Multivitamins – Does yours measure up?

Many people take a multivitamin each day as a measure to staying healthy.  Some of those people are experiencing actual benefits, while the others are wasting their money and effort and simply making expensive urine.


A consumer study released in 2007 revealed that “Fifty-two percent of multivitamins recently selected for testing by were found to be contaminated with lead, unable properly break apart, or to contain significantly more or less ingredient than claimed.

Some of the most serious problems found included:

  • A women’s multivitamin was contaminated with 15.3 micrograms of lead per daily serving. This is more than ten times the amount of lead permitted without a warning label in California — the only state to regulate lead in supplements — and several times the normal daily exposure to lead. Lead at this level may not in itself be toxic in adults, but lead is stored in the body and unnecessary exposure should be avoided. This product should not be shared with children, as they are susceptible to lead poisoning at levels as low as 6 micrograms per day.
  • A children’s vitamin contained 216% of its labeled amount of vitamin A, potentially delivering amounts in excess of those tolerable in children up to eight years old. The product contained 5,400 IU of vitamin A in the retinol form in a daily serving of three gummy characters. The upper tolerable level (UL) set by the Institute of Medicine is 2,000 IU for children one to three years of age and 3,000 IU for those four to eight years old. Excess vitamin A in the retinol form is of concern as it may lead to bone weakening.
  • Three multis did not fully break apart (disintegrate), including a women’s, a men’s, and a one for seniors. Such products may pass through the body without being fully utilized.
  • One multivitamin contained none of its claimed vitamin A. Four others lacked their full expected amounts of vitamin A or folic acid, coming up short by 15% to 46%.

The newest report can be found here (you may want to check and see if your multivitamin is listed!):


From above finding — 15.3 micrograms of lead per daily serving.  Let that sink in for a moment.

Do you realize that 15.3 micrograms is more than ten times the amount of lead permitted without a warning label in California, the only state to regulate lead in supplements.


Vitamins and supplements are regulated by FDA as “Dietary Supplements.” The law defines dietary supplements, in part, as products taken by mouth that contain a “dietary ingredient” intended to supplement the diet.

Listed in the “dietary ingredient” category are not only vitamins, but minerals, botanicals products, amino acids, and substances such as enzymes, microbial probiotics, and metabolites. Dietary supplements can also be extracts or concentrates, and may be found in many forms. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 requires that all such products be labeled as dietary supplements.

In June 2007, FDA established dietary supplement “current Good Manufacturing Practice” (cGMP) regulations requiring that manufacturers evaluate their products through testing identity, purity, strength, and composition.

Directly from the FDA’s website:

“In October 1994, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) was signed into law by President Clinton. Before this time, dietary supplements were subject to the same regulatory requirements as were other foods. This new law, which amended the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, created a new regulatory framework for the safety and labeling of dietary supplements.  Under DSHEA, a firm is responsible for determining that the dietary supplements it manufactures or distributes are safe and that any representations or claims made about them are substantiated by adequate evidence to show that they are not false or misleading. This means that dietary supplements do not need approval from FDA before they are marketed. Except in the case of a new dietary ingredient, where pre-market review for safety data and other information is required by law, a firm does not have to provide FDA with the evidence it relies on to substantiate safety or effectiveness before or after it markets its products. Also, manufacturers need to register themselves pursuant to the Bioterrorism Act with FDA before producing or selling supplements. In June, 2007, FDA published comprehensive regulations for Current Good Manufacturing Practices for those who manufacture, package or hold dietary supplement products. These regulations focus on practices that ensure the identity, purity, quality, strength and composition of dietary supplements.”

So, dietary supplements do not need approval from FDA before they are marketed.  And since vitamin manufacturers are not in the market to make money (please sense the sarcasm here), we should be good, right?  Wrong!!


Some multivitamins did pass the test (These included Centrum Silver, Member’s Mark Complete Multi (distributed by Sam’s Club), One A Day Women’s and Flintstones Complete). My advice would be to research your multivitamin and the ingredients before swearing by it for better health and also conducting your own “at home test” explained below.


When I learned of this report, my spouse and I were both taking a daily multivitamin.  After researching the topic, I learned that the “at home” test could be conducted by putting your vitamins into a pot of water, bringing it to at least 98.6° Fahrenheit for at least twenty minutes, and seeing if it dissolves.   If not, there is your answer — it is not dissolving in your body but rather passing right through, still in full form!  (Ask a plumber how often they see a vitamin in its original form), or ask a radiologist how many they have seen on x-rays and CT scans.



Your body uses vitamins for a variety of biological processes, including growth, digestion, and nerve function. There are 13 vitamins that the body absolutely needs: vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and the B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12 and folate).

There are two categories of vitamins:

  • Water-soluble vitamins are easily absorbed by the body and do not store large amounts. The kidneys remove the excess vitamins that are not needed.  Water soluble vitamins include:
      • B-3 (niacin): flushing, redness of the skin, upset stomach.
      • B-6 (pyridoxine, pyridoxal, and pyridoxamine): Nerve damage to the limbs, which may cause numbness, trouble walking, and pain.
      • C (ascorbic acid): Upset stomach, kidney stones, increased iron absorption.
      • Folic Acid (folate): High levels may, especially in older adults, hide signs of B-12 deficiency, a condition that can cause nerve damage
  • Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed into the body with the use of bile acids, which are fluids used to absorb fat. The body stores these for use as needed.  Fat soluble vitamins include:
      • A (retinol, retinal, retinoic acid): Nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness, blurred vision, clumsiness, birth defects, liver problems, possible risk of osteoporosis. You may be at greater risk of these effects if you drink high amounts of alcohol or you have liver problems, high cholesterol levels or don’t get enough protein.
      • D (calciferol): Nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, constipation, weakness, weight loss, confusion, heart rhythm problems, deposits of calcium and phosphate in soft tissues.


If you believe that you are experiencing an adverse response to taking a vitamin or a dietary supplement, Frankos advises reporting it to your health care provider, as well as to the manufacturer whose name or phone number appears on the label. You can also report directly to FDA through its MedWatch program.

Starting December 22, 2007, any serious adverse events reported to a dietary supplement manufacturer must be reported to FDA within 15 days of the manufacturer receiving the adverse event report.

This article appears on FDA’s Consumer Updates page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.

Always remember that some vitamins and supplements can interfere with the absorption and effectiveness of some medications, diagnostic medical tests, (including lab results).  Also, use caution when choosing your supplements during pregnancy.  

Sources:  Consumer Labs, FDA, New York Times