Dear Mark: Mulling Multivitamins

Dear Mark,

I’m new to your blog and am interested in taking better care of my health. I’m changing my diet and want to start a multivitamin. I go to the store though and end up bewildered enough that I don’t end up buying anything. What am I supposed to be looking for?

Not surprisingly, I get a good number of questions about supplements. Since it’s a topic I’m obviously passionate about, I’m always happy to offer advice on what my research and experience have taught me about wise supplementation.

First off, I definitely recommend the kind of product you’re looking for: a core nutrient assurance. As you know, I’m all about a good diet – a great diet, in fact. But a great diet with strategic supplementation can offer optimum health benefits A few fundamental suggestions:

The divide from one “multivitamin” to another can be, well, cavernous. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of junk out there – incomplete, impure, inconsistent “formulas” (if you can truly call them something as intentional as formulas at all). Select a multivitamin from a trusted source to ensure you’re getting a product that offers purity as well as accurate and consistent dosages of nutrients. Yes, you’d think this would be a given, but it’s not. Many products, when tested by consumer advocacy groups, have been shown to not even contain some of their advertised nutrient ingredients or to contain certain ingredients at toxic levels. Some have even been shown to contain lead, presumably from subpar manufacturing conditions.

• I think a “multivitamin” should be more than a collection of a few vitamins. And most people really do want more than that. For the best benefit, look for a comprehensive daily nutrient supplement that offers the full array and appropriate balances of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and beneficial plant extracts. I never recommend supplementing piecemeal: a B-6, a calcium
chew, a vitamin C tablet, etc. Not only is this approach incomplete; you risk lack of absorption or redundancy of nutrients. More about that in a minute.

• For maximum potency, consider the freshness of vitamins. Many people would be surprised to know that store bought vitamins can sit on shelves for months or even years before being purchased. (And that doesn’t include the time they sat in warehouses and in multiple transports!) Liquid vitamin formulas, in particular, lose potency relatively quickly and oxidize easily. I would advise against them.

• Speaking of multivitamin “form,” tablets or caplets can be problematic as well. Because uncoated tablets don’t offer any buffer, they can irritate the stomach. On the other hand, caplets can have such a hard coating that they don’t fully dissolve and can become, as nurses call them, “bedpan bullets.” (There’s an image for your day.) On top of that, vitamins in caplet or capsule form can have unnecessary gums, glue, fillers and binders. The key is to find a formula that balances ease of absorption and natural buffering. Capsules with only essential ingredients are best. And I highly recommend a formula that contains enzymes for optimum absorption.

• The mark of a quality formula is the bioavailability and appropriate balance of its nutrient contents. I could talk forever and a day about this subject, but let me just give a few examples of what I mean. A quality formula contains the more “bioavailable” form of vitamin D, which is D3. Cheaper, lower quality supplements contain D2, which also happens to be the form used to enrich milk. A quality formula contains vitamin B12 as methylcobalamin and not cyanocobalamin. It should contain vitamin B6 as pyridoxal 5’ phosphate, the metabolically active form, and not pyridoxine.

• Likewise, the ability of the body to best absorb most nutrients involves those nutrients’ synergistic relationships, so to speak. Take beta carotene. There are over 500 carotenes, and optimum absorption and utilization occurs when they’re taken together. A hallmark of a quality formula: mixed carotenoids. Other examples include spectrum vitamins like B and E (with alpha, beta, delta and gamma tocopherols). Taking only one form of either doesn’t make any sense and won’t do you much good. You might as well throw your money down the toilet. Look for both mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols, the two main groups in the vitamin E complex.

• Finally, there are the basics. It’s important to expect the best in terms of protection. Make sure the bottle is in a protective sleeve. In most cases, multivitamins are only protected by the bottle cap. Also, look for added layers of protection from air and light to ensure freshness and full potency.

