Do you need one? And which one should you choose? 

Most people have heard of multivitamin/mineral supplements, commonly called multivitamins. But did you know that there is no standard multivitamin? Manufacturers choose which ingredients—and how much—to include in their products. Because of this, store shelves are filled with hundreds of multivitamins with different formulations.

How do you know if you need a multivitamin and which product you should choose? Here’s a handy guide. 

Q. Do you need a multivitamin?

A. Not necessarily. Multivitamins can help you get enough of essential vitamins and minerals, but many people get all they need by eating a nutritious variety of foods. Plus, most studies show that multivitamins have little or no effect on the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer or heart disease.

People who might benefit from taking certain nutrients found in multivitamins include the following:

People over 50

People who could become pregnant

Pregnant people

Breastfed babies and toddlers

People who avoid certain foods or have poor diets

If you fall into one of these categories, see our recently updated multivitamin/mineral fact sheet for more details. But for specific advice, we recommend talking with your healthcare provider. 

Q. You are overwhelmed by the multivitamin choices at my store. Which product should you buy?

A. Talk with your healthcare provider for advice. Your provider can help you find an appropriate multivitamin.

Consider choosing a multivitamin designed for your age, sex, and whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding. The recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals differ from person to person, and many multivitamin manufacturers take this into account when formulating products. For example, multivitamins for women usually have more iron and folic acid than those for men. Multivitamins for seniors usually provide more calcium and vitamins D and B12, and less iron than those for younger adults. Prenatal multivitamins often provide vitamin A as beta-carotene and have higher amounts of iron. Most children’s multivitamins have smaller amounts of many nutrients.

Want to compare products from home? Use our Dietary Supplement Label Database to search for and compare thousands of dietary supplement products on the market, including many multivitamins.

Q. Do multivitamins have any safety concerns?

A. Not for most people. Taking a basic multivitamin is unlikely to harm your health, assuming the product is properly manufactured. Most products contain reasonable amounts of vitamins and minerals and can help ensure you get enough essential nutrients without causing any harm.

However, some vitamins and minerals can be harmful if you get too much, that is, more than the upper limits. So, check product labels and don’t “double up” on multivitamins or other dietary supplements unless your healthcare provider has told you to do so. And keep in mind that some foods are fortified with extra vitamins and minerals. These also count toward the upper limits. 

If you smoke or used to smoke, you should avoid multivitamins that have high amounts of beta-carotene or vitamin A. Studies show that smokers who take more than 20 milligrams (mg) a day of beta-carotene or more than 7,500 micrograms (mcg) a day of vitamin A might have a higher risk of lung cancer. Most multivitamins have lower amounts of these ingredients but check labels to be sure.

If you are pregnant, don’t get too much vitamin A—more than about 2,800 mcg a day—because it increases the risk of birth defects. This is not a concern for beta-carotene, the form of vitamin A in plant foods such as carrots and some dietary supplements.

This list (follow hyperlink) recommends intakes for all nutrients based on your age, sex, and whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

For more information on multivitamins, visit https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/MVMS-Consumer/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

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