This article provides an overview of important facts about vitamins, what to consider when choosing vitamin supplements, and a resource for high-quality vitamin supplements. You can learn more about a particular vitamin by clicking on its name.
FAT SOLUBLE VITAMINS
- Risk of Toxicity HIGH from animal-based supplement sources (retinoids)
- Low toxicity risk from plant-based sources (carotenoids)
- Foods Sources: spinach, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, red peppers
- Deficiency is common
- Synthesized from UVB sunlight
- Not highly concentrated in food
- Current standard intake recommendations do not consider most new vitamin D research
- D3 Supplement necessary and crucial most of the year
- D3 supplements appear superior to D2 supplements
- Dose depends on many factors – where you live, time of year, age, skin pigmentation, use of sunscreen, body fat, genetics
- Generally 1,000-4,000 IUs is recommended
- Toxicity occurs at very high doses – 100,000 IUs or more for weeks or months
- Food Sources: salmon, sardines, beef liver, eggs
- Supplements – d-alpha is natural form; dl-alpha is synthetic form
- Natural form (d-alpha) appears to have less risks associated with its use then synthetic (dl-alpha) form
- 1,000 mg/day is the tolerable upper intake level set for all forms of vitamin E
- If taking a supplement, a mixed tocopherol supplement is theoretically best (there are 8 forms of vitamin E, alpha-tocopherol being most active)
- Food Sources – Leafy green vegetables, sunflower seeds, olive oil, eggs, wheat germ, avocados
- Vitamin K1 obtained from diet easily via green leafy and cruciferous vegetables
- Vitamin K2 (MK-7) supplement appears warranted – has many positive biological effects and is often lacking in our diet
- Vitamin K2 MK-7 is often recommended with vitamin D supplementation
- No known toxicity – not stored readily in body
- Food sources: K1 (green leafy and cruciferous veggies); K2 – Natto (fermented soy, chickpeas, black beans)
WATER SOLUBLE VITAMINS
- 400-500 mg/day orally appears to be the maximum the body can utilize – any excess is excrete
- Oral doses of 1 gram+ may increase risk of kidney stones in susceptible individuals
- At oral doses of 2 grams+ nausea and diarrhea may occur
- Food Sources: red pepper, green pepper, broccoli, & strawberries are great sources of vit C – camu camu is off-the charts for vit C!
- Excess consumption appears to be non-toxic
- Food Sources – Enriched foods (breads, cereals), legumes, peas, seeds and nuts
- Very little riboflavin is absorbed beyond 27 mg (20x RDA) per a single dose
- No known toxicity at high doses
- Food sources – dairy, eggs, mushrooms, meat, almonds, green leafy vegetables, grains (whole and enriched)
- Toxicity through supplementation is possible – less than 30 mg/day appears to be best to reduce risk of adverse reactions – niacin from food is not known to cause adverse effects
- Food sources: meat, fish, peas, peanuts, mushrooms, eggs, enriched grain products
- Toxicity – no UL set – not very toxic
- Food sources – meat, egg yolk, mushrooms, potatoes, avocado, cruciferous vegetables, yogurt, whole grains
- 100 mg/day or less (to prevent toxicity) from supplementation
- Food Sources – salmon, tuna, meat, sunflower seeds, spinach, potatoes, bananas, nuts
- No upper intake level (UL) is established – 10-50 mg/day has shown no adverse effects
- Food Sources – beef liver, eggs, salmon, sunflower seeds, sweet potatoes, almonds
- 5-MTHF (natural folate) appears to be superior form of supplement over folic acid (synthetic)
- Most supplements contain folic acid
- Long-term use of folic acid (synthetic) supplementation may have health consequences
- MTHFR (genetic polymorphism) affects many people – affects folate metabolism and can lead to deficiency
- Supplementation of L-5-MTHF appears to be readily absorbed and beneficial to those with MTHFR
- Blood serum folate tests may not indicate functional deficiency – peripheral blood smears and homocysteine levels may help in folate deficiency diagnosis
- The tolerable upper level intake (UL) is set at 1,000 mcg
- Food sources – Green leafy vegetables, mushrooms, cruciferous vegetables, citrus, nuts, needs, legumes
- A lot of people are deficient – especially vegans, vegetarians, and those with gut inflammation
- Typical clinical tests (serum B12) are likely inadequate for assessing functional vitamin B12 status
- Methylmalonic acid (MMA) urine or MMA serum test may provide better indication of B12 status
- Fortified foods and most supplements in form of cyanocobalamin (1% absorption rate)
- Methylcobalamin supplement appears to be most effective form of vitamin B12 supplement
- B12 supplements are vegan friendly – they are synthesized from bacteria
- No toxicity established – high doses appear safe
- Vegetarian food sources are B12 analogs that they body cannot use – they also interfere with the absorption of the forms the body can use
- Food Sources – Liver, Salmon, Eggs
VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTATION CONSIDERATIONS
From my review of the literature, it appears that vitamin supplementation is warranted. Many people are deficient in a number of vitamins and proper vitamin supplementation has the potential to correct deficiencies. These vitamins must be obtained exogenously – we have to get them somehow, either through diet, supplementation, or other means. A well-formulated diet and adequate UVB sunlight exposure will ensure that we are receiving most if not all of the vitamins we need on a regular basis. But, in our world today, it is very easy to eat foods that are not nutrient dense, such as cookies and pies – this practice is common. And, a lot of us live in places where UVB sun exposure is not possible many months of the year and we spend a lot of times indoors. Because of this we may develop a vitamin D deficiency. Even for those eating very healthy diets, supplementation can serve as insurance. The risks of taking a well-formulated vitamin supplement is low and the potential health benefits are high. I also have a hypothesis that they may be necessary due to the environment most of us live in today. Due to exposure to many environmental toxicants and our high stress lifestyles coupled with the potential variation in nutrient densities of available foods we may be at an increased need for these essential vitamins.
