Ranking the best multivitamins of 2017 (review)

Multivitamins have become popular as a supplement that many people believe can help them get the micronutrients necessary for good health.

More people than ever invest money in multivitamins billed as a sort of “all-in-one” fix for poor dietary habits, hoping that popping a pill every day to deliver essential nutrients may cut the risk of developing chronic disease. (1)

Every multivitamin is different; depending on the brand, multivitamins may contain a range of vitamins, minerals, and other ingredients, such as herbs, fatty acids or amino acids.

Here are the top 10 multivitamins on the market, ranked. After the rankings we’ll break down what exactly multivitamins are and how they benefit you.

Starting with our #1 recommended multivitamin:

1.  Dr. Tobias Multivitamin & Mineral Plus Enzymes

multivitamin-1

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The multivitamin offered by Dr. Tobias is one of the higher-end multivitamins.  Its label touts the fact that many of its ingredients are derived from plant sources and that the supplement is “fortified with wholefoods.”

In terms of ingredients, Dr. Tobias Multivitamin & Mineral is definitely in the power-player category.  Many of the letter vitamins (A, C, D, E, and the B-complex vitamins) are provided at high concentrations.  Vitamin B6, for example, is listed at 2500% of your recommended daily value, and vitamin B1 (thiamin) is listed at 3333%.

The concentration of the metal minerals, like magnesium, zinc, selenium, and chromium, is more moderate.  These are provided at amounts ranging from 25 to 100% of your recommended daily intake.

In addition to the basic essentials, Dr. Tobias provides a blend of 42 fruit and vegetable extracts.  This includes many of the “superfoods” you see touted on health websites and magazines—blueberries, spirulina, chlorophyllin, black currant, green tea, and more.

This means each tablet should have a powerful anti-oxidant effect in your body, which is good for overall health and longevity.  There’s even a concentration of probiotic bacteria for gut health and digestion.

Though the specifics of many of these herbal extracts and plant concentrates might be questionable, the compound effect is likely to be better than a standard, run-of-the-mill “normal” multivitamin.

It shows a commitment to understanding what really goes on inside the body, instead of just trying to hit 100% of all recommended daily intakes and moving on.  Dr. Tobias Multivitamin & Mineral Plus is one of the best choices if your main goal is to improve overall health.

2.  Carlson Labs Super 2 Daily

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A lesser-known brand, Carlson Labs’ multivitamin derives its name from the fact that the recommended dose should be taken twice-daily, at breakfast and dinner.

The supplement is a little unusual in that in comes in a gelatin capsule, which is necessary because it provides a good deal of fish oil in addition to its normal vitamin and mineral profile.

For the usual ingredients, Carlson Labs is definitely of the high-power philosophy: most of the letter vitamins are included at 1000% of their recommended daily intake, and many of the metal minerals are included at two or even three times their daily intake amounts.

In terms of extras, there are very few.  The main attraction is the fish oil concentrate, which amounts to 800 mg of total fish oils.  Unfortunately, only 210 mg of this are the key ingredients DHA and EPA.

Even if you take Carlson Labs Super 2 Daily, you’ll still want to take a fish oil supplement if getting omega 3s in your supplement routine is a priority for you.

Still, it’s a good choice if you want a concentrated dose of vitamins and minerals without a whole lot of extras tacked on.

3.  Optimum Nutrition Opti-Men / Opti-Women

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Optimum Nutrition is a brand that’s known for its fitness and muscle-building supplements, so its multivitamin offerings are definitely geared towards the fit-minded consumer.

The concentration of minerals and especially vitamins is tremendously high.  Several of the B-vitamins are provided at 1600-5000% of recommended daily intake levels, and almost every single metal mineral (copper, chromium, manganese, chromium, etc.) are provided at 100% of your daily intake.

The difference between the men’s and women’s versions is also substantial.  The women’s version has two to four times less of many of the vitamins, especially B-vitamins.  The women’s version also contains iron, while the men’s version does not.

As with many other multivitamins, Optimum Nutrition also provides gender specific herbal extract and amino acid blends.  Again, there are major differences between the men’s and women’s version.

The men’s version has more supplements that are thought to act on testosterone and growth hormone, while the women’s version has more antioxidants and energy boosters—but even this is a generalization.  You’ll have to check out the label yourself to learn the specifics.

