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Do multivitamins contain enough vitamin D?

Posted on: February 13, 2018   by  Holli Lapes, RD, LD/N


You may have heard that many people are not getting enough vitamin D. This is true. In fact, it is estimated that 1 billion people worldwide either have insufficient or deficient blood levels of this key micronutrient.[1] So, you may be thinking, well I probably get enough in my multivitamin. But, this is seldom the case.

Let’s begin by discussing the purpose of a multivitamin formula. A multivitamin helps us fill in the gaps from our diet. Most commercial multivitamins offer merely a sampling of vitamins and minerals. The amounts of vitamins and minerals contained in most multivitamins on the market are just not enough to promote optimal health. One reason for this is that manufacturers couldn’t possibly fit everything into just one or two capsules. Although some multivitamins do provide the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) for a given nutrient, we face a dilemma when it comes to vitamin D. The RDA for vitamin D has proved itself entirely inadequate based on the widespread lack of healthy blood levels of this hormone-like vitamin.

Upon reviewing the label of six commonly used multivitamins on the market, we found that, on average, these multivitamins contain only 1,000 IU vitamin D per daily serving. Because many people are deficient in vitamin D, the downfall here is that a large number of people will require a much higher dose. Research has shown that multivitamins containing 2,000 IU per day are more effective at raising vitamin D levels than 1,000 IU per day. Although this may be helpful for some of the population, even an additional 1,000 IU of vitamin D in a multivitamin (for a total of 2,000 IU per daily serving) may not be enough for those who are deficient.[2]

The good news is that there is a solution. Adding in a separate vitamin D supplement to your regimen, in addition to what is in your multivitamin, is an inexpensive and effective way to optimize your levels. Tip: Take your vitamin D supplement with a fat-containing meal or snack for better absorption.

Simply put, the answer is; no, multivitamins quite often do not contain enough vitamin D to meet our needs to not only have sufficient levels, but to truly optimize our vitamin D blood levels. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, because nutrition should be highly individualized. As is the case with vitamin D supplementation. Although not everyone will need a relatively high dose such as 5,000 IU (125 mcg) in their multivitamin, others may need 10,000 IU. Factors such as genetics, body weight, age, skin color, geographic latitude, time spent in the sun, and sunscreen use all influence our vitamin D levels.

The average 1,000–2,000 IU contained in multivitamins may be helpful in maintaining levels that are already in the optimal range, but such doses will seldom maintain optimal levels for long. Which, by the way, is 50 – 80 ng/mL on a 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood test based on Life Extension’s review of the scientific literature. This level is different from the standard reference range which categorizes sufficiency as a level greater than 20 or 30 ng/mL.[3] It’s important to note that the Endocrine Society now recommends maintaining a minimum level of above 40 ng/ml.

So, where does one begin? The best way to begin optimizing your vitamin D blood levels is to take a 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood test to determine where you’re at.

Whether you are taking a multivitamin or not, a vitamin D blood test will help you and your doctor determine how much vitamin D you may need to be taking. Few foods contain vitamin D and those that do only offer it in relatively small amounts, with one of the highest being 465 IU from a three-ounce can of pink salmon.[4]

If your levels are well below the standard reference range, doctors will often prescribe a short-term, high-dose of vitamin D as a pharmaceutical drug (in the form of vitamin D2), which is different from an over-the-counter dietary supplement by the form (D3) and dose (typically ranging from 1,000 IU to 7,000 IU). For long-term use, studies have shown that D3 cholecalciferol is best.[5]

About the author:

Holli Lapes, RD, LD/N is a Blogger & Social Media Content Specialist at Life Extension. Holli is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist based out of South Florida. Holli believes that quality dietary supplements are an essential tool that have a variety of applications from maintaining good health to managing chronic disease. You can see more of her blog posts by visiting http://blog.lifeextension.com. Connect with us on social media; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!


[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3571641/

[2] http://www.lifeextension.com/Magazine/2012/SS/Vitamin-D-Blood-Levels/Page-01

[3] https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jeph/2017/2517207/tab2/

[4] http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-D

[5] https://www.vitamindcouncil.org/meta-analysis-of-rcts-compares-efficacy-of-d2-vs-d3-supplementation/


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