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Are Multivitamins Obsolete?

Multivitamins encompass an array of nutrients necessary for our bodies to function — but are they really all they are cracked up to be?

08/16/19 By Purity Products 8 min read


In the 1960s, a modern Stone Age family made their way from the animated airwaves to store shelves as an immensely popular line of multivitamins, making parents happy with the promise of supporting strong bones as kids happily munched on berry-flavored versions of their favorite cartoon characters.

Article at a Glance

Vitamins & Minerals

  • Humans require adequate amounts of 13 vitamins and 16 minerals
  • How vitamins interact with our bodies is a relatively recent discovery

The Essentials

  • Ideally, we would get all of the necessary vitamins from a balanced diet, but that is exceedingly difficult
  • 75 percent of adults take dietary supplements, with multivitamins being the top choice among adults in the U.S.
  • Some of the most essential vitamins are the ones with the highest deficiency rates

The Case For Multivitamins

  • Our agricultural processes can diminish the vitamins & minerals in our food
  • Pesticides also compromise our food’s nutritional value


Many children who grew up taking their daily dose of those colorful vitamins are adult vitamin takers today, while others decry the notion of shelling out hard-earned money for multivitamins. And while it’s entirely possible that you don’t need every single vitamin that is sitting in store displays collecting dust, scientific research points to some rather interesting reasons why the multivitamin movement could, and maybe should, continue indefinitely. 


The Evolution & Revolution of Vitamins

In total, humans require adequate amounts of 13 vitamins: four fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) and nine water soluble vitamins, which comprise vitamin C and the eight B vitamins: thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), vitamin B6, folate (B9) and vitamin B12. While these 16 minerals do a body good: calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, sodium, chloride, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, manganese, iodine, selenium, molybdenum, chromium, and fluoride.

Though they’ve been around since the first chemical reactions were sparked on primeval Earth, the concepts and sciences behind this vast array of organic molecules and how they function with our metabolism is a somewhat recent discovery. For many years prior to the start of the 20th century, the study of “dietary deficiencies” was looked upon as more of pseudoscience, with medical advancements spurred by vitamins mistakenly credited to other sources. 

A stark example of this occurred in the 1880s when a condition caused by a vitamin B deficiency, which was spreading among the Japanese navy, was cured when the country’s surgeon general adjusted the sailors’ diet. While the surgeon general correctly attributed the condition to inadequate diet, he mistakenly believed an increase in protein—not fruit—was the adjustment that made the difference. 

But an important breakthrough would occur soon after, involving the very same condition caused by vitamin B deficiency. It was the 1890s in a Dutch colony in Java where military physician Christiaan Eijkman was assigned to study the microbe responsible for the condition—a now-rare disease called beriberi. Eijkman injected the blood of afflicted soldiers into animals and noticed those that fed on the same food as hospitalized soldiers developed the characteristic symptoms of the disease. His conclusions pointed to an as-yet-unidentified component of food. 

Others soon expanded on Eijkman’s research, and as the 19th century gave way to the 20th century, a succession of scientists conducting various lab-based animal experiments strengthened the argument that there were elements in food beyond protein, carbohydrates, and fats that affected health in profound ways. Then, in 1911, biochemist Casimir Funk isolated rice polishings that successfully treated a nerve disorder in birds. He named the concentrate “vitamine” because it was vital (vita) to life and was most likely a compound called “amine.” And even though it was not an amine, the name stuck—though the “e” did not.

Soon after, the existence of vitamins and minerals, and the potentially positive effects they can have on our physiology, was firmly established. And through the 20th century, the vitamins most essential to our everyday health have moved to the forefront of modern-day nutrition. 

In total, humans require adequate amounts of 13 vitamins: four fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) and nine water soluble vitamins, which comprise vitamin C and the eight B vitamins: thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), vitamin B6, folate (B9) and vitamin B12.


Multivitamins: The Essentials

In a perfect world, you would get every single vitamin you need from a well-rounded diet. Well, this is not a perfect world and reality dictates that meeting the grand scope of your nutritional needs from diet alone is quite difficult. Not only that, if you aren’t getting all of your essentials, you might not be absorbing the vitamins your body needs. And this doesn’t even take into account certain life factors like pregnancy, menopause, aging, chronic conditions, or vitamin deficiencies. 

