What are multivitamin/mineral (MVM) dietary supplements?
From Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of
Health (October 2013)
Click to updates and additional information
Multivitamin/mineral (MVM) supplements contain a combination
of vitamins and minerals, and sometimes other ingredients as
well. They go by many names, including multis and
multiples or simply vitamins. The vitamins and
minerals in MVMs have unique roles in the body. For more
information about each one, see our
dietary supplement fact sheets.
What kinds of
MVM supplements are available?
There are many types of MVMs in the marketplace.
Manufacturers choose which vitamins, minerals, and other
ingredients, as well as their amounts, to include in their
Among the most common MVMs are basic, once-daily products
containing all or most vitamins and minerals, with the
majority in amounts that are close to recommended amounts.
Higher-potency MVMs often come in packs of two or more pills
to take each day. Manufacturers promote other MVMs for
special purposes, such as better performance or energy,
weight control, or improved immunity. These products usually
contain herbal and other ingredients (such as echinacea and
glucosamine) in addition to vitamins and minerals.
recommended amounts of nutrients people should get vary by
age and gender and are known as Recommended Dietary
Allowances (RDAs) and Adequate Intakes (AIs). One value for
each nutrient, known as the Daily Value (DV), is selected
for the labels of dietary supplements and foods. A DV is
often, but not always, similar to one's RDA or AI for that
nutrient. The label provides the %DV so that you can see how
much (what percentage) a serving of the product contributes
to reaching the DV.
Who takes MVM supplements?
Research has shown that more than one-third of Americans
take MVMs. About one in four young children takes an MVM,
but adolescents are least likely to take them. Use increases
with age during adulthood so that by age 71 years, more than
40% take an MVM.
Women; the elderly; people with more education, more income,
healthier diets and lifestyles, and lower body weights; and
people in the western United States use MVMs most often.
Smokers and members of certain ethnic and racial groups
(such as African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans)
are less likely to take a daily MVM.
What are some effects of MVMs on health?
People take MVMs for many reasons. Here are some examples of
what research has shown about using them to increase
nutrient intakes, promote health, and reduce the risk of
Increase nutrient intakes
Taking an MVM increases nutrient intakes and helps people
get the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals when
they cannot or do not meet these needs from food alone. But
taking an MVM can also raise the chances of getting too much
of some nutrients, like iron, vitamin A, zinc, niacin, and
folic acid, especially when a person uses more than a basic,
people take an MVM as a form of dietary or nutritional
"insurance." Ironically, people who take MVMs tend to
consume more vitamins and minerals from food than those who
don't. Also, the people least likely to get enough nutrients
from diet alone who might benefit from MVMs are the least
likely to take them.
Health promotion and chronic disease prevention
For people with certain health problems, specific MVMs might
be helpful. For example, a study showed that a particular
high-dose formula of several vitamins and minerals slowed
vision loss in some people with age-related macular
degeneration. Although a few studies show that MVMs might
reduce the overall risk of cancer in certain men, most
research shows that healthy people who take an MVM do not
have a lower chance of getting cancer, heart disease, or
diabetes. Based on current research, it's not possible to
recommend for or against the use of MVMs to stay healthier
reason we know so little about whether MVMs have health
benefits is that studies often use different products,
making it hard to compare their results to find patterns.
Many MVMs are available, and manufacturers can change their
composition at will. It is therefore difficult for
researchers to study whether a specific combination of
vitamins and minerals affects health. Also, people with
healthier diets and lifestyles are more likely to take
dietary supplements, making it hard to identify any benefits
from the MVMs.
Should I take an MVM?
cannot take the place of eating a variety of foods that are
important to a healthy diet. Foods provide more than
vitamins and minerals. They also have fiber and other
ingredients that may have positive health effects. But
people who don't get enough vitamins and minerals from food
alone, are on low-calorie diets, have a poor appetite, or
avoid certain foods (such as strict vegetarians and vegans)
might consider taking an MVM. Health care providers might
also recommend MVMs to patients with certain medical
people might benefit from taking certain nutrients found in
MVMs. For example:
Women who might become pregnant should get 400
mcg/day of folic acid from fortified foods and/or dietary
supplements to reduce the risk of birth defects of the brain
and spine in their newborn babies.
Pregnant women should take an iron supplement as
recommended by their health care provider. A prenatal MVM is
likely to provide iron.
