More Americans take a daily multivitamin than any other supplement. It's an easy, safe way to get numerous benefits from a variety of nutrients without having to pop a handful of pills every day.
Taking a daily multivitamin is especially important for older adults because as we age, our bodies become less efficient at absorbing vitamins and minerals from food. And if you follow a vegetarian diet, you may not be consuming enough of certain vitamins and minerals to begin with.
When choosing a multivitamin, pick a brand with high quality control, high reported bioavailability (this means your body can absorb the vitamins), and few additives. These include multis by Thorne, PhytoPharmica, and Vital Nutrients. Don't choose a multi that contains iron unless you're a woman who is still menstruating or your doctor has recommended that you take additional iron.
Multivitamins got a boost in June 2002, when the Journal of the American Medical Association published two articles by Harvard doctors on their benefits. The doctors recommended that everyone, regardless of age or health status, take one. We agree. Among the heart-related benefits you might reap are a lower homocysteine level and less oxidation of LDL. Some of the nutrients most likely responsible include:
B vitamins. One of the best reasons to take a multivitamin every day is to be certain to get your fill of B vitamins. This family of vitamins -- thiamin, riboflavin (B1), pyridoxine (B6), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), cobalamin (B12), folic acid, biotin, choline, inositol, and para-aminobenzoic acid -- plays a critical role in every function inside your body. But the vitamins really shine when it comes to your heart. Folate, B6, and B12 help prevent a dangerous buildup of the amino acid homocysteine. If homocysteine levels rise too high, they damage endothelial cells (which line the arteries), blocking the production of nitric oxide and leaving arteries more prone to plaque buildup. Keeping homocysteine in check is a good enough reason by itself to take a multivitamin.
Another B vitamin, choline, helps your body process cholesterol. And vitamin B5 can actually lower LDL and triglycerides and raise HDL, at least at high doses. The vitamin apparently works by reducing the amount of cholesterol your liver makes.
Generally, a multivitamin will give you all of the B vitamins your body needs. But if you have elevated homocysteine levels, talk to your doctor about taking an additional B vitamin supplement. Should you decide to do so, don't exceed the recommended dosages. Because they are fat soluble, many of these vitamins can build up in the body to toxic levels.