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To take a multivitamin or not? That is a question that pops up in the media from time to time. You may think it’s not an effective supplement or that it’s a waste of money, only generating “expensive pee and poop” instead of better health. And for most of the multivitamins at the grocery store or drugstore, I tend to agree.
Low-quality supplements, made from inactive nutrients that aren’t very absorbable aren’t going to do much. In fact, when they contain additives, allergens, and potential toxins, they may even be harmful.
However, a high-quality multivitamin is a whole different story. In today’s world, we face depleted soils that lead to depleted micronutrients in our food supply coupled with high stress and high exposure to toxins. Because of these conditions, a high quality, absorbable multivitamin with active ingredients (the ready-to-use forms our cells need) becomes your insurance policy for nutrition. It makes sure you have everything your body needs to function at its best.
Many of us have things we want to change our health and metabolism. We want to have more energy, lose weight, prevent chronic disease, or address a health concern. Micronutrients – vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants – are essential for the functioning of each and every cell and ultimately allow for health. They allow us to metabolize our food and turn calories into energy. It’s impossible to reach our health goals without them. We don’t just need one vitamin or one category of nutrients; we need them all.
A good multivitamin will be formulated with the knowledge that all of the micronutrients work together in synchrony. It will be high quality, high potency and have high bioavailability in order to give your cells everything they need for the wheels of metabolism to turn smoothly.
In this article, you’ll learn more about:
Let’s dive in!
Mitochondrial ATP Production
To understand the synergy between nutrients, it is helpful to understand the mitochondria and how exactly they create energy. To learn more about mitochondrial function (and dysfunction), you might be interested in also reading my article “Acetyl L-Carnitine And Alpha Lipoic Acid Supplement Benefits”.
Mitochondria are organelles inside each and every cell of your body whose job it is to take the protein, carbohydrates, and fat you eat in your diet and turn them into energy for your cells to do all the things they do. The energy all cells use is in the form of ATP, short for Adenosine Tri Phosphate. Think of ATP as the energy “currency” that makes everything happen, like the dollars in our bank accounts. If we run low, life becomes more difficult.
Mitochondria ATP production relies on two main things:
You might be having flashbacks to biology class right now as this basic process of cellular “respiration” is how we use oxygen and nutrients to make ATP.
These are the energy processing set of reactions that your body relies on and they all use B-vitamins.
Let’s take a walk through the entire process.
Citric Acid Cycle:
Say you eat a sandwich. You chew the sandwich and it enters your digestive system. The starch in the bread is broken down into single molecules of glucose, which are absorbed in the small intestine and enter your bloodstream. These glucose molecules make their way into cells where the glucose is broken down into a molecule called pyruvate (this is known as glycolysis, the splitting of glucose). (Source 1)
Pyruvate then enters the mitochondria where it releases carbon dioxide as it becomes a molecule called Acetyl CoA.
Proteins, which are made from amino acids, and fats, which are made of fatty acids, also are also broken down to acetyl CoA.
Acetyl CoA is the beginning of the Citric Acid Cycle, a series of reactions (each requiring an enzyme) that produces carbon dioxide, ATP and NADH, and FADH2.
Electron Transport Chain – Last Steps Of Atp Production:
The NADH and FADH2 made by the Citric Acid Cycle are electron carriers that pass electrons across the mitochondrial membrane in a process called the Electron Transport Chain, which produces the bulk of the ATP in the whole process. (Source 1)
That’s not the whole story, though. The energy-producing chemistry, including the Citric Acid Cycle and Electron Transport Chain, are like an energy-creating “combustion engine”. Engines have gears and the gears need to be oiled to function properly.
In this analogy of mitochondria resembling engines, B vitamins are the “gears” in the system. In biochemical terms, the “gears” are called “co-factors”. For example, NADH requires vitamin B3 and FADH2 requires vitamin B2 as “co-factors”. In the diagram below you can see how many green “gears” the citric acid cycle requires.
The minerals are the “grease” for the gears, so to speak. It’s not enough to only take a B vitamin supplement to support metabolism because you might be missing out on minerals like zinc, magnesium, molybdenum, and iron. If the system isn’t greased, then the gears can’t turn and that slows energy production significantly.
Protecting The Mitochondrial “Engine”:
Taking the engine analogy further, mitochondria also produce “exhaust” especially in the Electron Transport Chain (ETC). In the process of moving electrons around, some of the oxygen molecules used in the ETC lose an electron and become superoxide. Oxygen with only one unpaired electron also termed reactive oxygen species (ROS), can attack and damage everything in the cell, especially the mitochondria themselves.
