Generally, multivitamins are treated as a ‘nutritional blanket’ for your diet – they should cover all the key nutrients that your body needs. However, some are tailored for more active lifestyles, some have a more comprehensive nutrient list, some contain very high quality nutrients, and others contain the ‘bare bones’. The quality of multivitamin supplements can vary massively, and it is not always clear to consumers what makes a good one, or which ones are most suitable for you. So in this article I will review a range of multivitamins, comparing quality and price, to help you understand what it is that makes a good multivitamin.
Centrum offer a range of multivitamins for men, women and the elderly. For the purpose of this article, I will compare the multivitamin for men, which is one of their most popular. However, you can be sure that the other formulas will have similar pros and cons. Manufacturers rarely make too much difference in their formulas, and generally use the same ingredients. Generally, all that will change is the quantity of some nutrients, and the addition or removal of 1 or 2 minor ones.
On the right is the nutritional profile of Centrum’s Multivitamin for Men. Some key points:
- Price per serving: ~ £0.20
- 13 vitamins
- 11 minerals
- Most vitamins/ minerals are roughly at the RDA
On the whole, this is a very basic multivitamin. It covers the bare minimum that a multivitamin should cover, both in terms of spectrum of nutrients and their dosage.
Information about the vitamins is scarce, and the manufacturer hasn’t replied to enquiries for elaboration. This make it hard to comment on the quality, but considering the minimalistic approach to formulation, limited information (most companies make a song and dance about quality if they can) and low cost of the product, I feel I can make some safe assumptions about it:
Vitamin D and vitamin K will be the inferior D2 and K1 versions, rather than the D3 and K2 forms. This means that they are poorly utilised/ absorbed in the body. There is only 1 form of vitamin E, (α -TE). This is the most abundant form in humans, which is good, but it lacks the full spectrum of vitamin E, of which there are at least 8 forms. As these vitamins are all probably all in their inferior form, and mostly synthetic, you can assume that absorption is poor1/
Minerals come in various forms and complexes, and this impacts how well they are absorbed. Food complexes of magnesium for example are absorbed 2.2 times more than magnesium oxide, and 1.6 times more than magnesium chelate2. The label of this product offers no insight into the mineral forms, and this is generally an indication of inorganic forms. Inorganic minerals are generally very poorly absorbed in the digestive system. A common form of magnesium used in many multivitamins is magnesium oxide, which is inorganic.
Oddly, this multivitamin contains iron. Typically, multivitamins designed for men do not contain iron, because men require less than women, it is not something that men are commonly deficient in, and excess iron is actually harmful to health. This is an indication that not a lot of thought has gone into the product.
Centrum multivitamin is on the whole, a poor multivitamin. Low quality vitamins/ minerals which won’t be absorbed very well, and no other nutrients. It provides very little useful information on the product, and the company provides even less (actually – none) when asked about it. Most vitamins and minerals are provided roughly to the RDA, but you will likely only absorb a fraction of them. It probably does very little for your health. It looks to be made to entice laymen into thinking it will help achieve the RDAs of the more common nutrients, which it probably won’t. I would say it is a cheap and cheerful product, but actually it isn’t that cheap at £0.20 per serving (see Briofood below), and isn’t all that cheerful either…
Optimum Nutrition Opti-Men
Optimum nutrition is a brand that specialises in bodybuilding/ athletic supplements. The only multivitamin that they offer is the ‘opti-men’, which highlights how focused they are on their target market of bodybuilders. To the right you can see the label for their multivitamin. Some key points from the label are:
- Price per serving: ~£0.50
- 13 vitamins
- 10 minerals
- Amino acid blend
- Plant extracts
The label and company provide less information about the form of the vitamins than Centrum, and so for the purposes of this discussion, I will have to make the same assumptions. The vitamins are probably provided in a poorly absorbed form. However, the dosages that they contain are generally higher than that of Centrum. For example, this supplement contains 225mg vitamin C and 9μg of vitamin B12, which is 1.8x and 3x more than Centrum contains, respectively.