Breastfed and partially breastfed infants should
receive vitamin D supplements of 400 IU/day, as should
non-breastfed infants who drink less than about 1 quart per
day of vitamin D-fortified formula or milk.
In postmenopausal women, calcium and vitamin D
supplements may increase bone strength and reduce the risk
People over age
should get recommended amounts of vitamin B12 from fortified
foods and/or dietary supplements because they might not
absorb enough of the B12 that is naturally found in food.
Can MVMs be harmful?
Taking a basic MVM is unlikely to pose any risks to health.
But if you consume fortified foods and drinks (such as
cereals or beverages with added vitamins and minerals) or
take other dietary supplements, make sure that the MVM you
take doesn't cause your intake of any vitamin or mineral to
go above the upper safe levels. (Use the
Online DRI tool to learn the upper safe level of each
particular attention to the amounts of vitamin A,
beta-carotene (which the body can convert to vitamin A), and
iron in the MVM.
Women who get too much vitamin A during pregnancy can
increase the risk of birth defects in their babies. This
risk does not apply to beta-carotene, however. Smokers, and
perhaps former smokers, should avoid MVMs with large amounts
of beta-carotene and vitamin A because these ingredients
might increase the risk of developing lung cancer.
Adult men and postmenopausal women should avoid
taking MVMs that contain 18 mg or more of iron unless their
doctor has told them that they have iron deficiency or
inadequacy. When the body takes in much more iron than it
can eliminate, the iron can collect in body tissues and
organs, such as the liver and heart, and damage them. Iron
supplements are a leading cause of poisoning in children
under age 6, so keep any products containing iron (such as
children's chewable MVMs or adults' iron supplements) out of
Are there any interactions with MVMs that I should know
with recommended intake levels of nutrients don't usually
interact with medications, with one important exception. If
you take medicine to reduce blood clotting, such as warfarin
(Coumadinฎ and other brand names), talk to your health care
provider before taking any MVM or dietary supplement with
vitamin K. Vitamin K lowers the drug's effectiveness and
doctors base the medicine dose partly on the amount of
vitamin K you usually consume in foods and supplements.
Which kind of MVM should I choose?
to a health care provider to help you figure out whether you
should take an MVM and, if so, which one is best for you.
Consider basic MVMs whose amounts of most or all vitamins
and minerals do not go above the DVs. These MVMs usually
have low amounts of calcium and magnesium, so some people
might need to take one or both minerals separately. Make
sure that the product does not have too much vitamin A and
consider choosing an MVM designed for your age, sex, and
other factors (like pregnancy). MVMs for men often contain
little or no iron, for example. MVMs for seniors usually
provide more calcium and vitamins D and B12 and less iron
than MVMs for younger adults. Prenatal MVMs for pregnant
women often provide vitamin A as beta-carotene.
Where can I find out more about MVMs?
For general information on MVMs:
Office of Dietary Supplements Health Professional Fact Sheet
on Multivitamin/mineral Supplements
For information on recommended intakes of vitamins
Office of Dietary Supplements Vitamin and Mineral Supplement
Nutrient recommendations: Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI)
Online DRI tool
Daily Value (DV) tables
For more advice on buying dietary supplements:
Office of Dietary Supplements Frequently Asked Questions:
Which brand(s) of dietary supplements should I purchase?
For more information on healthy eating:
Dietary Guidelines for Americans
fact sheet by the Office of Dietary Supplements provides
information that should not take the place of medical
advice. We encourage you to talk to your health care
providers (doctor, registered dietitian, pharmacist, etc.)
about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary
supplements and what may be best for your overall health.
Any mention in this publication of a specific brand name is
not an endorsement of the product.
NIH Launches Dietary Supplement Label Database
June 17, 2013 (News Release)
Researchers, as well as health care providers and consumers,
can now see the ingredients listed on the labels of about
17,000 dietary supplements by looking them up on a website.
The Dietary Supplement Label Database, free of charge and
hosted by the National Institutes of Health, is available at
Food and Drug Administration on
Fortify Your Knowledge About Vitamins
FDA 101: Dietary Supplements
National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements
Protect Your Health Joint FDA/WebMD resource
Dietary Reference Intakes: A Risk Assessment Model for
Establishing Upper Intake Levels for Nutrients