Many people claim they have become more energetic and healthier after consuming multivitamins while others do not feel multivitamins make any difference to their quality of life. Even some doctors in Singapore are dismissive of such products, telling patients that maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise would be good enough. So who is correct?
Firstly, when people say they feel healthy or good after consuming something, the “feel-good” factor might be psychological. A good, scientific and objective way to judge the efficacy or strength of any health supplement is to refer to medical reports/health screening results of the user before and after consumption of the said supplements.
Secondly, it is actually difficult to maintain a healthy diet in a stressful environment. Some people are so busy with work that they do not even have proper meals or regular meal hours, including some doctors! Furthermore, with the advent of commercial farming, be it cattle or crops, many foods have been tainted or even poisoned with excessive amounts of chemicals, pesticides and growth hormones which are not part of a healthy human diet. There is no escape from such “curses” unless one turns to consumption of expensive organic foods only.
Thirdly, it is true some mutivitamins or health supplements may not be effective at all. Worse still, these may be harmful to health! Most vitamins in cheap supplements are made or processed with petroleum derivatives or hydrogenated sugars. Even though they are often called natural, most of these non-food or synthetic vitamins are isolated substances which are crystalline in structure. Vitamins occurring naturally in food are not crystalline and never isolated. See comparison below. Vitamins found in any real food are chemically and structurally different from those commonly found in ‘natural vitamin’ formulas.
Therefore there is a significant difference in the quality of vitamins. For instance, Vitamin C obtained from acerola cherries and citrus fruits has over 15.6 times the antioxidant effect compared to non-food Vitamin C from ascorbic acid.
So how do we select a good and effective multivitamin product?
1) Ensure the ingredients come from natural food sources, and if your budget allows it, go for organic food sources. Read the product label carefully before purchase. If there are chemical names mentioned, it is probably wise to forego it. For example, compare Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) with Vitamin C (from organic acerola extract, organic amla, organic food blend). Which one do you think is much better?
2) Observe the product packaging. A product in an amber glass bottle is better than one in an opaque plastic bottle. It shows that the manufacturer is willing to offer a more expensive packaging (ie. higher material cost) so as to safeguard the strength/efficacy of ingredients.
3) Select a brand name that comes with a strong reputation and favourable customer reviews. Most often you may have to pay a premium for their products. If companies such as Garden of Life and Country Life have been producing organic foods-based multivitamins since the first day of their business, you will know there is quality in their products!
 Williams D. ORAC values for fruits and vegetables. Alternatives, 1999;7(22):171