Mitochondria are particularly vulnerable to damage caused by these ROS free radicals in the body. This is where antioxidants come in. Antioxidants, such as vitamins A, C, and E as well as plant compounds act as antioxidants in the body and protect the mitochondrial membranes from this damage so that they can work more effectively and efficiently.
While some of these ROS are normal products of metabolism, this metabolic “exhaust,” can also be a result of the toxin exposures and stress of our modern world. Unfortunately, we live in an environment now where many of us don’t have the antioxidant levels that we need to protect our cells from the amount of exposures we face each day. The results may be faster aging, poor energy, extra weight, and chronic diseases like heart disease, kidney disease, or cancer. (Source 2, 3, 4)
If your brain isn’t full of biochemistry yet, get ready for a little bit more!
Our cells also have another crucial cycle that is involved in almost everything we rely on to function optimally. It is called the Methylation Cycle and in simple terms, it is the process of adding a methyl group (one carbon and three hydrogen molecules) to make neurotransmitters, hormones, and DNA, among other things.
Having a methylation system that works at just the right speed, not too fast and not too slow, is one of the major keys to being in balance. Too much methylation, for example, may cause anxiety and even cancer. Too little methylation may cause depression, elevated estrogen, immune deficiencies, and other symptoms and imbalances.
What makes the methylation cycle run smoothly? Well, among the most important “gears” are B vitamins like folate (B9), vitamins B12, B5, and B6 as well as “oil,” (i.e. minerals) including molybdenum (Mo), manganese (Mn), and magnesium (Mg).
Full Spectrum Liposomal Multivitamins
Now that you can see how vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants all play a role in the most fundamental biochemistry in our body, it becomes easier to see how a well-formulated multivitamin makes sense as a daily health habit. I’ll dive into the benefits of a liposomal delivery system later in this article, including superior absorption, but first, let’s talk about multivitamins and multimineral a little more and see what the research says about this type of supplement.
Beyond the cellular respiration support we’ve talked about already, here are some people that may benefit from taking a multivitamin:
These are just a sprinkling of the people who may be prone to nutrient deficiencies and benefit from supplemental support, but truly most people fall into this category. Now let’s take a closer look at the specific nutrients to look for in a multivitamin, starting with the B vitamins.
Vitamin B Complex Energy Support
Remember that B vitamins are the “gears” that turn the Citric Acid and Methylation Cycles so it’s no wonder that B vitamins for energy are a popular supplement category. Vitamin B complex benefits include pregnancy support, less cravings, better sleep, clearer thinking and heart health. In a study of multivitamins, improvements in mood and stress were attributed to the B vitamins in the multi. (Source 12)
When looking at a B complex or multivitamin, I recommend choosing the B vitamins in their active forms. B vitamins are water-soluble and need to be replenished regularly. Quality supplements will contain 100% or greater (much greater for some of the B vitamins) of the recommended daily value. Let’s take a look at each one.
Vitamin B1 (thiamine) – My preferred supplemental form is thiamin mononitrate, which is used to make TPP or thiamin pyrophosphate in the body (with the help of ATP). TPP is involved in enzymatic reactions involved in metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, energy production and mitochondrial health. (Source 13) Supplementation has been shown to improve cognition in those with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. (Source 14)
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) – The active supplemental form is riboflavin-5-phosphate. Riboflavin is involved in energy production by cycling through the Citric Acid Cycle and Electron Transport Chain in the ATP production process in the mitochondria as the coenzyme FADH2. It’s also an important nutrient in glutathione production, which is known as the body’s “master” antioxidant. (Source 15) Fun fact: it’s the excess riboflavin leaving the system that turns your urine yellow after taking a multivitamin. It’s hard to do double-blind clinical studies on multivitamins because the yellow urine gives away who is receiving the multi and who is getting a placebo.
Vitamin B3 (niacin) – Often found in the active form of nicotinamide or niacin itself in supplements, vitamin B3 is important for cellular metabolism as the coenzyme NAD. Like riboflavin, niacin cycles between the oxidized and reduced form of the coenzyme in order to support ATP production. Niacin is also important for balanced cholesterol production and metabolism in the body. (Source 16) Niacin is responsible for the flushing that some experience when taking high dose niacin supplements, although is often tolerated in a multivitamin that includes all of the B vitamins.
