Multivitamins aren’t always the magic health bullets they claim to be, according to a new report from Consumer Lab, an independent testing company focused on health and nutrition products.
Researchers gathered 35 popular multivitamins and tested them for quality. Because they couldn’t test for every single ingredient, they focused on various standard nutrients, including folic acid, calcium, vitamin A, and more, to see whether the multivitamin contained each one as it claimed. If a tablet didn’t include one of the nutrients on their list, they’d make a substitution in its place. So, for instance, if calcium wasn’t included, the researchers tested for iron or zinc instead.
They also tested the tablets for disintegration, or their ability to break down fast enough in liquid. Gluten-free products were tested to see if they were actually gluten-free, while products containing whole herbs or more than 250 milligrams (mg) per daily serving were tested for arsenic, cadmium, and lead contamination. If the tablets passed those criteria, they also needed to meet FDA requirements to earn a final stamp of approval.
The kicker? Nearly 50% of the multivitamins tested failed, either because they had too few nutrients, too many nutrients, inaccurate ingredient labels, or didn’t break down quickly enough. Gummy vitamins were the most likely to fail the test, as only 20% of those actually met the necessary criteria.
Here's why that can be bad news: taking in too much of certain nutrients—particularly fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, De, E, and K—can cause health problems since your body can’t flush out the excess easily, meaning they usually end up stored in your liver. For instance, if a high amount of vitamin A builds up in your body for an extended period of time, that can lead to hypervitaminosis A, a rare condition that can cause headaches, skin irritation, or joint and bone pain.
This problem was evident in their findings. In fact, the test found that one tablet actually contained 813 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid per daily serving, rather than the 300 mcg listed on the label. That’s three times your required daily intake, which has the potential to lead to kidney problems, the report authors say.
Larger tablets were also an issue, since some of them failed to disintegrate after 30 minutes, a standard established by the United Stated Pharmacopeia. That can be a waste, since they may not even be fully absorbed by your body.
If you’re truly deficient in a nutrient—which isn’t likely if you’re eating a balanced diet—and you're taking a tablet that doesn’t actually contain the amount of vitamin D or B12 you’re supposed to be getting, that can prevent you from getting what your body needs to function at its best. (Here are three vitamins you really don’t need to take.)
Americans spent nearly $6 billion on multivitamins in 2014, according to that National Institutes of Health, so if you're spending money on multivitamins, it's not just that they might not actually be good for you—they might actually be wasting your money if you pick the wrong one. The good news is, there were tablets that passed the test. So if you’re going to shell out your cash, here are the ones the report authors recommend. Keep in mind that many of these are cheaper options that outperformed their more expensive counterparts.
Adults Overall, Kirkland Signature Daily Multi: This option contains 100% of the daily recommended intake of many vitamins and minerals without exceeding maximum intake recommendations.
For Men, Berkley & Jensen’s Men’s Daily Multivitamins & Minerals: Compared to the other products tested, you can find just about all of the vitamins and minerals required by men with this option, the report authors note. It falls a bit short on vitamin C, but your diet should supplement that. "Remember, multis are not really meant to provide all of your vitamins and minerals, but help assure you get enought," they wrote.
For Women, Up & Up Women’s Daily Multivitamin: This pick grants a good dose of vitamin C and D at safe levels.
For Adults 50+, Equate Complete Multivitamin 50+: Many products passed the test for this group. With this option, you'll get most of your daily required nutrients.
For Kids, Flintstones Gummies Complete: This will ensure your kid gets the recommended amount of vitamins A, B6, B12, C, and D.
For Your Pup, Pet-Tabs Original Formula: This is the only multivitamin for dogs of seven pet options that passed quality testing.
The article Nearly 50% Of Multivitamins Don't Live Up to Their Claims originally appeared on Men’s Health.