New chapter multivitamin side effects

  • Multivitamin

Nowadays, a huge number of people benefit from taking a daily multivitamin. But are you getting the most from your supplement or is your money going down the drain?

When choosing a multivitamin, you want a product that’s pure, easily digestible and packed with nutrients. Whole food organic supplements have recently come into the limelight for this reason.

But what are the best whole food organic multivitamins? I’m going to share everything you need to know in this article.

Image Product Product Details Our #1 Rated


Whole Food Multivitamin For Men

Natural vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K in organic fruit and vegetables blend. No soy, gelatin or dairy. Our #1 Rated


Whole Food Multivitamin For Men

Natural vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K in organic fruit and vegetables blend. No soy, gelatin or dairy.

Amazing Nutrition

Women’s One Daily Multivitamin

Organic, whole food multivitamin contains over 16 vitamins, minerals and key nutrients. Gluten & lactose free.

Amazing Nutrition

Women’s One Daily Multivitamin

Organic, whole food multivitamin contains over 16 vitamins, minerals and key nutrients. Gluten & lactose free.


Multi for Women 55+

Vegetarian multivitamin to support cardiovascular health, mood and cognition. Non-GMO, dairy, soy and gluten free.


Multi for Women 55+

Vegetarian multivitamin to support cardiovascular health, mood and cognition. Non-GMO, dairy, soy and gluten free.


Whole Food Multivitamin and Mineral

Whole food multivitamins, mineral and probiotic blend. 30+ natural fruits, herbs and vegetables. Vegan friendly.


Whole Food Multivitamin and Mineral

Whole food multivitamins, mineral and probiotic blend. 30+ natural fruits, herbs and vegetables. Vegan friendly.

Garden of Life

Men’s Once Daily Whole Food Vitamin Supplement

15 vitamins and minerals include selenium for prostate health, B- complex vitamins and D3. Vegan and gluten free.

Garden of Life

Men’s Once Daily Whole Food Vitamin Supplement

15 vitamins and minerals include selenium for prostate health, B- complex vitamins and D3. Vegan and gluten free.

What are Whole Food Organic Multivitamins?

Whole food vitamins are those that are derived from foods in their most natural state. Unlike synthetic extracts which lose many of their inherent beneficial properties, whole food vitamins keep more of their nutritional value. Whole food multivitamins are also better absorbed by the body. (source)

They are usually organic and non-GMO and manufacturers often provide full transparency as to the source of the vitamins.

Who Can Benefit From Whole Food Organic Multivitamins?

Many people can benefit from supplementation with a multivitamin. One study found that most US adults don’t meet their recommended daily doses of the top ten nutrients, including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, and iron. (source)

It’s safe to say that if you have a diet that comprises of lots of junk food and small amounts of fruits and vegetables, adding a multivitamin to your routine is a good idea.

Even if you’re doing your best to consume a balanced and nutritionally complete diet, if you have a medical condition that impedes absorption, dietary restrictions or food allergies, a multivitamin can also be helpful.

People who have problems with their immune system such as the elderly also greatly benefit from extra vitamins. Vitamin E, B6 and C are great immune boosters. (source)

That said, multivitamins should never replace a healthy diet. Taking a multivitamin does not mean you can get away with eating diet of only processed junk food.

With so many supplements available many people have forgotten the basics of health, a good diet and exercise. I am not slating supplements – there are many that are very useful. However, many people think of supplements as wonder cures which mean they don’t have to think about the rest of their intake.

Nutritional needs should be met first and foremost from foods as advised by the US Department of Health and Human Services. However, as around half of all American adults are suffering from chronic diseases caused by poor diet, supplementing with a multivitamin is a good stopgap until we can amend our diets to meet recommended guidelines.

How to Choose a Whole Food Organic Multivitamin

The best whole food organic multivitamins must follow certain standards. High quality supplements will have a certificate of analysis if manufactured in the US. This is to prove that they have been tested for compliance with relevant guidelines.

Another thing you’ll need to examine when choosing a supplement is the ingredient list. All ingredients should be in their natural, unprocessed form – no synthetically produced elements. Many natural supplement companies will have statements describing the entire production chain – from growing the raw materials, all the way to arrival in our shopping basket. This certainly instills confidence.

I try as much as possible to choose brands that are not only made in the US but also have a good reputation and long track record of creating quality supplements.

I have taken a look at all of the whole food organic multivitamins available and chosen my personal top five. I have listed some pros and cons for each as well sharing my overall favorite at the end of the article.
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Naturelo Whole Food Multivitamin

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I really like this product. Firstly, there are separate versions available for men and women. It also not only offers all of your essential daily vitamins and minerals but also the complete profile of essential amino acids and a blend of roots and herbs to promote brain, heart and eye health.

This product has been awarded best multivitamin for both men and women 2016 by numerous websites. It’s also gluten free, soy free and vegan friendly.