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) - Pantothenic acid itself is the form preferred for supplementation. Vitamin B5 is also involved in energy metabolism as part of coenzyme A that makes up acetyl CoA that enters the Krebs Cycle. Coenzyme A is also important for the production of fatty acids, phospholipids that make up cell and mitochondrial membranes, steroid hormones including cortisol and sex hormones and neurotransmitter production. (Source 17)
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) – Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate, or P5P, is the active form that I recommend for supplemental use. P5P is the coenzyme in the body involved in the metabolism of protein, carbohydrates and fats, along with the synthesis of neurotransmitters (see Methylation Cycle above). It’s involved in the processes of gluconeogenesis, where the liver makes glucose out of other molecules and glycogenolysis, where stored carbohydrates (glycogen) are broken down into glucose. Both of these natural processes help to keep blood sugar stable overnight or when fasting. (Source 18)
Biotin (vitamin B7) - Biotin is an important cofactor for mitochondrial enzymes and therefore, energy metabolism. Biotin also plays a role in central nervous system health, normal development and strength of the hair, skin and nails. One of the first signs of deficiency might be hair loss. (Source 19)
Folate (vitamin B9) - L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate is the active and preferred supplemental form. Folic acid, the synthetic form found in most supplements and fortified foods requires the body to convert into the active form, which many of us are not efficient at because of our genetics or methylation status.
Folate is critical for the growth, development and maintenance of all cells, which is why it is given a lot of attention during pregnancy. It plays a role in the development of red blood cells and folate deficiency is one potential cause for anemia. (Source 20)
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) – Like methyl folate, methyl B12 (methylcobalamin) is the active form and what to look for in a high-quality multivitamin. Methyl B12 and methyl folate often go hand-in-hand in supplements, as both are key for the DNA synthesis required for growth and development. Vitamin B12 is a cofactor for a mitochondrial enzyme and for the synthesis of the amino acid called methionine, preventing high levels of homocysteine that can occur when the methylation cycle is sluggish and are associated with heart disease.
B12 deficiency may result in poor energy, anemia, dementia and impaired immunity. As you can see, vitamin B12 benefits are many! (Source 21)
A vitamin B complex will include all of these vitamins, but still may miss out on the important antioxidants and minerals found in a complete, high potency and an effective multivitamin.
Antioxidants play the critical role of protecting the mitochondrial membranes (but also DNA and all other cell structures) from damage so that energy production isn’t impaired.
What are antioxidants? The chemical explanation is that reactive oxygen species (ROS) and free radicals are very toxic, unstable molecules with an unpaired electron. In searching for an electron to become stable, they steal one from the mitochondrial membrane, thus oxidizing and damaging (rusting) the membrane. An antioxidant prevents this damage by donating its own electron to neutralize the free radical. We want high antioxidant status, simply to protect the structure of our bodies.
Antioxidants can be vitamins, minerals (which I’ll talk about next) or compounds found in colorful plant foods. Let’s take a look at the vitamins first.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) – Like the B vitamins, vitamin C is water-soluble and is perhaps the most famous antioxidant that we obtain from our diet since humans cannot make it ourselves. Vitamin C’s antioxidant properties make it a key player in the health and function of the immune system. In addition to its role as an antioxidant, vitamin C is also a cofactor for 15 enzymatic reactions in the body involved in neurotransmitter production, collagen formation, carnitine synthesis, and more. (Source 22) Liposomal vitamin C is my preferred form.
Vitamin A (retinol) - I prefer using the preformed, active form of vitamin A, as palmitate, in supplements. While beta-carotene and other carotenoids do have vitamin A activity, they are considered provitamins since the body needs to convert them into vitamin A itself. Most people have fairly poor conversion of the provitamins and some extremely poor, but with palmitate you get exactly what you need off the bat. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble nutrient, along with vitamins D, E and K and is utilized best when taken with food.
Vitamin A is an antioxidant vitamin, which serves a protective role in the body. In addition, vitamin A is important for vision, reproduction, growth, maintaining epithelial cells and immune health. (Source 23)
Vitamin E (tocopherols and tocotrienols) – Vitamin E naturally exists in eight forms including four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. It is best to obtain a natural mixture of all of these instead of just one synthetic version as many low quality supplements contain. As another important antioxidant, vitamin E’s primary function is to protect fats from oxidation and damage caused by free radicals. You’ll find vitamin E in cell membranes and around the mitochondria for this specific reason. (Source 24)
Although not antioxidants, there are a couple other vitamins that I haven’t discussed yet that also help to make a multivitamin complete.
Vitamin D is supportive for bone health and immune system balance. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with mitochondrial dysfunction in muscle cells. (Source 25) You’ll want to look for vitamin D3, or cholecalciferol, in your supplements.
Vitamin K is also important. Vitamin K1 is needed for blood clotting and vitamin K2 (as MK-7 in supplements) supports bone health along with vitamin D. Many low-quality options will contain K1, but skip K2.