Optimum Nutrition scores below average on label accuracy.  A number of the vitamin and mineral concentrations as measured by independent analytical lab testing are at odds with what’s on the label.

4.  Animal Pak by Universal Nutrition

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The bright yellow tub and the bold-face letters say it all—this is a multivitamin geared towards weight lifters, body builders, and other fitness enthusiasts.

Each “pak” is actually a plastic baggie containing several different tablets to take.  As you might expect from an extreme vitamin supplement, some of the daily intake numbers are massively high: 9000% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin B6, and over 5000% of your recommended daily intake of thiamin, for example.

In addition to the expected vitamins and minerals, Animal Pak also contains a complete package of amino acids, including all essential branched-chain amino acids.

These are considered important nutrients for anyone looking to build muscle.  The Pak also contains several antioxidants and performance-boosting supplements; most seem to have the goal of increasing muscular power, muscular strength, and maintaining the body in a state of anabolic growth.  It also contains raw protein, in the form of whey protein isolate.

The label even gives you a warning: “This is a potent bodybuilding supplement.”  If that’s what you need, this is a great choice.

Otherwise you may want to look elsewhere if you just want to maintain good overall health instead of building muscle as quickly as possible.

5.  Rainbow Light Men’s One / Women’s One

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As one of the top sellers on Amazon.com, Rainbow Light Men’s One (and its women’s version) is a market juggernaut.

Rainbow Light’s philosophy is to deliver many of its mineral ingredients as easily-digestible salts or amino acid chelates, which means that the bioavailability of the vitamins and minerals it supplies should be very good—i.e. your body will be able to absorb a high proportion of the amount you consume.

You might be wondering about the difference between the men’s and women’s versions of this multivitamin.

For the most part, they are indistinguishable.  There are slight variations in the amount of a couple ingredients—the men’s version has more zinc, while the women’s version has more calcium, for example—but on the whole, they are extremely similar.

The only other notable difference is the gendered herbal blends.  The men’s version includes a blend of saw palmetto, spirulina, and lycopene, while the women’s version includes dong qual root, spirulina, and red clover.

Each of these herbal extracts are suspected to have some role in modulating hormones, but there’s not nearly enough science to back up whether they’re actually making a difference.

In terms of purity, Rainbow Light does reasonably well but not fantastic.  In an independent assay of six ingredients, two of them were substantially off from their label-claimed amount.

The true amount of vitamin D, for example, was fully one-fifth higher than what was advertised on the label.

6.  CBH Super for Men and Women

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The flagship multivitamin from supplement manufacturer CBH doesn’t bother with a separate men and women’s supplement.  This product is one that focuses on high-dosage delivery, especially of the “letter” vitamins.  A standard-sized bottle contains 120 capsules, but the recommended dosage is four per day.

Taken at this dose, you’ll get 1000% of your recommended daily intake for vitamin C and vitamin D, and over 1600% of your daily intake for vitamin B12. Several other vitamins and minerals are provided at 200 or 300% of their recommended daily intake.

Unfortunately, you can’t just scale back on the number of capsules you take per day, since a few of the ingredients are only provided in normal amounts.  Even in four capsules, there’s only 20% of your daily calcium needs, and 100% of your daily zinc needs.

In addition to the essential vitamins and minerals, CBH Super also contains its own blend of herbal extracts.

Among the highlights are green tea extract (known for its antioxidant and fat-burning properties), Co-enzyme Q10, which is sometimes taken to boost your overall energy levels, and resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red grapes and other foods which is thought to be beneficial for heart health.

7.  MusclePharm Armor-V

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Just by hearing the name, you know who the target audience of this multivitamin is—power athletes, weight lifters, and other fitness enthusiast.

The focus in MusclePharm Armor-V is delivering high doses of a few specific B-vitamins, along with a special blend of plant concentrates, probiotics, and omega fatty acids.

For a muscle-focused multivitamin, the vitamin and mineral amounts in Armor-V are surprisingly mundane.  It’s clearly intended to be used as a supplement to an already fairly good diet.

Many of the trace minerals, like copper, chromium, magnesium, and molybdenum, are provided at pretty low concentrations.

The extra ingredients beyond the expected vitamins and minerals include a vegetable blend of barley grass, wheat grass, spinach powder, and other greens for their antioxidant properties, as well as a fruit concentrate blend for similar purposes.