The only downsides are firstly, I feel they are very expensive. Considering they only offer a 30 day supply per container they are more than 3 times the price of some other products.
Also the capsules are enormous and you must take 4 each day.


Includes all essential vitamins and minerals

Has all essential amino acids

Antioxidants for brain, heart and eye health

Ranked best multivitamin 2016


Gluten, soy and dairy free

Vegan Friendly


Large capsules

Need to take 4 daily


Our #2 Rated our #2 rated

Amazing Nutrition

Amazing Naturals

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This supplement from Amazing Naturals is another which has been designed with women in mind. It contains all of the essential nutrition that we ladies need in our daily diet.

I’m glad to say that you only need to take this pill once daily – good news for those who don’t like swallowing pills. The container is great value for money – supplying two months of multivitamins.

Many women reported improved immune systems after taking this multivitamin for a while. It may be purely anecdotal but they found themselves more resistant to seasonal and stomach bugs.


Specifically for women

1 a day

2 month supply

Great value for money


Large tablets

Our #3 Rated our #3 rated



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This is a whole food multivitamin designed specifically for women over the age of 55. It offers 30 days worth of tablets at a reasonable price.

As we get older, we not only need different nutrients but also more of them. Often the amount we eat decreases with age, yet the need for proper nutrition goes up so adding a multivitamin to your diet is a good idea for over 50s.

This product is particularly useful for women who are going through or have completed the menopause as it contains nutrients to support bone strength and balance mood.

The only thing which might be an issue is that some find this supplement hard to swallow.


30 day supply

Reasonable price

Designed specifically for women over 55


Difficult to swallow

Our #4 Rated our #4 rated


Pure Nutria

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This is an interesting product as it offers not only whole food vitamins and minerals (120 to be exact) but also probiotics to encourage healthy gut flora and a better immune system.

The price is fair for a 40 day supply and as it’s not gender-specific, it can be shared with other family members. Pure Nutria’s multivitamin contains all of your essential vitamins and minerals as well as extras like biotin and niacin for healthy hair.

The one downside to this product is that the capsules are huge and you need to take 3 a day. I prefer a once daily dose as it can be hard to remember to take a pill three times daily. In addition, if you have trouble swallowing, you should probably avoid this one.


40 day supply

Reasonable price

120 vitamins and minerals

Added probiotics


Excessively large tablets

Must take 3 daily

Our #5 Rated our #5 rated

Garden of Life

Garden of Life

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The first multivitamin on our list is marketed specifically towards men. Don’t despair, ladies, there are three coming up which are formulated to meet our needs.

This product includes 15 vitamins and minerals which are derived from whole foods and are certified USDA organic. It’s also non GMO, gluten free and vegan. As for the price – this product is certainly good value for money. You get a full month’s supply at a reasonable cost.

There are a couple of negatives which I must mention. Firstly, if you have a soy sensitivity, this product is out as it contains soy. Secondly, some users reported stomach cramps as a side effect of this multivitamin. Side effects always vary from person to person, however it is something to bear in mind.


30 day supply


Vegan and gluten free

Very good price

Certified organic

15 vitamins and minerals


Some experienced side effects

Contains soy

Our Choice:

For me the Naturelo brand is the best. Simply because it really includes so much for overall health and even states all the organic fruits and vegetables from which the vitamins are derived.

You do need to take a lot of these tables daily and they are more expensive, however, many people these days take supplements for amino acids and brain health and these multivitamins have everything in one capsule. Therefore, for someone who is already taking numerous supplements, these could be a great option to get everything in one place.

Sources: 1, 2, 3

“Whole Food” Supplements Exposed!

Based on your current knowledge, which are better “whole food” supplements or supplements that use synthetic ingredients? The issue of synthetic vs. whole food supplements is one of the most controversial, misunderstood debates in nutrition. On the surface it seems like the answer should be completely obvious. One would think that whole food supplements are superior to synthetic supplements. This is because the words “whole food” or “natural” conjure up images of fresh fruits, colorful vegetables and healthy grains. And the marketing teams behind these whole food supplements are well aware of this. So much so, that these supplements are almost always delivered in packages adorned with beautiful photos of these foods. The goal is to keep that image of whole food in your head while their marketing copy demonizes synthesized man-made “Franken” supplements.

Note: Before we continue it is important to note that this blog is not going to cover the pros and cons of synthetic vitamins. We will do that in a follow up blog. In this blog we are exposing the misleading marketing practices of whole food vitamins. We want to be clear that it is not our belief that all synthetic supplements are bad—in fact, many have superior absorption and utilization rates compared to their whole food based counter parts. Our goal is to expose the fact that many supplement companies sell their consumers whole food supplements that contain the very same synthetically formulated micronutrients that they say to avoid like the plague.


