead. Consumer Labs has since set the bar for testing these unregulated commodities and holding companies accountable for producing the best quality products for their customer base.

Even though the multivitamin testing process is taken much more seriously these days, Cassidy still recommends sourcing vitamin supplements from a reputable place: a local drug store, co-op, or a specialty vitamin and supplement store. These small business venues are more likely to have purer, more regulated products, unlike bigger chain stores that questionably source their materials.

Of course, Cassidy recommends that the best way to get the proper vitamin and supplement dosage is through good old fashioned food - a well-rounded diet free of processed foods and full of fresh raw fruits and vegetables and protein is a great place to start.

“Water is the fountain of youth,” Cassidy laughed. “If you want to look younger, drink water – every cell in your body needs water.”

Not too sure what exactly you’re lacking in the nutritional supplement department? “There are plenty of resources to run blood tests and see where you are at with your nutrition,” Cassidy said. “Lab works like Quest or LabCorp tailor to your nutritional needs, especially if you’re low on something.” Consulting a professional like Cassidy is also an excellent option!

“Your mother was right,” Cassidy laughed. “Eat your vegetables!”