If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits and ideal formulations of particular nutrients, I recommend checking out these non-profit scientific research sites. (And, as always, share your choice with your doctor.)

PLoS Public Library of Science

Thanks to all who have sent questions. Please keep ‘em coming!

nats Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

The ORAC Gift of Health

Debunking Vitamin Myths

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About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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37 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Mulling Multivitamins”

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  1. This is an area that I really needed some insight on and this answer is great. So often we hear about the basic nutrients, but not much about some of the processes and various forms. Learning about the different carotenes and Vitamin Ds to look for is enlightening. Thank you.

  2. So in the end, what specific multi-vitamin do you take? I’d love to hear from the gospel according to Mark…

  3. I think most people go into the drug store or health food store and their eyes glaze over when they look at all of the vitamin choices. Finally, there is an authoritative book out that separates the wheat from the chaff. Nutrisearch labs (in Canada) is an independent lab that is not associated with any particular vitamin company. They did a six year study of over 1500 vitamins and ranked them according to 18 different scientific standards. They took the recommendations of over 13 different nutritional experts and pooled their advice to come up with the optimal amounts of what ingredients should be in a well balanced vitamin supplement. The new fourth edition of this popular book has just come out. Read my review of this book at
    You can also pick up a copy at

  4. I’d say save your money and force yourself to eat more variety of fruits and vegetables…should get plenty of vitamins and minerals.

    Most people lack magnesium so that’s one I would definitely recommend. (I take ZMA which also gives me a boost of zinc).

    I think it’s also important to stress dietary fats, as many vitamins are not going to be absorbed with out them. So having fat in a diet is key (nothing really new around here).

    Oh…I almost forgot on this day especially…Vitamin G….Guinness for strength! Now off to get some vitamin G.

  5. Although I agree with the theory that you should get most of your nutrients from your food, the cleanliness of theory is no match for the mess of reality. If you will check the stats from the USDA, you sill find that the nutrient content of our fruits and vegetables has dropped at least 70% in the last 60 years. Because of poor farming practices and the use of chemical herbicides and pesticides, we have less nutrition and more poisins to deal with than ever before.

    Our food system is losing its ability to produce food with nutrient levels adequate to maintain the health of our families. There is no guarantee that the food produced and harvested meets nutritional standards needed to maintain good health. Click on or copy the following link to read a paper from the Nutrition Security Institute.

    ” The alarming fact is that foods – fruits, vegetables and grains – now being raised on millions of acres of land that no longer contains enough of certain needed nutrients, are starving us – no matter how much we eat of them.” U.S. Senate Document 264 1936

  6. I think this is great. As a mother of a small toddler, I bring the best of intentions to each day, but I’m not always able to get in everything I know I need. I make sure she eats well, but by the time I go to finish my own food, we’re off and running to the next thing.

    Also, I think modern living taxes the system in new ways that require more nutrient input. (Additionally, modern agricultural methods diminish the nutrient contents of much of the produce we buy.)

    Nothing personal to any doctor here (I imagine you’re much more knowledgable about nutrition than those I’ve seen), but I’ve never been able to get helpful advice from any doctor I’ve seen. The best guidance I’ve ever received has come from nurse practitioners and a naturopath who had an advanced degree in integrative nutrition. She introduced me to Nourishing Traditions and got me off a prescription medication that I’d been needlessly prescribed for 3 years. We talked a lot about some of the principles Mark mentions here regarding nutrients working together, etc.

  7. This was perfect timing for some, as I just saw on the news today the study that came out of Harvard claiming that multi-vitamins can cause cancer and are a complete waste. I don’t agree with Harvard’s study personally, I’m a big proponent of supplementing vitamins, minerals, and amino & fatty acids on a daily basis.