What if the words “whole food” on your supplement package doesn’t mean what you think it means? What if it is a lie, half-truth, or at very best if it’s a simple marketing ploy? After all, for individuals who choose to spend their money on “whole food” supplements, the phrase “whole food” being plastered on the packaging is likely the main reason they purchase the product. So, what does “whole food” actually mean? And does that mean that “whole food” supplements only contain vitamins and minerals from “whole food” and are free of synthetically produced vitamins and minerals?

First, let’s be straight about what a whole food vitamin really is. No matter how big or how many times the words “Whole Food” or “Natural” appear on the label or how many beautiful, shinny and delicious looking fruits and vegetables they have in their advertisements, make no mistake, whole foods supplements are not the same as the fresh, whole food we buy in the grocery store or our local farmers market. At the very best they are dehydrated, pulverized, highly processed versions of these foods. Not too bad if that was all these whole food supplements contained. But that isn’t the whole story. In order to truly know what is in these whole food supplements you have to look past the pretty pictures on the front of the package and investigate their ingredients and supplement facts on the back.

What will you find? You will quickly discover that more often than not these “whole food” supplements start out with a “food” base and simply add synthetic, lab made, USP vitamins and minerals to these bases. Shocking, right? They try to convince you to purchase their products because they are made from whole food, when in fact they are actually utilizing the same synthetically made micronutrients that they have tried to make you afraid of! Did you know that legally a vitamin can be marketed as natural or whole food based as long as a mere 10% of its ingredients are from natural, plant-derived ingredients – the other 90% can be, and most times are, synthetically made in a laboratory!


CASE STUDY #1: MEGA FOOD – Multi for Women

Mega Foods tag line is “Fresh From Farm To Tablet”. Wow! That tag line, along with the image of a bounty of harvested fruit on the label, certainly conjures up a vision of whole, healthy foods, doesn’t it? This multi must be all natural, right? WRONG. In fact, if you delve deep into this companies website, which you wouldn’t be able to do if you were shopping at the health food store, you will discover this very honest statement from their medical director:

“… regardless of whether the supplement is “whole food” or “food based”, a USP vitamin or mineral will be part of the process. From my perspective as a Naturopathic Doctor, that’s a good thing. This assures a standardized form of a nutrient, and guaranteed potency… What makes a whole food vitamin or mineral unique is that it is actually delivered in a whole food. What does that mean? As an example…our whole food vitamins and minerals…are made with whole foods to provide vitamins and minerals that are easy-to-digest and gentle on the body, even when taken on an empty stomach. Right on the label you will see that Vitamin C is delivered in whole oranges, Folate is delivered in broccoli…”

Did you catch that? They are telling you outright that this “whole food” multivitamin takes synthetically produced, standardized USP vitamins, like those they have been telling you to avoid like the plague” and deliver them in a whole food base. You can see this on the Supplement Facts below from this company. Look for yourself.

As you read down the supplement facts you can see the synthetically manufactured ingredients right there in black and white. Going down the list:

  • ascorbic acid for vitamin C – synthetic
  • menaquinone-7 for vitamin K2 – synthetic
  • thiamine HCL for B1 – synthetic
  • riboflavin 5 phosphate for B2 – natural active form, but synthetically made
  • P5P for B6 – natural active form, but synthetically made
  • 5-MTHF for folate – natural active form, but synthetically made and patented
  • calcium pantothenate for B5 (pantothenic acid) – synthetic
  • choline bitartrate for choline – synthetic

Additionally, it is highly likely that most if not all the minerals in their yeast base are also synthetically produced USP minerals. Shocking right? We are not saying that this Mega Food multivitamin is bad, we are just trying to make you aware of the fact that whole food vitamins may not be exactly what you thought there are. Remember, these manufactures can get away with this kind of marketing as long as 10% of the ingredients are natural plant derived ingredients. We are not sure that will make you feel any less hoodwinked, but their marketing trickery is not illegal, just misleading.

CASE STUDY #2: JUICE PLUS+ – Orchard, Garden and Vineyard capsules

Let’s begin again by quoting this company’s tag line, which reads, “Blended fruit and vegetable juice powders.” Hmm… knowing what you know now, do you really believe that this is all that they have in their capsules? Come with us… let’s explore their label together.

Now again, we are not saying there is anything wrong with Juice Plus+, but what we want you to see is the ingredients list we have listed below. You can see that while the Orchard Blend is made from fruit and vegetable juice powder, apple pulp, cranberries, oranges, beets, pineapples, acerola cherries, papaya, peaches, dates, and prunes – look closely—it also contains isolated, lab-created, food-derived vitamins and synthetically produced vitamins!

According to the nutrition facts, 2 capsules of the Orchard Blend Juice Plus+ can only promise, or make label claims, to contain a total of 4 vitamins:

  • 42% of the daily value for vitamin A
  • 121 % of vitamin C
  • 27% of the recommended daily value of vitamin E
  • A mere 24% of the daily value for folate (vitamin B9).

