Multis are the backbone of any supplements section and practically sell themselves. Yet, as individual vitamins, minerals and nutraceuticals grow in popularity, manufacturers are going out of their way to make their multiples unique—to such an extent that the once-specific "multivitamin" category is beginning to lose meaning.
Vitamins are one of the body's building blocks. They help maintain the structure of the heart, skin, lungs and other organs; contribute to the production of hormones, enzymes and new cells; and help the body repair tissue, fight disease and produce energy. In short, vitamins allow the body to work the way it's supposed to, thereby reducing the risk of longtime diseases such as arthritis or cancer.
A June 2002 Journal of the American Medical Association review recommending that all adults take multivitamins to prevent heart disease, neural tube defects and colon and breast cancer, underscores what natural health retailers have known for years—most Americans fail to get enough vitamins from their fruit- and vegetable-starved diets. Minerals, such as calcium for bone growth and iron for hemoglobin transport, are equally lacking—to say nothing of phytochemicals or therapeutic doses to meet special needs.
Traditional vitamin and mineral supplements aren't enough because they lack vital nutrients found in foods, contends Jery K. Cochern, president of Pure Essence Labs in Las Vegas. "There's no such thing as a vitamin C tree or a B6 bush," he says. "Instead, whole foods are blends of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, tissue salts, enzymes, flavones, carotenoids and metabolic pigments. It's these other factors that are so difficult to obtain in a normal diet, and it's vastly important to include them in supplements."
Pure Essence Labs' three multiples all contain high levels of tonic herbs—plants, says Cochern, that are safe for daily consumption and provide hundreds of these hard-to-find flavones, carotenoids, lignans and terpenes.
Cochern started the food-based supplements trend when he founded Rainbow Light in 1981, but other manufacturers quickly followed suit. In addition to standard vitamins and minerals, most modern multis include herbal extracts, enzymes and vitamin-like nutrients such as bioflavonoids and carnitine.
Bluebonnet Nutrition Corp.'s Super Earth Formula caplets contain astragalus, ginger, ginkgo, garlic, panax ginseng and horsetail extracts as well as plant-based nutrients such as spirulina, chlorella and chlorophyll. "It's a whole food, multinutrient formula," says Beeta Bagheri, technical director of the Sugarland, Texas-based company.
"Everyone says more is better," says Marshall Post, vice president of Ronkonkoma, N.Y.-based American Health. "Although that's not always true, we wanted to deliver as many nutrients as we could in a complete formula." American Health's flagship multi, More Than A Multiple, contains more than 100 ingredients, including enzymes, amino acids, herbs and whole-food phytonutrients, plus some not-so-common ingredients such as mushroom complex, citrus complex and bee products.
A variety of nutrients does more than hit all the bases; it optimizes the effectiveness of each ingredient. "Every nutrient depends on others to accomplish its metabolic goals," Cochern says. Vitamin C renews the antioxidant capabilities of vitamin E and enhances iron uptake. Calcium absorption depends on magnesium and vitamin D. "Single-nutrient products have value when recommended for therapeutic purposes in clinical settings," he says, "but for general dietary supplementation, we need the vast varieties of micronutrients found in living foods."
Not Your Parents' Pill
Until just a few decades ago, multiple vitamin and mineral supplements were marketed as stop-gap nutrients, largely independent of a person's health status or gender. Times have changed. Today's tailored multi formulas reflect what scientific studies are beginning to bear out: High doses of individual nutrients may help prevent disease, and portions of the population, especially the elderly, are at high risk of inadequate nutrient intake.
Many manufacturers now offer 10 or more multivitamin products targeting consumers according to gender, age, health conditions or lifestyle needs. Women in the midst of menopause have their choice of multis to reduce hot flashes and mood swings; both sexes can choose from herb-packed multiples; and men at risk for heart disease may opt for a special-ingredient multivitamin.
"Gender and age determine different nutritional requirements," says Kathy McKnight, vice president of marketing for Natural Factors in Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada. "It is essential to have customized formulas for men and women." Natural Factor's MultiStart Men's 50+ Formula, for instance, contains saw palmetto for prostate health, ginger for the circulatory and digestive systems, and panax ginseng for energy and stamina. Its MultiStart Women's Formula includes green tea extract to support immune function and fight free radicals.
Multiples, says Cochern, will become even more sharply differentiated along gender lines as the unique nutritional needs of the sexes become more apparent. Convenience plays a part in new formulations as well. Pure Essence Labs' PreFema multi for women includes hormone-balancing herbs, Cochern says, "so a woman doesn't need to use a second product to help calm hot flashes, mood swings and other discomforts associated with perimenopause and menopause."
Specialty nutrients are also finding their way into multivitamins. Of Bluebonnet Nutrition Corp.'s six multi offerings, four feature lutein, a carotenoid found in marigolds and spinach. "Lutein filters out phototoxic light from the macula," Bagheri says. "It may be beneficial in age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness." Another of the company's multiples, Super Vita-CoQ10 Formula, includes coenzyme-Q10, a vitamin-like substance thought to be helpful for cardiovascular health.
The Big Squeeze
So how are manufacturers fitting phytonutrients, enzymes, minerals, vitamins and more into one pill?
"As great and convenient as it would be to get all your essential nutrients in one tablet, it just isn't possible," says McKnight. "Many popular one-per-day multiples are perceived [by consumers] as providing all the essential nutrition in just one pill ... but our MultiStart Women's Formula, for example, contains [the recommended] 1,000 mg of calcium in a daily dose of six pills per day."
American Health takes another tack to ensure optimal nutrition. Its sustained-release Duotab formulation, taken three times a day, allows nutrients to be absorbed throughout the body throughout the day, says Post. "It works in two stages, so you get nutrients morning and night—like taking two pills instead of one," he says. "And it's not a horse pill."
Whether one a day, or six, modern multiples offer something for everyone. From convenient, complete-nutrient products to formulas tailored to the tiniest nuances of gender, age and health, new multi categories will ensure that your strongest-selling supplements stay that way.
Catherine Monahan has published more than 150 articles on health, medicine and nutrition. She can be reached at [email protected].
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIV/number 3/p. 90, 94, 96
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIV/number 3/p. 96