Again, very little is provided about the minerals content, so we will have to assume they are the poorly absorbed inorganic forms. Again, we see a greater amounts included than Centrum’s multivitamin. This multivitamin contains 10 minerals, whereas Centrum contains 11. This missing mineral in this formula is iron, which as I’ve already mentioned, is common for men’s multivitamins.
Men’s multivitamins often contain amino acid complexes, especially when they are tailored for athletes. Amino acid complexes like this are associated with anabolic properties, and can help recovery of sore muscles. Although these amino acids are not particularly essential, they do add to the value of the multivitamin.
This formula also contains some plant extracts such as lycopene, olive leaf extract, ginger extract and green tea extract. These plant extracts are all associated with combating oxidative stress and so should help the body recover from the additional stress of exercise3. They are all provided in quite small quantities. For example, the Primal Master Formula (see end of article) which is also designed for athletic individuals contains 20 times more lycopene. However, despite the low amounts, it is still good to see them included in the formula, and they will offer some benefit.
If Centrum is designed for a ‘average Joe’ Opti-Men is designed for the ‘average Joe that likes the gym’. The quality of all the nutrients is very similar to Centrum, but all generally provided in larger quantities. It also contains additional nutrients like amino acids and small amounts of plant extracts. It is still a poor quality multivitamin, but an improvement on Centrum.
Seven Seas Simply Timeless
Seven Seas are well known for the fish oil they produce. With this in mind, it is no surprise that their ‘Simply Timeless’ multivitamin product also contains 500mg of fish oil, which is quite unique amongst the multivitamin products out there. A full break down of the ingredients can be seen on the right, but they key points from the label are:
- Price per serving: ~£0.14
- 13 vitamins
- 0 minerals
- 500mg fish oil
As with the previous 2 multivitamins discussed, there is very little information provided by Seven Seas about the forms of vitamins they use. The vitamins are all provided at the RDA (with the exception of vitamin K, which is 15% the RDA), and this is very reminiscent of the Centrum multivitamin. To people who are not familiar with nutrient absorption and the various forms, this looks like it provides all you need. In reality, the likely poor form and relatively low dosage means that very little of these vitamins are absorbed.
Contains no minerals. This is the only multivitamins that omits all minerals from its formula.
This is the only multivitamin to contain 500mg of fish oil. This would make it quite an attractive product if the quality of the fish oil was anything to be excited about. However, upon closer inspection of the label, you can see that the 500mg fish oil only contains 95mg of the important omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. These omega-3 fatty acids are then only provided in the poorly absorbed (but cheap to make) ethyl ester form, which means very little is absorbable. You can read more about the fish oil in Seven Seas products here, but needless to say, it isn’t the best quality.
Despite being quite an interesting idea with some promise, this product is rather disappointing. It is a blend of poor quality vitamins and poor quality fish oil, which unsurprisingly results in a poor quality multivitamin with fish oil. Absorption of these nutrients will be poor, and any benefit you get from it will be hard to measure.
Tesco A-Z Multivitamins + Minerals
Tesco’s own branded products are typically thought of as being budget product. No frills, just the essentials, but at a low price. You can see the contents of this product to the right, and some key points from the label are:
- Price per serving: ~£0.04
- 13 vitamins
- 10 minerals
Again, very little information is provided, so we have to make the same assumptions as the previous products. Low quality/ poorly absorbed vitamins. All the vitamins are provided at exactly their RDA, but seeing as they are poorly absorbed, they will not meet the RDA.
All minerals are provided at their exact RDA, same as the vitamins. You can also be sure that they will all be in an inorganic (and so poorly absorbed form). This product covers most minerals, but of the commonly included minerals, it is missing phosphorus. Phosphorus is important for cellular growth and repair, and most multivitamins will contain it, so it is surprising to see it missing here. However, deficiency of phosphorus is quite rare, so its omission is of little concern.
Bare bones. This really does just cover the bare bones of what you expect out of a multivitamin. I don’t know how much of each nutrient you will absorb, but you can be sure it will be quite low. However, for £0.04 per serving it is pretty fairly priced. Nutritionally I would say it is slightly better than Centrum, but costs 5 times less. If, for some reason you were looking for a pretty poor multivitamin, then this would be it.