You can see from the ingredients list on their label that the vitamin A comes from an isolated, natural carotenoid blend that has been added to the whole foods listed above. The vitamin C is coming from synthetic calcium ascorbate, the vitamin E is coming from the isolated, again lab-created, natural tocopherol blend, and finally the folate is coming from the synthetic folic acid listed right on their label. Again, this might be shocking to people who believed they were getting a purely whole food supplement!

Now in defense of Juice Plus+ – they do say right on their website (if you happen to read it) that:

“Juice Plus+ is whole food based nutrition, including juice powder concentrates from 30 different fruits, vegetables and grains. Juice Plus+ helps bridge the gap between what you should eat and what you do eat every day. Not a multivitamin, medicine, treatment or cure for any disease, Juice Plus+ is made from quality ingredients carefully monitored from farm to capsule to provide natural nutrients your body needs to be at its best.”

But, before reading this article you may not have noticed all the little loopholes in this statement. It doesn’t say Juice Plus+ is 100% whole food nutrition, it says that Juice Plus+ is whole food BASED nutrition. It doesn’t say that it is made entirely from juice powder concentrates from 30 different fruits, vegetables and grains, it says INCLUDING juice powder concentrates…And it does not say that Juice Plus+ is a multivitamin or that it should be used as a multivitamin. In fact is says very clearly that Juice Plus+ is NOT A MULTIVITAMIN! The problem is most people who are taking this product and others like it, are often using it as their multivitamin, believing that they are taking something completely natural and that will provide them with all the nutrition they are missing each day. And why wouldn’t they? The statement above does say that Juice Plus+ is made from quality ingredients carefully monitored from farm to capsule to provide natural nutrients your body needs to be at its best. This however, is a little misleading in that you now know that only some of the ingredients even come from a farm and that the people buying the Juice Plus+ Orchard, Garden and Vineyard capsules are really spending more than $70 a month to get 4 vitamins, half of which are synthetic.


Ok, by now, you know where we are going with this. However, we wanted to include this brand due to its popularity. Even when a popular, well-respected nutrition guru, like Dr. Mercola, creates a whole food product it is a case of partial truths that only those who know the specific names of natural vs. synthetic vitamins might understand when reading the label closely. In fact, if you looked at his website you would be convinced that there is no way Dr. Mercola would include synthetic micronutrients in his whole food multivitamin because the sales page for this product has the following big, bold header, “Why You Should Avoid Synthetic Forms of Certain Vitamins Like the Plague…” Like the plague, really? Well, if he really believed that he probably would not have synthetically produced vitamins and minerals in his product. Now, using what we have discovered about loopholes in marketing can you see the big loophole in the above statement? “It says… “Why you should avoid synthetic forms of CERTAIN vitamins…” Obviously he does not think all synthetically produced vitamins should be avoided. However, when most curious consumers who are looking for information on what makes a good multivitamin read this statement – what most come away with is – You should avoid synthetic vitamins like the plague, and this gives a big advantage to his whole food multivitamin, which the consumer is now sure is made from whole food and void of horrible synthetic ingredients.

The worst part is that when taking a quick look at his label an unfamiliar eye might not realize that his forms for folate (5-MTHF), vitamin B6 (Pyridoxal-5’-phosphate), vitamin B5 (Calcium Pantothenate), vitamin B1 (Thiamine Pyrophosphate), vitamin C (magnesium ascorbate, calcium ascorbate, ascorbyl palmitate) as well as all of his chelated minerals and numerous other micronutrients are all lab made, synthetically produced ingredients and in some cases so far removed from whole food that they are even patented by drug companies such as Merck.

Yes, he does give you some whole foods at the base of this product. It contains a bunch of powdered produce including spinach, carrot, beet and blueberries. However, as we stated above the vast majority of consumers likely believe that this supplement is made out of whole foods and void of any synthetically produced ingredients. This company and others like it are cashing in on the whole food supplement trend and are not really delivering what their customers think they are getting. Again, we are not saying that the Dr. Mercola whole food multivitamin plus vital minerals is a bad product. We agree with many of the synthetically produced micronutrients he has included in his formula. Just because a supplement contains a synthetically produced micronutrient does not make it a bad product, nor does it automatically make it a good one.

Our main goal with this post is not to demonize whole food vitamins, but to make sure consumers are aware that just because a supplement has the words whole food on the label does not mean that it is made from 100% whole food or that it does not contain synthetic vitamins or minerals. Here at Calton Nutrition we don’t want anyone to be misled by misleading marketing.


So, while whole food supplements try to convince you (through the inspiring images and promising sales pages) that they are superior due to their all-natural, whole food ingredients, we hope we have made it quite clear that most of these whole food-based supplements contain synthetically created vitamins and minerals. However, that is not where the story ends. There are additional drawbacks to whole food multivitamins that should also be considered.

