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Are Expensive Vitamins Better? A Doctor Tells All

DrSugar Answers: Are Expensive Vitamins Better?

DrSugar is in the house! And she's answering your health-related questions, like this one submitted in our Ask Anything group.

Q: Does it matter which brand of vitamins I take? Are the more expensive ones better for you?

A: This is a great question to ask because I'm sure many of FitSugar's readers, including me, have become perplexed and overwhelmed when at the health food store or vitamin store shopping for a daily multivitamin! I think it's great that you are taking a multivitamin, as vitamins have been recommended for years because they help you get the key nutrients your body needs if your diet is low on fruits and vegetables. To learn if high price equals high quality in vitamins, keep on reading.

The Harvard School of Public Health states that a daily multivitamin is a great nutrition insurance policy — meaning it's a great way to make sure you're getting all the nutrients you need to be healthy. However, they do make a point that while the multivitamin is a good "backup" to ensuring proper nutrition, it is far less important for health than choosing healthy foods and having a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and healthy oils. They also recommend choosing a daily multivitamin over "mega-dose vitamins" and "mega-fortified foods" to avoid getting too much of a good thing.

This brings us to the difficult situation: how do I find the right multivitamin when there are so many options, both inexpensive and wallet-busting!? An article from CNN attempts to answer just that question. In terms of safety, a study performed by ConsumerLab.com shows that you can't assume that just any and every vitamin is safe. A majority of multivitamins are not required to undergo rigorous testing procedures by the FDA since they are considered to be dietary supplements. Additionally, there are no uniform rules for the manufacturing of the supplements, which means that vitamins from different companies could be manufactured differently.

What this means is that a multivitamin may not contain what the bottle says it contains (either less or more in terms of the dosage of the vitamins), it could be contaminated with something from the manufacturing plant, or it may have tainted ingredients. The CNN news article recommends choosing vitamins with mainstream names, such as Centrum and One-A-Day, which were found to be free of impurities and accurately labeled by ConsumerLab.com. Additionally, check the vitamin bottle for the United States Pharmacopoeia (USP), NSF International (NSF), or ConsumerLab.com (CL) seals. The USP and NSF are nonprofit groups that verify whether companies offer contamination-free products and use good manufacturing practices. Those brands that carry the seals are generally reliable.

Now, to answer your question, price is NOT a sign of quality. In fact, some of the priciest vitamins failed the ConsumerLab.com tests. Thus, you want to look for a reputable name brand that has the seal of approval from one of the above agencies and is close to the government's Dietary Reference Intake (DRI). It is OK if the amount listed is above the DRI, however, you do not want to exceed the tolerable upper limit. Since you are ingesting these vitamins, I would do a good amount of research to determine their quality and safety and choose the safest, best one for you that doesn’t break the bank!

Have a question for DrSugar? You can send it to me via private message here, and I will forward it to the good doctor.

DrSugar's posts are for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations. Click here for more details.

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