There are a few vitamins that are key to pay attention to in terms of need and toxicity. From my review of the literature, vitamin D appears to be essential to be taken in vitamin form. Please review to my article on vitamin D for further information. And in taking vitamin D, taking vitamin K2 (MK-7) concurrently is likely a good practice. Because of the many important roles in the body, vitamin D levels should be checked at least twice a year, at the end of summer and end of winter to ensure that levels remain sufficient.
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is of key interest. This is because many people are deficient or at risk of becoming deficient, the test to detect B12 deficiency may not provide an accurate representation of functional B12 status, the main form of B12 supplement (cyanocobalamin) may not actually be providing the body with useable B12, the food sources of B12 are limited, and the health challenges of clinical B12 deficiency may be irreversible.
Vitamin B9 (folate) is also key. The synthetic form, folic acid, typically found in supplements, is not well absorbed and may actually cause health challenges. L-5-MTHF (natural folate) appears to be the superior form of vitamin B9 for use in a supplement.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN CHOOSING A SUPPLEMENT
Based on my review of the literature, in choosing a supplement, this is what I look for:
- Vitamin A – Carotenoid form – (not retinoid form)
- Vitamin D – D3 (cholecalciferol) not D2 (ergocalciferol); dose dependent on your particular needs
- Vitamin E – d-alpha (natural form) rather than dl-alpha (synthetic form); dose <1000 mg
- Vitamin K – K2 (MK-7) menaquinone supplement (derived from non-GMO soy or chickpeas) as opposed to K1 (Phylloquinone) – K1 form is fine but found concentrated in green leafy vegetables; K2 not typically concentrated in diet
- Vitamin C – Dose: 400-500 mg – 1,000 mgs (1 gram) ideal; not exceeding 2 grams – all forms appear equal
- Vitamin B1: Thiamin – Non-toxic
- Vitamin B2: Riboflavin – Non-toxic but more than 27 grams appears to provide no benefit
- Vitamin B3: Niacin – less than 30 mg
- Vitamin B5: Pantothenic Acid – Non-toxic
- Vitamin B6: Pyridoxine – 100 mg or less
- Vitamin B7: Biotin – 10-50 mg
- Vitamin B9: Folate – 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (L-5-MTHF) not folic acid; 1,000 mcg or less
- Vitamin B12: Cobalamin – Methylcobalamin>adenosylcobalamin although adenosylcobalamin can provide benefit; cyanocobalamin should be avoided; non-toxic
You may have noticed that I did not place a dose for some of the vitamins. This is because no toxicity has been established and high doses appear safe. This does not mean taking a lot is better, it just means that taking a lot has not been shown to cause adverse effects; it very well could though. In some cases, taking higher doses does not provide additional benefit and may be excreted, which means you are wasting your money and putting unnecessary stress on the body.
I put vitamins D and B12 in bold because they are common deficiencies and in my opinion the vitamins to be most conscious of due advancements in research regarding adequate levels and testing for deficiencies. Most people should probably be supplementing with them, unless they live near the equator and eat beef liver or clams regularly.
BEST SUPPLEMENTS I’VE FOUND
- Vitamin D and K2 – $0.33/day
- Vitamin D – $0.13/serving/day
- Vitamin K – $0.16/day
- B Complex – $0.34/day
- B12 – $0.07/day
- Vitamin C – $0.25/serving – 2/day = $0.50/day
- Vitamin E – $0.18/day
- Vitamin A – $0.30/day
Total cost of supplementation – ~$1.65/day for all; $0.67 for Vitamin D, K2, & B-Complex
I searched for supplements that were in their most active form, free from common allergens like soy, Non-GMO Project certified, third-party verified, kosher, free of fillers, coloring, flavorings (natural or synthetic), and vegan. These were the best I found on Amazon.
The combined “D and K2” supplement has 5,000 IUs of vitamin D3. If you do not need that much I included them separately as “Vitamin D” and “Vitamin K”. I like the combination supplement as it has a lot of third-party certifications.
The B complex contains all the B vitamins. I could not find a B complex without the potential to cause a niacin flush. Due to the way B vitamins work in the body taking them together makes the most sense. I also included a B12 individual supplement in the event your health care professional has recommended its sole usage. If this is a case consulting with a physician may be wise as they can provide an injection which can correct a deficiency.
Just because I included all of these supplements does not mean I encourage readers to take them all. I just lay out information and its up to you to decide. I do encourage you to check my information and verify it for yourself. I placed the supplements in what i have found to be the order of importance for healthy individuals (free of deficiency or disease). Vitamin D (due to lack of UVB sun exposure during many months off the year) and a B-complex (due to potential B12 deficiency) appear to be supplements that could benefit many people. Vitamin K2 is not concentrated in most diets and due to its important role with vitamin D it appears to be wise to utilize it if supplementing with vitamin D
Unfortunately, I could not find ANY multivitamin that met my rigorous standards. So, taking them individually seems best.
And yes, these vitamins are more expensive than your average vitamins. But, you get what you pay for. In my opinion $1-$2 a day is not bad considering the potential benefits. And if you cannot afford this there is still value in utilizing lower-quality supplements. From what I have found the B-complex (particularly B12 and B9) is of vital importance in terms of the form the vitamin is in. Vitamin D is also important but you can find cheaper animal-derived versions that will produce the same effect in the body.