  • They are more expensive. Whole food multivitamins are usually more costly than synthetic based multivitamins. This is because most consumers are willing to pay more for a whole food-based supplement even though, as we have just seen, they often still use synthetic ingredients to ensure potency.
  • They contain anti-nutrients What do you get when you ingest a supplement containing spinach, carrots, beets and blueberries? You get a gut full of oxalates, phytates, and tannins. If you have read our book The Micronutrient Miracle you know that these naturally occurring food factors are all classified as anti-nutrients, or Everyday Micronutrient Depleters (EMDs), because they can actually block your body’s ability to absorb the vitamins and minerals you are trying to get from your multivitamin! They act like stealth thieves that can greatly reduce your ability to absorb your essential micronutrients, and while it is difficult to avoid anti-nutrients in the foods you eat (they are hiding everywhere), using foods that contain large amounts of these anti-nutreince as a whole food base can actually reduce your chances of absorbing the vitamins and minerals you whole food multi is promising to provide.

Doesn’t it seem counterproductive to have foods that contain oxalates (which reduce absorption of any calcium, magnesium or iron it comes into contact with) phytates (reduces the absorption of vitamin B3 (niacin), calcium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, and zinc, and accelerates the metabolism of vitamin D) and lectins (can cause leaky gut and make it difficult of properly absorb micronutrients) in a product that is meant to deliver those very same micronutrients? In other words, the whole food bases in whole food supplements contain anti-nutrients that have been proven to reduce micronutrient absorption.

  • They can be problematic for individuals with food sensitivities and damaged gut. Some products blend in wheat, potato starch, nightshades and other ingredients that not only contain additional anti-nutrients such as lectins and trypsin inhibitors, but can also cause negative reactions to those with food sensitivities. Synthetically created, or lab created, micronutrients do not have this issue. Additionally, individuals with a compromised gut lining will likely find these whole food supplements more difficult to absorb. Here again, liquid, synthetic micronutrients may be more easily digestible and thus more easily utilized by the body.
  • They can only supply non-specific dosages and have inherent absorption blocking competitions. Because whole food based supplements contain many different kinds of pulverized whole foods, they cannot guarantee the potency of each micronutrient (unless they use standardized, synthetically produced USP vitamins and minerals). This is why you often see 1000% DV for some micronutrients and only 5% or 10% for others. Additionally, all the vitamins and minerals are delivered at once (i.e. in the same pill, capsule or powder) which means that many of the vitamins and minerals in these whole food vitamins (and in almost all synthetic multivitamins) are actually competing with one another for absorption and greatly reducing the amount of each micronutrient these supplements are actually delivering. While you may know us as the micronutrient “anti-competition” couple, let’s see what another well-respected micronutrient expert has to say about micronutrient competition and its very real absorption blocking effects. (Learn more about anti-competition technology here).

According to Wendy Myers, FDN-P, NC, CHHC, an expert in detoxification and minerals, “suppose we wish to take 25 mg of zinc to a person. In a food-based product, the zinc will be combined in a food or herbal form that most likely contains a little copper, manganese, selenium, chromium and other minerals. However, the other minerals directly compete with zinc for absorption. So, no matter what the label says, you will not be getting the same amount of zinc as you would if there were no antagonistic or competing nutrients present. Additionally, food-based vitamin companies may add herbs to their products without realizing that the minerals in the herbs can and do also compete with the desired advertised mineral in the product. This can also reduce the effective dose of the desired mineral.”

When you look at the fact that these micronutrient competitions occur between nearly 80% of the vitamins and minerals in commonly found in a multivitamin, you quickly realize that this one issue alone can leave you with a very expensive, but generally ineffective supplement.


In the end the choice is yours as to whether you are going to choose a whole food multivitamin or a well formulated synthetically based one. We hope we have at least exposed the rampant use of synthetic micronutrients in many whole food based supplements and brought awareness to the other issues that can make whole foods supplements less effective and potentially more problematic than their synthetic counterparts. These include cost, the introduction of anti-nutrients, food sensitivities and digestibility issues and lastly the potential for less than optimal dosages and absorption rates due to micronutrient competition. We will address the many issues with synthetic based supplements in a future post, until then read your supplement labels carefully so you don’t fall victim to misleading marketing.

If you are on a quest to find a high quality multivitamin that will help you achieve extraordinary health you may want to consider our patented multivitamin, nutreince. Not sure how it stacks up to yours? Grab your product…take the quiz, and get a full detailed report at If you haven’t tried nutreince yet, grab a sample pack and try it for yourself here.

The Truth About Nutrition Supplements

What’s Really in Your Multivitamin?

You value your health, so you take your vitamins and supplements, right? Well then, this just may make you sick: In one recent test, nearly 30 percent of multivitamins on the market had contamination problems or ingredient shortfalls. When you swallowed the pills, you swallowed whatever story the pill makers put on the label. And that could be almost anything.