Multivitamins can help supplement our nutritional blind-spots caused by advancing age, high-calorie diets, environmental toxins, bad habits, and even metabolic issues—all of which could potentially add up to an unsustainable lifestyle. The good news is, a growing number of people recognize this and are fully invested in delving beyond diet for nutrition. A 2018 CRN Consumer Study on Dietary Supplements found that 75 percent of U.S. adults take dietary supplements, up from 65 percent in 2009. What’s more, that survey revealed that across age groups the multivitamin is the top choice among supplement users. And this makes sense as the survey found that the top reason adults take dietary supplements is for “overall health and wellness.”

A 2018 CRN Consumer Study on Dietary Supplements found that 75 percent of U.S. adults take dietary supplements, up from 65 percent in 2009.

Which Vitamins Do You Want In Your Multivitamin?

What are the most crucial vitamins and minerals for you to achieve long-term wellness? The answer to that depends on a few factors like age, biological gender, underlying health conditions, and more. But the truth of it is, some vitamins are beneficial no matter the circumstances—that’s why they’re called essential

The term “multivitamin” has morphed into a bit of colloquialism, with other compounds and nutrients that, though technically not vitamins, are still important parts of the health equation. In the interest of keeping this article simple and informative, all of the following ingredients to a healthy lifestyle will be referred to as multivitamins. *Note: These aren’t all of the vitamins/minerals, just a few we have chosen to focus on here. 

As a mineral that plays an important role in your bodily functions, magnesium is a shining example of a nutritional element that gets more necessary the older you get. Magnesium powers the more than 300 enzymes dispersed throughout your body, assisting in the production of energy and protein creation, while also doing its part to support a healthy heart. But as you age, one of the biggest areas of concern is overall joint health. In one study, a connection between knee pain and magnesium was investigated with the results demonstrating a strong case that magnesium could ease arthritis pain.

Beyond bones, magnesium has also been shown to calm the nervous system and reduce stress, while an animal study demonstrates it could ease sleep trouble. The Recommended Dietary Allowances for magnesium is 420 mg for men ages 31-plus and 320 mg for women ages 31 and over. Meanwhile, magnesium deficiency has been found in 84 percent of postmenopausal women.

The next standout ingredient in multivitamins is actually a hormone that acts like a vitamin. Vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin” is perhaps the most-needed vitamin in the pantheon of multivitamins—mainly because studies have described vitamin D deficiency as the “most ignored epidemic” in the modern age. Most famously, your skin absorbs vitamin D from the sun, but today’s office-driven society means that time in the sun isn’t that easy to come by—and when we are in the sun, we’re usually slathered in sunscreen, which blocks our body from synthesizing the vitamin. This serves to increase the need for vitamin D supplementation. 

And finally, a cocktail of B vitamins are crucial to a healthy body, impacting energy levels, brain function, and cell metabolism. While B vitamins are necessary for all your organs, the brain is by far the most metabolically active organ in the body, and as such requires the most energy to keep it active well into old age. For example, folate, a water soluble vitamin found in leafy greens, is specifically useful for mood and cognitive function. 

But B vitamins are perhaps most powerful when they work as a team. Research work has shown that folate taken in tandem with B12 and B6 could reduce brain degeneration and improve cognitive function. 


Arguing The Case For Multivitamins

Deficiencies aside, vitamin supplementation is an ever-increasing need in our society and that is mainly due to modern agriculture and pollution. For starters, vitamins levels are at their peak when foods are freshly harvested, but nutrients begin to break down soon after—and that is the same for both organic and non-organic products. But perhaps more damaging than the time it takes food to get from the field to your plate, is what happens to the food along the way. 

When we eat an apple or most other pieces of fruit, we tend to run it under the faucet for a few seconds. This is all well and good, but tap water doesn’t do much to wash away the potent herbicides used in the growing fields which can block calcium, magnesium, manganese, and iron from being absorbed by grains, fruits, legumes, and vegetables. 

And other times the nutritional level of our food is compromised, it’s from our seemingly normal agricultural practices of taking produce from farms to distribution centers to grocery stores. According to research published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, vegetables can lose anywhere between 15 and 80 percent of vitamin C within a week of harvest, while a study from Penn State University shows that spinach can lose close to 90 percent of its vitamin C within 24 hours of harvest. 


Multivitamins For Modern Humankind

And then there’s the threat of our lifestyle choices. As we continue our trend toward more indoor, sedentary, and high-stress lives, our bodies naturally start build a thirst for more vitamins and minerals than generations before us. 

While multivitamin supplementation should be thoroughly researched before you make it a regular part of your health regimen, anyone who thinks they’re obsolete ignores history, science, the human body itself, and is, most likely,  living in the stone age.