Briofood Day-To-Day Men’s Multi
Briofoods offer a range of multivitamins, but they are all relatively similar. So, for the purpose of this review, we will look at the Men’s Wholefood Multivitamin. To the right you can see the nutritional profile. Key points of this product are:
- Price per serving: ~ £0.08
- 13 vitamins
- 8 minerals
- Blend of powdered whole foods
- Amino blend (100mg)
- Most vitamin/ minerals exceed RDA
You can see already that this multivitamins is a bit more thorough than the previous one, and contains various plant blends, enzymes and probiotics.
More information is provided about these vitamins than previous brands. We can see that vitamin D for example is in the superior D3 form, and that vitamin A is made up of beta-carotene and palmitate. We can also see that the dosage of most vitamins/ minerals is higher than previous products. Vitamin D for example is 200% the RDA, and is in the D3 form, and the B vitamins are 10 times higher than the dosage found in Centrum. This is important when you consider that most people are in need of more vitamin D.
Vitamin K however is in the K1 form (phytonadione), which is inferior to K2, and vitamin E is also only in the alpha-tocopherol. Still, as a whole, the vitamin profile of Briofood’s multivitamin is extremely good for the price per serving.
The mineral content is a mixed bag of quality. We do see a lot of chelated minerals such as zinc chelate and manganese chelate, which is good to see. These forms of minerals are organic and the body is able to absorb them much easier than inorganic forms. However, we do still see some inorganic minerals such as magnesium oxide and calcium carbonate. Considering the importance of both these minerals in the Western world, this is a shame, especially when this multivitamin provides them in quite small quantities.
This formula is also missing iron, which as previously mentioned, is quite common in multivitamins for men.
It is good to see a variety of plant complexes included. These provide a whole range of various nutrients that are often neglected, but are very important not only for health, but nutrient absorption. The citrus bioflavinoids for example, will help with the absorption of the vitamin C4. However, these plant based blends comes to a total of 275mg, which is a very small amount. Yes, the bioflavinoids will help with vitamin C absorption, but it suggests that you would be getting some meaningful amount of omega-3s from the 100mg of seeds blend, and some nutritional benefit from the 150mg of vegetable/ herbal blends. Perhaps you do, but I don’t imagine it would be a measurable.
The basic vitamins and minerals are generally all provided in meaningful quantities and are in easily absorbable forms, but there are some exceptions, such as vitamin K. This multivitamin also includes a variety of plant complexes which is great to see, but I am sceptical that the quantity provided will have much impact. Overall, for less than £0.10 a serving, this seems a very reasonably priced product. It covers the basics quite well and then a little more. For the money, this is a very good multivitamin.
Dr Mercola Whole-Food Multivitamin
The Mercola brand has long enjoyed a good reputation for producing high quality supplements. Aside from a children’s multivitamin, Mercola only offers 1 multivitamin. Below, you can see the nutritional content of the product, but to see a bigger picture, click here.
Some key points from the label:
- Price per serving: £0.80-£1.60
- 12 vitamin (No vitamin K)
- 13 minerals + trace elements (from seaweed)
- Range of powdered whole plant
- Range of plant extracted nutrients
- All nutrients with an established RDA meet or exceed the RDA
You can see the label contains lots of information, and a lot more nutrients than previous multivitamins. Also, with the exception of the ‘special blend’ you can see the quantity of all the nutrients, whereas in Briofood’s, you are only told the total quantity of plant blends. This can be misleading, and allows manufacturers to pad out on cheap products, and skimp on the expensive ones.
The vitamins are all in good quantity and are good quality. Vitamin C is provided in 4 forms providing a total of 500mg. This ensures a meaningful amount will be absorbed (aided not only by the diversity, but also the bioflavinoids). Vitamin D is provided in very high dosages in the D3 form. Vitamin E comes with a variety of tocopherols – the first time we have seen a vitamin E come with various other forms. The B-vitamins are all provided in high dosages and in natural forms.
This formula is missing any form of vitamin K, which has been included in all other multivitamins, and this is disappointing. However, this aside, the quality and quantity of the vitamins provided in this multivitamin are very good indeed.