Seven in 10 Americans are now gobbling down billions of vitamins and supplements on the promise that they will improve health, performance, longevity, skin, outlook, sex, hair, something, everything. According to a 2002 Harris Poll, more than half of us believe that a government agency like the Food and Drug Administration is keeping a watchful eye on the $20 billion supplement industry.

Supplement Regulations

It’s not. The federal regulators who would normally be all over poor-quality supplements had their hands tied by a piece of legislation signed into law by President Clinton in 1994 called the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). The bill was intended to make dietary supplements — including vitamins, minerals, and herbs — more widely available by classifying them not as drugs, like aspirin or ibuprofen, but as foods. In practice, that means supplements not only don’t have to do what they promise (such as protect against disease) but don’t even have to be safe.

Dangerous Contaminants

The results have been predictable: In 2004 alone, more than 24,000 “toxic exposures” to supplements were reported, while other research showed that some supplements contain potentially dangerous contaminants such as lead, mercury, pesticides, mold, and bacteria.

No wonder some consumer advocates say that this regulatory loophole has helped create a marketplace that fails to protect consumers from contaminated, adulterated and, in some cases, deadly supplements. “People just assume that because vitamins, minerals, and herbs are naturally occurring, they’re also safe, but that’s not always the case,” says Bill Gurley, PhD, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Quality and Safety Concerns

Concerns about quality and safety have swirled around dietary supplements ever since the 1700s, when the first snake-oil salesmen peddled elixirs with outrageous, unsupported claims; they’re one reason the FDA was created, back in the 1930s.

Government Rules for Supplements

But from the beginning, the rules for supplements have been far less stringent than those for conventional drugs. Unlike pharmaceutical companies, dietary-supplement manufacturers don’t need FDA approval to sell their products, and they certainly don’t need to conduct expensive clinical trials. Worse, makers aren’t even required by the government to report any “adverse events” — FDA-speak for unwelcome side effects such as blotchy skin, heart palpitations, and organ damage.

As a result, the FDA is unable to compile convincing evidence against a bad product in order to ban it. Even when anecdotal evidence does pile up, such information is sometimes too weak to effect a change, explains Marvin Lipman, MD, chief medical advisor for Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports. “You need clinical data to prove that ingredient X caused side effect Y. But because supplements are poorly studied at best, that’s tough.”

How Safe Is Kava?

Here’s an example: Kava, an herb found in the South Pacific, whose root has sedative properties. “After it became popular for stress reduction, some manufacturers started including stems and other parts of the plant in their formulas, presumably to save money,” explains Gurley. Unfortunately, these parts contain a toxic compound that can cause liver damage. The FDA issued a safety warning in 2002 but didn’t remove kava from the market or restrict its sale. Why? Because there’s no proof that anyone in the U.S. has died from liver damage directly caused by kava stems.

Even if deaths do occur, the FDA may still find itself impotent in a courtroom. Take ephedra, an amphetamine-like stimulant, which was linked to as many as 155 deaths and more than 16,000 adverse events before the FDA got it banned in 2004. Often packed into weight-loss and energy-boosting products, ephedra can raise heart rate and blood pressure and trigger seizures, heart attacks, and strokes. Yet last year, a federal judge in Utah ruled that despite the seeming mountain of anti-ephedra evidence, the FDA hadn’t proved that the herb was dangerous in small quantities. (The ban is now in bureaucratic limbo as the FDA figures out its next move.)

Although headlines often focus on concerns about herbal supplements, everyday vitamins and minerals aren’t problem-free. “The most common issue is that a product won’t contain or deliver all the ingredients it promises,” says Tod Cooperman, MD, president of, an independent supplement-testing service. And what’s missing may cause harm: At least one vitamin B complex tested by Consumer provided less than the RDA for folic acid — a deficiency of which can cause birth defects such as spina bifida.

The Trouble with More Regulation

The American Medical Association says that megadose vitamins and herbal supplements should be regulated like drugs — with mandatory premarket testing and FDA approval for safety and effectiveness before being sold. That may sound like good advice from doctors. But some consumer advocates say that many Americans don’t want their access to vitamins, minerals, and other complementary health treatments restricted — and perhaps for good reason.

Is FDA Regulation Risk-Free?

For one thing, FDA-regulated pharmaceuticals aren’t exactly risk-free either. In fact, with medications causing hundreds of thousands of adverse events every year, many people see supplements as the safer option. “It’s important to remember that products like ephedra are the exception,” says Judy Blatman, spokesperson for the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a supplement-industry trade group. “About 150 million Americans are using supplements that are basically safe.” Price hikes also cause concern: If supplements had to undergo extensive clinical testing, manufacturers would charge more to recoup their research investment. “Most manufacturers would simply be forced to call it quits,” says Dr. Cooperman.

Moreover, not every single product out there is a lousy one. There are many good, reliable supplements on the market that have been produced by reputable manufacturers.

