Multivitamins for Women, Men, Seniors, & Teens
There is no time like the present to address one of the biggest areas families waste money on in the natural products realm: multivitamins for specific groups - women, men, seniors, teens... cartoon characters, you name it, they have a vitamin for it.
I've identified 4 big reasons you don't need a multivitamin for women, men, or seniors. Here we go!
1. They're Just Isolated, Synthetic Chemicals
In our blog about vitamins, we defined the two major types of multivitamins: isolates and whole food concentrates.
Practically all multivitamins targeted to a specific age or gender utilize isolated, synthetic vitamins. On top of that, the forms of these nutrients are not optimal. They'll use folic acid instead of tetrahydrofolate. They'll use pyridoxine instead of P5P. None of the B vitamins are in their methylated state. Minerals are in their most basic form as if they were scraped off a rock and put right into the capsule.
When choosing a multivitamin, if you have to or if you just want to, you should always choose a multivitamin that is using the best forms of the nutrients.
2. Demographic-Specific Supplements Are Just Gimmicky Nonsense
What makes a men's multi just for men? If I take a senior's multivitamin, will I age dramatically as if I just picked the wrong Holy Grail in that Indiana Jones Movie?
To make these vitamins targeted, they add supplements that many people in that age or gender bracket would look to utilize.
For women, think hormones and menopause. They'll use things like black cohosh and chaste tree.
For men, they'll add prostate support supplements. Zinc, saw palmetto, and more. They often talk about men like they're a car. "Peak performance." "Drive." Soon they'll start saying, "Reliability and traction." Men's supplements will have brain boosters or immune blends, because, you know men and how much our brains and immune systems are taxed, especially compared to women or seniors.
Seniors will typically have eye health supplements added to it like lutein. Often these formulas will have less iron and will proudly say so. The big secret? There's typically only like 5-10mg of iron in a multivitamin anyway. No big loss.
The worst are supplements targeted at kids. Firstly, they're always a gummy, so they've got awesome colors, flavors, and consistency. Because a brand that takes such care selecting bottom of the barrel active ingredients is surely going to go above and beyond picking "natural flavors." My sarcasm is like the extra butter I am adding to my very deadly eggs and toast breakfast.
With kids, though, they often go for probiotics and omega-3s. A really great sentiment, since micronutrients, omega-3, and probiotics are 3 of our Vital 5 supplements. The problem? The ingredient choice. They're using soil bacteria, which I blew a gasket about already, or doses of omega-3 are practically insignificant.
These ingredients are just added to the multi's to make you think you're getting super, targeted formulas. The truth is, it's just a gimmick. Especially because of what we'll discuss next.
3. Those Gimmicky Supplements Are Almost Always Done Completely Wrong
When it comes to using supplements, there are typically 3 options for raw materials. First, the bottom of the barrel stuff. Poor absorbability paired with poor quality control, so you don't know what you possibly could be getting. Second, there are the middle of the road raw materials. Higher care goes into selecting these. Sometimes they will be better absorbed than the bottom-feeders and there is a higher level of care that goes into the raw material sourcing, ensuring minimal contaminants or adulterants. The best, though, are the forms of the nutrients with actual data showing superiority over both of them. Better stability, better absorption, and just generally higher quality.
These targeted multivitamins, especially the 40 or so I looked at while researching this article, are almost always using bottom-of-the-barrel raw materials. Sometimes, just sometimes, I'm seeing the middle of the road.
If we are going to supplement, we need to be as efficient as possible. We need the right forms and the right doses. This isn't the case with these multivitamins for women or multivitamins for men, etc, etc.
The black cohosh, saw palmetto, and other herbs aren't standardized correctly. The dose is WELL below even the lowest men's or women's health stand alone supplement out there.
As we mentioned, the probiotics are those gross soil bacteria, used to just save money. I don't eat dirt on purpose, and neither should you.
Lutein for seniors? There's pretty solid data showing the branded luteins (FloraGlo and Lutemax2020) are superior to typical lutein formulations. The dose should be 10-20mg, and I was seeing 5mg or less most of the time.