All the minerals are provided in a highly absorbable organic forms, and often as a variety. For example, magnesium is found in a complex with vitamin C, and a chelate complex. Virtually all the minerals are chelated to amino acids which is a very absorbable and natural form to find minerals. The dosage of all minerals is quite high, and this is particularly important for minerals like magnesium, which typical Western diets lack in.
Mercola’s multivitamin also contains minerals which are not commonly included in multivitamins – strontium, boron, vanadium and various trace elements extracted form seaweed. These minerals are extremely important for a variety of biological functions. They have been linked with improving bone health, blood pressure and a variety of other benefits.
It is also worth noting that this is the only multivitamin that contains potassium. Potassium is very rare in multivitamins because the body needs quite a lot of it (around 3g) and it can be quite toxic unless provided in the right form. Mercola’s multivitamin contains potassium in a healthy form, and seeing as much of the population has low potassium levels, it is good to see it in this multivitamin. The potassium content of supplements is restricted to 99mg, which is why Mercola’s only contains 3% RDA (99mg).
The total of other nutrients (either whole plants or plant extracts) comes to over 2,600mg (2.6 grams). This is 10 times more than Briofoods. Mercola has an excellent diverse range of plant based nutrients, providing a massive spectrum of beneficial compounds. Mercola’s multivitamin contains too many nutrients to go into detail on all of them in this article, but there are a few key ones that stand out. Lycopene, spirulina, chlorella, broccoli, wheat grass and green tea are well researched, extremely nutritious, and not often found in your daily diet. The dosages of these foods is still a lot less than if you were to actually eat the food, but these supplements are not designed to replace your food, just supplement it.
Mercola’s wholefood multivitamin is a very high quality multivitamin. It contains vitamins in meaningful dosages and in high quality forms. The mineral profile is extremely diverse and contains trace elements that often get over looked. All vitamins and minerals are in absorbable forms, and in meaningful dosages. However, what makes it stand out more than others is the amount of plant sourced nutrients (2.6 grams). The variety of phenolics, co-factors and other plant based nutrients is extremely impressive. The only negative I can draw against this multivitamin is the lack of vitamin K2.
There is no doubt that this is a very high quality multivitamin, however, there is the drawback of the cost. At the full dosage, it comes in at about £1.60 per serving. This often is prohibitive to many people, but some find that half dosages (of £0.80) make it more affordable. The dosage that suits you the most will depend on your diet/ exercise, but even half dosage provides very meaningful amounts of vitamins and minerals.
In the interest of full disclosure, we do sell Mercola’s Multivitamin in our webstore, but I’m not saying that this cod liver is great because we sell it, we sell it because it is great.
Primal Master Formula
Primal Master Formula is a creation of Mark Sisson – a strong advocate (creator, even) of the primal lifestyle. In addition to eating unprocessed foods, the primal lifestyle requires lots of exercise. With this in mind, the Primal Master Formula is tailored to provide nutrients that will support a very active lifestyle.
Some key points from the label:
- Price per serving: £1.80 – £3.66
- 13 vitamins
- 11 minerals + trace minerals
- Variety of plant extracted nutrients
- Digestive enzymes
- Variety of specialised fibres
- Variety of specialised nutrients/ compounds
As with Mercola’s multivitamin, this label contains lots of information about the nutrients. It also contains a wide variety, ranging from vitamins to fibres, and provides the quantity of each.
The quality of vitamins in the Master Formula is unparalleled in any other multivitamin. The Master Formula contains the full spectrum of vitamins, all of which are in their most absorbable form. We see vitamins like C, A and E in a variety of different forms, and it is the first time we have seen the tocotrienol group of vitamin E added to a formula. The dosages of the vitamins are also all in very large amounts. Vitamin C for example is 1000mg (500% your RDA) and vitamin D3 is 2000 IU (500% RDA). The particularly high vitamin C is likely added to the formula to help people who do lots of exercise recover from the additional oxidative damage that exercise can cause5.
Unsurprisingly, the mineral content of the Master Formula is very good. All 11 minerals that are listed are in large and meaningful dosages, and in a very absorbable form. In addition to the 11 on the label, the Master Formula contains an additional 100mg of 72 trace minerals. These trace minerals are only needed in extremely small quantities, but are important for a number of functions.