A more reasonable solution may be to tinker with current laws to give the FDA more bite when it comes to taking products off the market. Two bills now in Congress could provide additional fixes. The first would require manufacturers to forward all serious safety reports to the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) so that unsafe products could be ferreted out more quickly. The other would require the FDA to budget more money to regulate supplements.

Claim Disclaimer

By law, supplements can’t promise to treat a specific disease, but you’d never guess that from reading some labels. Most claim to “help,” “promote,” “regulate” or “improve” just about any normal body function. Before you believe what you read, look for the FDA-mandated disclaimer (usually printed inside a small rectangular box) that reads: “This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.” Other vague-to-the-point-of-meaningless words include “natural” (even dangerous contaminants like lead are “natural”), “standardized” (by what authority?), and “verified” (by whom?).

4 Ways to Protect Yourself

Until adjustments like these are put into place, it’s buyer beware. But there are steps you can take to prevent your own private supplement scare.

Be independent. If you or a member of your family takes a lot of supplements, Gurley recommends subscribing to an independent testing service, such as the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database ($92 a year, or ($27 per year or $44 for two years), to keep tabs on your preferred brands. also regularly surveys the supplement industry.

Seek out well-tested products. If you’re not interested in joining a subscription service, look for supplements that carry the seal of the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), a nonprofit public-health organization that charges manufacturers a fee to conduct independent product testing. The USP seal doesn’t indicate that a particular ingredient is safe or effective, but it does ensure that the product you’re buying contains what the label says it does, that it’s free of contaminants, that it will be properly absorbed into your body, and that it was made using safe manufacturing processes.

Beware of complicated ingredient lists. “The more complex a product is, the more likely it is to have problems,” says Dr. Cooperman. And be wary of products that tout a “proprietary formula” or a “uniquely formulated blend.” “Those are wiggle words for putting all kinds of things in there without having to explain what they are or why they’re there,” he says.

Get educated. The Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition ( is ground zero for information on the products of most concern. Click on the “Dietary Supplements” tab to see recent announcements and warnings, or subscribe to the Dietary Supplements/Food Labeling Electronic Newsletter to have them e-mailed to you. If you do experience side effects that you believe may have been caused by a supplement, file an adverse event report with the FDA via the provided link. One person’s so-so side effect might be another’s really bad one.

8 Ingredients to Avoid

Consumers Union, a consumer advocacy group, warns that the most dangerous supplements on the market can cause serious problems. Steer clear of:

  • Aristolochic Acid: Used in some alternative preparations to promote menstruation and immunity, it’s a potent carcinogen and may cause kidney failure.
  • Bitter Orange: Often used as an ephedra substitute, bitter orange is also a stimulant that can raise blood pressure and may increase the risk of heart trouble, especially when mixed with caffeine.
  • Chaparral: Touted as a skin tonic, it may cause liver damage.
  • Comfrey: Supposedly useful for ailments ranging from breathing problems to stomach trouble, it reportedly causes liver damage.
  • Germander: Used to heal sores and help digestion, it may cause liver damage.
  • Kava: A natural sedative, kava, if improperly processed, may cause liver damage.
  • Lobelia: Taken for breathing disorders like asthma and bronchitis, it can cause rapid heartbeat, low blood pressure, and dizziness.
  • Scullcap: Used to calm anxiety and promote sleep, it may damage the liver.

How Does Your Brand Rate? is an independent testing service that regularly screens supplements for contaminants. It also tests the accuracy of product labels. Here’s a sampling of recent picks and pans in seven popular supplement categories.

Good Women’s Multivitamins Choices

  • Nature Made Essential Woman (now called Nature Made Multi For Her)
  • Rainbow Light Just Once Naturals Prenatal One
  • One-A-Day Women’s

Poor Women’s Multivitamin Choices

Futurebiotics Advanced Women’s Formula Multi Vitamin Energy Plus
Reason: Contained less than 80 percent of claimed vitamin A

Avon VitAdvance Women’s Complete II
Reason: Contained only three quarters of claimed folic acid

Good Vitamin C Supplements

  • CVS Vitamin C, 500 mg
  • NOW Chewable Ester-C, 500 mg (orange flavor)
  • Member’s Mark Vitamin C, 500 mg (Sam’s Club)

Poor Vitamin C Supplements

None of the 29 vitamin C products tested by ConsumerLab failed the review. A test in 2003 also came up clean.

Good Vitamin E Supplements

  • Carlson E-GEMS Natural Vitamin E, 400 IU
  • Walgreens Vitamin E, 400 IU
  • Sundown Vitamin E, 400 IU

Poor Vitamin E Supplements

Nature’s Best Vitamin E, 400 IU
Reason: Contained only 75 percent of claimed vitamin E

Pure Encapsulations Natural Vitamin E (with mixed tocopherols), 400 IU
Reason: Included some synthetic vitamin E despite label claims indicating only the natural form

Good Vitamin B Complex

  • Vitamin World Time Release B-100 Ultra B-Complex
  • Twinlab B-100 Caps Vitamin B-Complex
  • Enzymatic Therapy Fatigued to Fantastic Daily Energy B Complex

Poor Vitamin B Complex

MegaFood Balanced B Complex DailyFoods
Reason: Folic acid content fell 70 mcg (18 percent) short of the claimed 400 mcg, the amount recommended for adult women.

