Thursday, April 3, 2014

Do You Really Need a Multivitamin?


We've all been there before. You're living a stressful life and not eating as well as you could be. Perhaps you're feeling generally run down and could use a boost.  So, you might thing taking a multivitamin would be a good idea, just to cover your bases.

But taking a multivitamin may not be the answer. 

Recently I had some bloodwork done. One thing they checked were my hemoglobin (iron) levels. They came back showing that my blood was really rich in hemoglobin (iron.) To the point that it was slightly above normal. Had I been taking a multivitamin with iron, I could have pushed my iron levels to an unhealthy level and became seriously ill. 

They also took my vitamin D levels, which were on the low side of normal. To really get the benefit of D and raise my levels, my doctor wanted me to take 5000 IUs of vitamin D daily.  In a multivitamin you'll get maybe 400 IUs--not enough to raise your levels or really see any benefit from it. Most of us are D deficient and can benefit from at least 5000 IUs a day. Some people may not need that much. Others may need way more. Without testing, it's a shot in the dark when it comes to a dose, so it's always best to find out first what's going on with your levels before supplementing. (You can get tested at your doctor's office or try a test kit like this.)

Well, what about just eating whole, nutritious foods?

Eating whole, fresh, nutrient-dense foods is always a great idea and what we should all strive to do. But even with eating the best foods, there may be things that your body still needs. Especially when it comes to B vitamins. B12 is especially difficult to get from your diet because it's only present in a handful of foods (salmon, calf liver, grass fed beef, lamb, eggs).  The cards are stacked against me when it comes to B12 because not only do I not eat much of the food sources, I found out through my blood testing that I actually have a gene mutation that makes it difficult for my body to absorb and utilize B vitamins. (Called a MTHFR mutation) So, I have to take care to supplement with the active forms of B12 (methylcobalamin), and folic acid (l-methyl folate) (and niacin to help absorb their by-products once the body has broken them down.). Sometimes diet and even the whole food supplements just aren't enough and you need to get pure standardized forms of these vitamins. 

When it comes to supplementation, it's all very individual. It's about what your body actually needs. When you take a multi, no matter how "clean" it may be, you're putting yourself at risk for either getting too much of something or not enough of what you need. If you're experiencing sluggishness, brain fog, and general malaise, you may be deficient in one or more vitamins or nutrients and getting a blood test can help you figure out the missing pieces of your nutrition puzzle.  There may be instances where taking a multivitamin is a good idea, but it's really dependent on what your body needs.

15 comments:

Cadie said...

Hi Stephanie! Great to see a nutrition related post on your blog! I'm currently a holistic nutrition student and have learned all about MTHFR and supplementation. You're absolutely right that it's important for people to have blood testing to determine their vitamin and mineral levels. Although adverse reactions are pretty rare with taking vitamins, it doesn't make much sense to blindly supplement when you could individualize things with proper testing. Also, quality is everything when it comes to supplements. You don't want one with a bunch of fillers or synthetic ingredients that your body can't break down or absorb. Also, if you have poor digestion, you may not be adequately absorbing vitamins anywhere, so it's important to address any issues with low stomach acid, leaky gut, or constipation/diarrhea.

Which mutations did you find out you had? Were you hetero or homozygous?

John Predom said...

I heard a line somewhere "be a person who takes vitamins and then don't". I had my blood check a while ago by my naturopath and because I live in the northeast and wear sunscreen I was advised to take vitamin D. It makes sense to me, I don't get a whole lot of sunshine. Other than that, eating a variety of nutrient dense foods is the way to go.

Stephanie Greenwood said...

@Cadie--We're absolutely on the same page! I'm "normal" for C677T and homozygous for A1298C.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, that blood tests are the best way to determine individual nutrient requirements, but I think it would be wise to mention that the minerals in our soil have been depleted quite significantly due to the overuse of pesticides and fertilizers. Additionally, most of our fruits and veggies are not vine/tree ripened anymore, but picked early and later ripened via ethylene gas. This lowers their nutrional content considerably. Furthermore, the RDA guidelines are severely outdated and well overdue for review. Gone are the days of achieving optimal nutrional health via eating from the old school food pyramid alone.

Stephanie Greenwood said...

Yes indeed!

Gen O Mommy said...