The supplement also includes a blend of omega 3, omega 6, and omega 9 fatty acids, but the total amount is probably not high enough to stand on its own—you may still need a separate omega 3 supplement.

8.  Kirkland Signature Daily Multi

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Given its availability at stores across the country, Kirkland Signature seems like it might be a good all-around choice for an inexpensive but effective multivitamin.  How does it stack up?

As you’d expect, the ingredients list is pretty mundane.  One tablet contains right about 100% of almost every essential vitamin and mineral, save for a few outliers.

There isn’t much in the way of extras, aside from the antioxidant supplements lycopene and lutein.  There are a few other trace minerals provided that don’t have recommended daily intakes, like boron, tin, vanadium, and nickel.  These aside, there are no real perks to Kirkland Signature.

This might be excusable if its purity was good, but independent testing in an analytical lab found that, of six tested ingredients, the actual lab-determined concentration of three of them was substantially different than the amount listed on the label.

For example, there was almost one-third more folic acid than there should have been according to the label.

On the bright side, the ingredient list is free from any suspicious or potentially unsafe food additives, which is a plus against many of the other supplements in the “simple, cheap, and efficient” multivitamin category.

Finally, the formula also includes a probiotic blend of a number of bacteria that are supposed to boost your immune system and improve gut health.

9.  Centrum Adults

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Centrum is probably the only multivitamin on this list that runs commercials on national television.  That combined with its ubiquitous appearance at pharmacies and big box retailers means that Centrum is a household name.

Centrum is a “just the basics” multivitamin; it provides your standard letter-vitamins and metal minerals, and not much else.  Each tablet contains right around 100% of almost every ingredient, aside from a few outliers like biotin, vitamin K, and phosphorus.

Centrum contains no herbal extracts, amino acids, or other supplements with systemic effects—it’s just the raw building blocks that your body needs to function.

Centrum also comes in a “Centrum Silver” variant intended for older adults.  The differences are almost trivial—aside from a few minor tweaks, the only real difference is the absence of iron in the Silver variant of Centrum and the presence of a small amount of extra antioxidants.

Centrum does not fare well when it comes to independent testing.  Not only are a number of its ingredients of questionable safety (including artificial coloring and the preservative BHT, which is a suspected endocrine disruptor), but the accuracy of its label is nothing to write home about either.

The unimpressive ingredient list and the questionable ingredients earn Centrum a spot pretty far down on the rankings.

10.  Bodybuilding.com Foundation Series Multivitamin

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Among the muscle-focused multivitamins, the supplement made by Bodybuilding.com registers as a fairly slimmed-down, minimalist multivitamin.

As with many sport-focused supplements on this list, it provides a healthy portion of B vitamins, as well as quite a bit of vitamins C and E.  Zinc, known to help boost testosterone levels, is included at a higher amount than many other supplements (333% of daily intake).

In addition, the BodyBuilding.com multivitamin comes with a branched chain amino acid blend, as well as a few other amino acids and herbal extracts known to help boost muscle synthesis and provide energy during your workout.

When it comes to purity, BodyBuilding.com’s multivitamin actually does pretty well.

Like many competitors, it struggles to get the amounts just right on a number of key ingredients, but the magnitude of the errors is fairly small—only about ten to fifteen percent, in most cases.

Part 2: What are multivitamins and what can they do for your body?

You can find multivitamins (also called multis, multi-minerals, multiples and other names) in many forms, including liquids, powders, tablets, capsules, and chewables.

They’re designed to be taken once or twice daily; dosage instructions on the label detail the amount of vitamins and minerals provided by the recommended dose.

If you’re considering adding a multivitamin to your nutritional plan, or if you already take one, read on to learn how to make an informed choice when it comes to this type of supplement.

Micronutrients are Essential to Good Health

Vitamins and minerals play an important role in many biological processes; some act as a catalyst for enzymatic reactions while others may be needed to send signals on structural or biological levels.

Some even function as hormones in the body.

Thirteen different vitamins and at least sixteen minerals are essential to health and proper physical function, including growth, reproduction and routine maintenance.

Dietary supplements like multivitamins aren’t regulated, and manufacturing processes vary by company; this means products may not always contain what labels say they do. (2) Many companies have been found to make fraudulent claims about what’s in their products. There may be more, less, or none of the nutrients listed.

Also keep in mind that nutrients can either be derived from natural food sources, or created synthetically in laboratories.