Good Calcium Supplements

  • Caltrate 600
  • GNC Calcimate Plus 800
  • Viactiv 500 mg Calcium plus Vitamins D & K

Poor Calcium Supplements

Doctor’s Best High Absorption Calcium
Reason: Exceeded California standards for lead

Originally published in Fitness magazine, June 2006.

7 of the Best Multivitamins for Women’s Health

From vitamin D to calcium, women tend to miss out on specific, yet vital, types of vitamins. This is especially true for pregnant people, those with dietary restrictions, and for some individuals as they age.

And while increasing consumption of certain foods in our diet may help with this, multivitamins are another way to help ensure you’re getting the proper nutrients.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says vitamins and micronutrients are critical for proper growth and development.

So if you’re considering a multivitamin, check with your doctor first. Then consider these multivitamins to boost your nutrient intake if you both agree you may need it.

Optimum Nutrition Opti-Women

  • Type: tablets
  • Price range: $

Do you find yourself in the gym more days than not? If so, Optimum Nutrition Opti-Women vitamins could be a great option for you. These multifaceted supplements claim to help support an active lifestyle with 23 vitamins and minerals, including folic acid, iron, and manganese. They also include 17 specialty ingredients, like Dong Quai and Garcinia extract and capsules are approved by the Vegetarian Society. You can buy them here for about $15 for 120 tablets.

One A Day Women’s VitaCraves Multi Gummies

  • Type: gummies
  • Price range: $

If swallowing capsules or tablets isn’t your thing, a gummy can be a tasty alternative. This women’s gummy is a complete multivitamin specifically formulated to support bone, skin, and immune health. Women and girls ages 12 and older can chew two gummies daily for key nutrients. You can purchase them here for just about $15 for a 150-count.

Garden of Life Vitamin Code Women

  • Type: capsules
  • Price range: $$

Trying to maintain a raw, whole foods diet, but aren’t sure which supplements can help with this? Enter Garden of Life Vitamin Code Women. These capsules feature no binders or fillers, and are vegetarian, and gluten- and dairy-free. They also include live probiotics and enzymes, with a women-specific formulation that includes folate, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and vitamins A, C, D-3, E, and B-complex. The recommended dose is two capsules twice daily. You can purchase these here for about $30 for 120 capsules.

Rainbow Light Women’s One

  • Type: tablets
  • Price: $$

This once-daily multivitamin for women from Rainbow Light touts a number of benefits, from increasing energy levels to improving immune health. It also features vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin D and iron, that may help to promote bone, breast, heart, and skin health. Meanwhile, you won’t find any artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, or sweeteners in these tablets. It’s also free of gluten and soy. Pricing starts at $41 for 150 tablets and can be purchased here.

New Chapter Every Woman’s One Daily Multi

  • Type: tablets
  • Price: $$$

If digestion is something you’re taking into consideration when searching for a new multivitamin, New Chapter Every Woman’s One Daily Multi could be your answer. This once-daily multivitamin is fermented with probiotics and whole foods to make it easier on your gut. It’s also made with certified organic vegetables and herbs, with no synthetic fillers or animal gelatin. These are priced around $34 for 72 tablets, found here.

Garden of Life Women’s Multi

  • Type: tablets
  • Price: $$$

This organic, whole food multivitamin is a once-daily vegan tablet with 15 vitamins and minerals at 100 percent of the recommended daily value or higher. It’s designed to support a healthy metabolism, promote sustained energy, support blood and heart health, and promote radiant skin and nails. These tablets cost about $35 for 60 and can be found here.

MegaFood Women’s One Daily

  • Type: tablets
  • Price: $$$

Designed to fill nutritional gaps and promote a healthy stress response and balanced mood, this women’s multivitamin is a good option for women following specific dietary guidelines. It’s free of gluten, dairy, and soy, and it’s also vegan, kosher, and non-GMO. You can find these here for around $35 for 60 tablets.

When eating a balanced diet isn’t enough, multivitamins may help

While eating a balanced diet can often provide the necessary daily amount of vitamins and minerals that women need, for some, this might not be enough. But multivitamins may help.

So whether you’re vegetarian and looking to improve your bone health, or prefer supplements in the form of gummies and need to boost your immune system, check out one of these multivitamins as an alternative option to helping your body get the nutrients it needs.

Jessica Timmons has been a writer and editor for more than 10 years. She writes, edits, and consults for a great group of steady and growing clients as a work-at-home mom of four, squeezing in a side gig as a fitness co-director for a martial arts academy.

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