I have to assume that any Omega-3's that are added are poor quality, judging by the rest of the ingredients. Rancidity and contamination is a REAL issue with omega-3. I can't even with their doses - 100mg of EPA and DHA for an adult female? That's only 1/30th of what's recommended!
Just because the label says "turmeric" doesn't mean the product contains turmeric you will actually incorporate into your blood or do anything into your body. Just because you swallow it, doesn't mean it will do anything for you. Gimmicky multivitamins contain gimmicky supplements targeted for age and gender, and they do them completely wrong.
4. Vitamin Companies Aren't Good At Other Supplements
One of the things I stress with people is about supplement specialties. It is impossible to be a vitamin company that is a jack of all trades. Just like with doctors, insurance, or a deli, supplement companies do and should specialize.
There are so many nuances with each class of supplement. Herbs vs vitamins vs omegas vs probiotics - it requires a depth of understanding to do any one of these correctly.
Multivitamin companies can be good at finding raw materials, creating a formula, and making a product in a clean way. They're used to one world though, and synthetic isolates are a very easy section of the supplement supply chain. Not to simplify it, but compared to the complexities of botanicals or probiotics, vitamins are a piece of cake.
Vitamin raw materials are typically single ingredient powders. Meaning, I'll order Vitamin C, I'll get a drum of Vitamin C. But an herb has numerous active constituents. It has to be processed in a way not to destroy or denature any of the compounds. Adulteration is a much bigger issue with herbs because there are so many moving parts. Probiotics are living organisms that have to survive your GI tract's obstacle course and then actually colonize the gut. These are complex problems, and most of these companies I don't believe respect each of these ingredients enough.
It's evident they don't really care. The doses are so low, we call them “Fairy Dusted” doses. Just sprinkled a little ingredient in there just so we can make the claim on the label. The forms aren't the ones that are superior. They're just putting them in there to put them in there. Their goal isn't to do the right thing, it's to move units.
In Short: Don't Buy A Targeted Multivitamin!
These multivitamins that are targeted to women, men, seniors, etc, are a gimmick that you shouldn't fall for.
When you are a multivitamin company that wants to smash all these verticals together into a Frankenvitamin, you definitely will create a monster.
They'll list off 1000 ingredients so you think it's comprehensive. They’re not doing any one of those things right.
The truth is they don't care. They want to be able to say the product has these targeted ingredients in it, because that's what the consumers want. The companies and consumers want the lowest costs, so the manufacturer will gladly cut corners on suppliers and they'll use whatever raw material is cheapest.
And that's what these products are. Monsters. They're a hodgepodge of ingredients that make us feel good. Not because of the ingredients or effect of the supplement, but they make us mentally feel good. Like we're doing all we can.
The blame here is 3 sided. Manufacturers for not having any integrity. The "experts" telling people to use these products without taking more than a minute to determine if these products are actually worth the recommendation. And, some onus falls to us, consumers. They can do this because we give them too much of our trust. We must be informed. We must be aware of what we are really getting.
For anyone to live their best life at any age, it takes a combination of healthy lifestyle choices, natural products, and traditional medical expertise. It takes work; our best choices should be made a majority of the time. "No one's perfect" is a sentiment that bears repeating in the age of social media where everyone's curated story gives the perception of this.
Eating a healthy diet with varied foods, especially fruits and vegetables, will provide us with ample micronutrients. If we require supplementation, we should do it strategically, choosing the best forms and the right doses, keeping our plans simple and evidence-based. Many of us then, can throw away our multivitamin, especially our multivitamin for women, men, or whomever!
Neal’s Recommended Multivitamins (For All Humans):
It’s a comprehensive traditional multivitamin except it uses the more bioavailable forms of the nutrients.
A true whole food supplement that doesn’t focus on the numbers.
A true whole food supplement for vegetarians or vegans that is rich in greens - something lacking from many of our diets!
Just trying to keep it real...
Neal Smoller, PharmD
Owner, Pharmacist, Big Mouth