  8. Jerry,

    Wow. Here’s what I got from this:

    One doctor – Harvey Simon (who is in the books for recommending vitamins for many years) decides he’s not going to take them anymore. He did NOT do a new study. He simply decided, based on a few VERY poor and EXTREMELY criticized past studies, that taking vitamins doesn’t have a benefit. Based on this personal decision, he writes a blurb in a newsletter and hires a publicist to get him some TV face time. Some local news stations pick up on this and carry it as a news item. The two local broadcasts I reviewed on Yahoo were presented by the local on-air medical person who, after the interview with Dr. Simon, expressed slight bewilderment at the doc’s position and went on to close the segment with basically “who knows?”. Of course, as on-air med correspondents, all they can do is report.

    Total bullshit and a perfect example of how we let the media feed us sound bites of total crap. No new study, just a rehash of old news.

  9. For some doctors, it is not in their best interest for you to take a multivitamin. You might remain well and avoid many diseases including cancer. This hurts the pocketbook of the doctor as well as the pharmaceutical companies. They use scare tactics instead of science. There was a similar report in JAMA last year that said vitamins could increase your risk of death. Here is a link to my blog entry concerning that report.

    There is a wide held belief among cancer doctors that taking antioxidants will interfere with chemotherapy and radiation treatments. In a two part article in the Journal of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, it states that dietary food supplements, including antioxidants, are generally safe and can often be used to improve cancer patient care.
    If I had cancer and was considering whether or not to take antioxidants, I would order a report called,”Do Antioxidants and Chemotherapy Conflict?” by Ralph Moss.

  10. Good insight from both Mark and Jeff. I personally wouldn’t put any stock into that news story out of Harvard, but what’s sad is a lot of people do put their belief in those sorts of things. And as Mark said it’s the medias way of weaving things together, and in the process it scares a lot of people away from bettering their health.

  11. Mark,

    I am both impressed and somewhat surprised that with the decision not to take the “Golden Opportunity” to specifically mention your wonderful supplement, Damage Control Master Formula.

    I have now taken this product for about nine months and consider it an essential and fundamental basis for my changed primal nutrition lifestyle.

    Not only have I been able to lose 60 pounds, but I have never felt physically better in my life. I literally feel like I am in my twenties again!

    While the discussion of superior ingredients is a roundabout method to describe this truly magnificent supplement, the actual name must nonetheless be stipulated.

  12. Oxybeles,

    Thanks for noticing! I have this internal fight between the part of me that wants to be as objective and unbiased as possible and the part that wants to promote my “best in the world” products. It is more important on this site to stick with the facts and stay true to my philosophy first and foremost. I may eventually start to advertise on the sidebar, but I will still try to keep the “content” side as pure as possible.

    Glad to hear you are still making progress and enjoying the ride. Nothing like looking forward to improving your health and fitness for at least the next 20-30 years!!

  13. What about antioxidant drinks like the one produced by Jus International that have antioxidants from 23 different ingredients? Could this kind of product replace a multivitamin?

  14. Trevor,

    These multi-level marketing juices are in my estimation a scam. Jus simply took 23 of the most popular MLM juices and put them in a bottle. Sure, there are some antioxidants in there (and I guarantee you not in the amounts they claim) but the amounts of vitamins, mineral and other extremely important nutrients are missing so you still need to get them from somewhere else. At $25 a bottle, I would rather get a decent red wine to drink with my sirloin…Or spend $5 on a Pomegranate juice.

  15. Mark, I have a question. What is your opinion on colloidal vitamins and minerals? There are some that believe going colloidal is the only true way to get the most absorption as possible, and that with any sort of pills or capsules your basically not absorbing anything.

  16. Jerry,

    Colloidals are a joke, too. Any good multi-vitamin multi-mineral in capsule form will be “colloidal” as soon as it mixes with the liquids in your stomach. Meanwhile, liquid colloidal suspensions are way over-priced and must contain articial sweetners and presevatives so they don’t go bad sitting on a shelf.

  17. I recommend a food based multi. I beleive the best brand out their is rainbow light. I take mens performance and energy from rainbow light. all your green foods and digestive enzymes.