The Master formula is missing 2 minerals that the Mercola Multivitamin does have. These are strontium and potassium. Strontium is primarily associated with bone health, and is found in teeth and bones. Nutritionally, it isn’t a priority for most people, so its omission isn’t too much of a concern. As discussed previously in the Mercola write up, potassium is rarely found in multivitamins, so although its omission is a little disappointing, it is understandable. The maximum allowed in supplements is 3% the RDA, so its impact on nutritional requirements is quite small.
The Primal Master Formula contains no powdered whole plants like Mercola does, but does contain lots of plant extracts. These include ginko bilobo, curcumin, green tea and milk thistle, to name a few. These plant extracts all well researched, and are known to combat oxidative stress. Many are also associated with fighting the ageing process.
The Primal Master Formula also contain a number of specialised plant fibre such as beta-glucans (commonly found in oats) and arabinogalactan. These fibres are thought to help boost the immune system as well as support digestive health.
Finally, this product contains a range of nootropics (brain boosters). These include phosphatidylserine, DMAE, acetyl L-carnitine and vinpocetine6 , all of which have some potential in improving mood, sharpening memory, helping focus and even fighting depression. Phosphatidylserine is also associated with fighting the ageing process, improving physical performance and combating stress7.
The Primal Master Formula certainly is a very thorough supplement. It takes the concept of a ‘multivitamin’ to another level with its inclusion of a vast array of other nutrients like co-Q10, specialised fibres, powerful plant extracts and a variety of nootropics.
It is the only multivitamin that contains all 13 vitamins in their optimal form (and often in the highest concentration) and the only one to contain nootropics. The formula also opts for highly potent extracts rather than powdered whole foods (such as curcumin instead of turmeric). This reduces the amount of trace nutrients you get, but ensures a powerful punch from the extracts.
Overall, the Primal Master Formula is a very specialised and high quality supplement, designed for a very active lifestyle. There is a lot of focus on reducing radical damage and fighting stress as well as providing a exceptional coverage of essential nutrients and improving mood. The only draw back is the high cost, with a full dosage costing £3.66/ day. This would put it out of budget for most people, but is a great example of a supplement where no compromises have been made.
In the interest of full disclosure, we do sell the Primal Master Formula in our webstore, but I’m not saying that this cod liver is great because we sell it, we sell it because it is great.
Overall, you get what you pay for, but there are a few over-hyped and over marketed products which cost more than they are worth. If you are looking for a good cost effective multivitamin, then I would look at BrioFoods. For the price, it is pretty good quality. If you can afford something a bit more complete then the Mercola Multivitamin is a great, broad, and high quality multivitamin that contains a wide variety of plant based foods. If you are quite athletic and live a busy life, then you may want to consider the Primal Master Formula.
At the very least, I hope that this showdown has helped you to understand multivitamins in a bit more details, and highlighted what makes a good multivitamin.
- Thiel RJ. (2000). Natural vitamins may be superior to synthetic ones.. Med Hypotheses. 55 (6), 461-9.
- Robert Thiel. The Truth About Minerals in Nutritional Supplements. Available: http://www.doctorsresearch.com/articles3.html. Last accessed 24/05/2017.
- Klebanov GI. (1998). The antioxidant properties of lycopene. Membr Cell Biol. 12 (2), 287-300.
- Vinson JA. (1988). Comparative bioavailability to humans of ascorbic acid alone or in a citrus extract. Am J Clin Nutr. 48 (2), 601-4.
- Maryam Taghiyar. (2013). The Effect of Vitamin C and E Supplementation on Muscle Damage and Oxidative Stress in Female Athletes: A Clinical Trial. Int J Prev Med. 4 (supp 1), s16-s23.
- AO Ogunrin. (2014). Effect of Vinpocetine (Cognitol™) on Cognitive Performances of a Nigerian Population. Ann Med Health Sci Res. 4 (4), 654-661.
- Pepeu G. (1989). Nootropic drugs and brain cholinergic mechanisms.. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 13 (supplement), S77-S88.