Multivitamins and Chronic Disease

Marketing campaigns are likely the biggest reason people may believe taking a multivitamin can reduce their risk of developing heart disease and cancer.

More people die of heart disease worldwide than from any other cause. (3)

Observational studies returned mixed results on the effectiveness of multivitamins in reducing the rate of heart disease; some showed lower ratios, while others showed no effect at all. (4, 5, 6, 7)

Reports from a decade-long study following the health of 14,000 male doctors during middle age indicated those who took multivitamins suffered the same rates of stroke, heart attack and fatalities as those who didn’t. (8)

A study conducted with women who used multivitamin supplement for at least three years showed significantly different results. Women taking multivitamins were 35% less likely to die of heart disease. (9)

Similar mixed results have been noted from data gathered about the effect of multivitamins on cancer rates. (10, 11)

An analysis of five separate randomized trials with a total of nearly 50,000 participants found that men who took multivitamins were 31% less likely to be diagnosed with cancer, but no difference was found in rates of cancer for women. (12)

Long-term rates of developing colon cancer may be the exception.

The Nurses’ Health Study indicated women who take multivitamins develop this type of cancer at lower rates. (13) In another study with both male and female participants, similar results were reported. (14)

In the Physician’s Health Study mentioned above, male doctors with no history of cancer reduced their risk of developing any type of cancer, but there was no difference in cancer mortality rates during the course of the study. (15)

Other Health Benefits

Taking multivitamins appears to have positive effects on two health issues related to aging.

Macular degeneration is the most common cause of preventable blindness in the world. (16)

Including a supplement containing minerals and antioxidant vitamins has been shown to slow down the progression of macular degeneration. (17) However, there’s no indication that taking a supplement can act as a preventive measure to decrease the incidence of this disease.

Multivitamins may help reduce the chances of developing cataracts, which is another common disease of the eyes. (18)

Cognitive function is often negatively impacted by age, and it appears taking multivitamins may help improve the memory capacity of older adults. (19, 20)

Poor moods have been linked to nutritional deficiencies in several studies. (21, 22) Supplements may help decrease symptoms of depression and improve mood. (23, 24)

Be Cautious With Supplements

Taking high doses of certain vitamins and minerals can be beneficial in some cases and harmful in others.

There are two kinds of vitamins:

  • Fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K can build up over time, and since they’re stored in the body, levels can become toxic.
  • Water-soluble vitamins like B and C are flushed from the body when they’re present in excess.

Of the fat-soluble vitamins, E and K are not toxic in high levels, but vitamins A and D may have detrimental effects when you take too much.

If you’re pregnant, be very careful supplementing vitamin A; birth defects have been noted when toxic levels of vitamin A are present in the body during the fetal development. (25)

Taking enough Vitamin D to create toxicity is unlikely, but has been reported. (26) This is where it’s important to trust the manufacturer, since mislabeling of ingredients has been an issue in the case of high levels of vitamin D in multivitamins. (27)

Smokers should not take a supplement rich in vitamin A, since it can increase the risk of developing lung cancer. (28)

If you’re getting enough iron in your diet, taking a multivitamin containing generous amounts of this mineral can create toxicity. (29)

Adding a vitamin supplement on top of a diet rich in nutrient-dense foods could also be risky.

Recap

If you’re eating a healthy diet, taking multivitamins probably isn’t necessary and may even cause problems.

These three groups of people may realize substantial benefits from including a quality multivitamin in their regime:

  • Women who are pregnant or lactating should discuss nutritional needs with their doctor to make certain they get what they need and don’t add micronutrients that could cause harm, such as vitamin A. In other words, you’re better off taking a prenatal vitamin supplement.
  • Elderly people may need to supplement with vitamin D, calcium and B12 due to the body’s decreasing efficiency in absorption. (30, 31)
  • Vegetarians and vegans should supplement vitamin B12, since this vital nutrient is found only in animal foods. Other areas of concern may include omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, and calcium. (32, 33)

People with poor appetites, those who have had surgery to aid in weight loss, and anyone eating an extremely low-calorie diet may also need multivitamins.

If you have known deficiencies, it’s best to supplement with the vitamin or mineral in question, rather than a multivitamin.

Summary: It is not possible to compensate for poor dietary habits through taking a multivitamin; cultivate overall good health through eating whole foods loaded with natural micronutrients.

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