Which MTHFR mutation did they test for? There are over 30 variances of that mutation but most practitioners only look for 2 but currently, 3 of those are the most studied.
Niacin.. interesting.. what dose did they put you on?
Also, I feel an important thing to note about Vitamin D, is D3 has better absorption and because it's fat soluble should always be taken with food. Along the with MTHFR, there is a gene specific to the absorption of Vit. D. Sometimes taking Vit. D alone will not raise levels, but the right combination with additional supplements, levels will raise if you have that mutation.

I'm happy you had the labs done!

Wendy said...

Hi Stephanie!
I took multivitamins (One A Days) since childhood until a few years ago I had labs drawn which showed I was anemic, very low in Vitamin D but super high in B vitamins. My Dr. advised me to supplement with iron and vitamin D independently and to stop taking multivitamins. I also worked with a sports nutritionist (I am a runner) to better my daily food intake geared towards my needs and today I no longer take iron but continue to supplement with 1000 mg daily vitamin D. It pays to be more specific with lab draws and find out exactly what you need instead of blindly supplementing assuming your covered.

Liz said...

Stephanie,
If you wouldn't mind sharing, I've always been curious about your dietary habits. I'm especially intrigued given your background with your organic, "clean-enough-to-eat" personal products. I've often wondered if your analytical thinking crosses over into other aspects of your life. :) If you're not comfortable divulging that info, I totally understand. :)

Stephanie Greenwood said...

That's a great question, Liz! I do take organic seriously in all aspects of my life, including my diet. Of course it's hard to be "perfect" and you have to go with what's available, but I do try to eat as much organic as possible. Everyone's dietary needs are different, but I generally follow a limited-carbohydrate diet, low to no sugar, lean protein, healthy fats. I mostly eat chicken and fish for my proteins. I was a vegetarian for a number of years so I still don't eat pork and only eat some organic grass-fed beef every once in a while, maybe 5 times a year. Of course I try to get a bunch of vegetables and fiber in. Flax seeds are a must. I just snack on them throughout the day. Genetically I'm prone to high cholesterol, so I've got to keep up on my fish oil and flax seeds and niacin to keep that under control. Luckily my HDL is good, just that my LDL and overall levels are a bit high. I snack on nuts when I'm on the road, maybe a little bit of cheese. So, not any one particular diet, not strict Paleo, not strict Atkins, but just kind of create my own plan based on general principles of getting good lean proteins, healthy fats (omega-3s, coconut oil), fiber, and limited carbohydrates. I try not to eat out much so I can stick to organic as much as possible.

Anonymous said...

Agreed - taking random vitamins is a waste of money and can make you sick - it's toxic!

Can you investigate the new diet pill fad product Garcinia Cambogia? I read these are actually toxic and work by toxifying your system?

Becca said...

Good luck Stephanie! I found out a while back that I am hetero for C677T. I was able to do the 23andme to obtain more Raw data and it has been very helpful and very overwhelming for sure! Every one is unique and what works for one will not always work for another. I completely agree that you should not just take a multi-vitamin without really knowing. I wish there were more doctors out there that supported those of us who want to find out why we have certain symptoms, not just treat they symptoms.

Anonymous said...

Hey stephanie just wanted to let you know that there is a website called goodguide that gives your products low ratings. The ingredients are rated high but the environment and society sections are given low ratings bringing your products and company's rating down. Wanted to let you know so you can contact them and have it fixed.

Stephanie Greenwood said...

Oh I know! I've been in contact with them and continue to be ignored and unjustly given bad marks. :(

kimithy said...

Hi Stephanie! I'd love to know what supplement mix you're taking to get your D/B levels back up (I have the same issue, and the doctors all give me contradictory info). Has it been working for you?

Stephanie Greenwood said...

Thanks for your question, Kimithy! Well, first off, I'm really bad about taking supplements. I'm always forgetting! But, when I do remember to do it, I take D3 (5,000 IU), K2, methylcobalamin (B12), and l-methyl folate. I haven't seen a great improvement in my levels, not because that's not the right combination, but because I'm so terrible about remembering to take them. (Off to the cabinet to take them now! Haha.) It's so easy when you're feeling good to forget to take things! And then when you start feeling bad--oh yeah, I shoulda been taking that. :)