Lycopene – Lycopene isn’t an essential vitamin or mineral, but a great example of an antioxidant compound that you’ll find in certain full spectrum multivitamins. Lycopene is responsible for the red color found in tomatoes and watermelon and is most well-known for its potential protective role against prostate cancer. (Source 26) Lycopene, in terms of our discussion today, acts as an antioxidant in the body to neutralize ROS. This makes it a helpful compound for protecting against oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction. (Source 27)
Full Spectrum Liposomal Minerals
Now that I’ve covered vitamins and antioxidants, let’s talk about minerals. Trace minerals assist the B vitamins in doing their metabolic jobs. You can think of them as greasing the wheels of metabolism and need to be included in a full spectrum multivitamin. Here are the ones to look for:
Iodine – We can’t talk about metabolism and energy without talking about the thyroid. Thyroid hormones are responsible for regulating your metabolic rate, which regulates how fast your body turns food into energy. Iodine helps to build the structure of thyroid hormone. This is why iodine deficiency causes problems with development and is important throughout life. It’s estimated that two billion people globally don’t get enough iodine in their diet. (Source 28)
Zinc – Zinc is often found in supplements as a chelate, meaning it’s bound to an amino acid for better absorption. Zinc serves a wide variety of roles in the body and affects over 3000 different protein structures in the body. Zinc is important for growth and development (which requires a lot of ATP by the way), immune function, neurotransmitters, reproduction, and transportation. (Source 29) Zinc is also an antioxidant enzyme in the form of SOD or superoxide dismutase. (Source 30) As an incredibly important mineral and one that is a common deficiency, I recommend getting around 25 mg daily as part of a complete multivitamin multimineral supplement.
Selenium – Selenium is another mineral with antioxidant properties, making it important for both immune health and metabolism. Selenium is also involved in thyroid health and responsible for activating thyroid hormone. My preferred supplemental form is L-selenomethionine. Selenium supplementation has been shown as a possible piece of the treatment of various metabolic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. (Source 31)
Manganese – Manganese is another important trace mineral that relates to our discussion of metabolism, methylation and mitochondria. Manganese superoxide dismutase is the main antioxidant enzyme in the mitochondria protecting the mitochondria from oxidative damage. (Source 32) Manganese sulfate is an effective supplemental form.
Chromium – The main role of chromium is to support normal insulin function. Insulin is the hormone that pulls glucose out of the bloodstream from your meal and into your cells where it enters glycolysis, the Krebs Cycle and the Electron Transport Chain for ATP production. It’s for this reason that chromium supplementation supports glycemic control in those with diabetes. (Source 33) The supplemental form I prefer is chromium picolinate.
Molybdenum – Molybdenum is a mineral cofactor for four known enzymes in the body, one of which is specific to the mitochondria. Molybdenum deficiency, in animal research, has been shown to affect the central nervous system. (Source 34) In a supplement, I think molybdenum citrate is the best form.
Since I’ve mentioned the forms of these minerals that I like the most, it’s important to note that liposomal minerals are my preference and recommendation for you. But what exactly is a liposome?
Liposomal Essential Phospholipids
One large issue with multivitamins is that the nutrients are poorly absorbed. A liposomal multivitamin solves this problem. A liposome is a microscopic sphere made up of a phospholipid membrane – much like our own cell membranes - that surrounds the nutrients, allowing for easy absorption and distribution within the body.
Since the liposome mimics the cell membranes and mitochondrial membranes in the body, nutrients are targeted to move into cells for utilization in metabolic function.
Currently, about one third of Americans take a multivitamin. (Source 35) I’d argue that many of them aren’t getting the full benefits because of low cost and low quality supplements that dominate the market. Many contain the incorrect form of nutrients and are poorly absorbed. I believe many more would benefit from the use of liposomal phospholipids.
With Core Med Science, we take the understanding of metabolism at the cellular level, along with the interplay between vitamins, antioxidants and minerals for mitochondrial health that we’ve discussed today and put them into action. With our Liposomal Multivitamin with Active B-Complex, Minerals and Antioxidants it all comes together in synergy, just like in the body.
Liposomal vitamins and minerals are combined into a liposomal multivitamin for superior absorption and bioavailability. We use the B vitamins in their active and usable forms, include the mineral cofactors and antioxidants, all without GMOs, corn, soy and other allergens. If you are a multivitamin user or new to the idea, I invite you to try this product and notice how different you feel when you are actually absorbing the micronutrients your body desires.
Summary Of Key Points Covered Today:
With so many supplements on the market, I know that it can be challenging to make an informed choice. My goal with this article is for you to understand the why behind each nutrient in a multi, what to look for in terms of the active and bioavailable forms and how they all work together in a beautiful symphony for your metabolism.