  18. The only thing I have against the damage control master formula is popping 12 pills seems excessive. I feel like it’s very easy to get all those nutrients by taking that many pills…perhaps 6 would be reasonable, or maybe if it was in a powder form I would be all over it. No doubt its one of the best in the world though, just why I probably won’t use it.

  19. GNLD is probably “the best” supplement company. Excellent research. I know people that were very sick, either cancer, heart, etc. They bombarded their body with a regime of supplements… word “cured”. Havard stick that in hat and smoke it.

  20. I have been taking the Damage Control Formula off and on for the last couple years. I try others but ALWAYS end up back with Damage Control Formula. It is the absolute best for the money. It includes everything you need at the exact right amounts. I also take the Omega 3; Flora & Primal Fuel!

  21. It’s also low in iron, which is IMPORTANT for men, especially since iron can cause a whole slew of health problems for men. It doesn’t contain any preservatives or dyes, or other unnecessary ingredients, and yet it contains a lot of the essential ingredients! My Husband has no problem taking them each day, and he hasn’t had any side effects what-so-ever. He said that he would highly recommend them…

    1. Hi Mark,

      Speaking of different nutrition, different products and companies. I have started primal lifestyle five months ago nad already seen great improvements in my health. Many, many thanks for that! Now I would like to support it with some supplements and I can’t think of starting anywhere else than with Primal Nutrition products. I wanted to ask though if your products have been researched and evaluated by any idependent consumer organizations? There is for example Nutrisearch which evaluates thousands of products on American market and is acknowledged by many as authority in the field. My point is that I would like to make an educated decision before commiting. Many thanks, Tom

  22. Love the whole PB thing and this article was great as I’ve been looking into getting hold of a decent multivitamin to fill in the gaps in my diet.

    Other than what you mentioned in the article Mark, do you have any ‘must-haves’ when looking at more ‘wallet-friendly’ version of your supplements?

    I would love to have $50 to set aside a month for these but I gotta be realistic!

    Any advice?

  23. Plz add,
    1.serrapeptase nattokinase lumbrokinase,garlic extract,Phytosterols,Policosanol,Gugulipid,Plant Sterols(Cholasitrol,Lestrin) For HEART.
    2.N-Acetyl Glucosamine,Bamboo silica,Powder Collagen,Chondroitin Sodium Sulfate,Boswellin For JOINTS


  24. Mark,

    Here’s an interesting article from Jim Stopani regarding common issues with most multi-vitamins:

    As you will see, Stopani’s position is that a few minerals (although critical to health), such as magnesium, calcium and zinc, should not be included in a multi-vitamin due to the following reasons:

    Zinc interferes with cooper uptake, while iron interferes with zinc absorption; Zinc also inhibits amino-acid update while you should be taking your multi with a meal (which hopefully includes a healthy dose of amino acids); Magnesium interferes with manganese and calcium absorption; Calcium interferes with zinc, iron and manganese absorption, etc.

    To avoid the undesired interractions and negating the efficacy of these supplements, Stopani suggests, among other things, that Magnesium and Zinc are taken separately from the multi-vitamin at a different time of day (e.g., ZMA supplement 1 hour before bed), and getting your required Calcium via dietary dairy and/or protein powder and also separate from the multi-vitamin timing wise. He also goes through the most potent and bio-available chemical forms of certain supplements, and takes issue with pharma companies questionable practices of “dusting” or severally under-dosing expensive supplements, using cheaper less absorbable forms of others, and generally using the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to appear to have a “complete” multi-vitamin despite the above mentioned undesirable interactions.

    I know you did a lot of research for your Damage Control formulation, and I find that your product is not only top-notch, but also consistent with many of Stopani’s recommendations. However, I see that you opted to include calcium, magnesium and zinc in the master formula, so I wanted to ask what you thought about these issues and whether this was an intentional move on your part or, perhaps, you don’t find it as material?