The “why” of His and Hers multiple vitamins

multiplesDo gender-specific multiple vitamins make sense?

Until relatively recently in nutrition history, multiple vitamins were one-size-fits-all.  Everyone got the full dose of everything, regardless of age or gender.   Men, who rarely need any extra iron, were forced to take an iron dose appropriate for a reproductive-age female.  Most formulas had little-to-none of calcium, which can be important for women.  In this age of personalized everything, that’s hard to imagine.  Thanks to better research on nutrient requirements for different age groups and genders, we now have a mini-explosion of targeted multiples.  Are they worth it?  Do they make sense?

First, some key points to consider.

  1. Let’s get one thing clear: we have better information now about differing nutrient requirements, but we definitely don’t have all possible information.  Formulas will probably evolve more over time.
  2. There’s a limit to what can be put into one pill.  Minerals, such as calcium or magnesium, are large molecules.  Getting a full daily dose of calcium in one pill is not feasible.  So some nutrients will never be present in multiples at 100% of recommended intake, not matter how much information we have.
  3. Sometimes the variety of choices masks the fact that most of the formulas are the same thing, with a different name.  Sort of like Cheerios flavors expanding from basic oats to multi-grain, fruity flavors, chocolate, protein, ancient grains and peanut butter.  Basically they’re all Cheerios.
  4. There is no official standard for any of these multiple formulas.  Companies are free to create their own formulas, with some nutrients at 300% of RDI, some at 10% or some missing.  A lot of the decision are more marketing than nutrition.  Big numbers look good.  Some nutrients are inexpensive and it’s easy to pack a big dose into a small tablet.
  5. Chewables and gummies are a nice alternative for people who can’t swallow big pills.  But be warned: some nutrients don’t do well in chewable form.  The chemical formulation might not work in a chewable, or might taste bad.  Don’t assume a chewable multiple is the same as a pill from the same company.

His and Hers multiples usually have one major difference: supplements for women have iron; those for men either do not, or have a lower dose (8 mg vs 18 mg for women of reproductive age).  Senior supplements, for post menopausal women and older men, typically have no iron.  As far as gender-specific nutrition is concerned, iron requirements are known to be different, and these doses are appropriate for healthy people.

Aside from iron, things start to look sketchy to me.  One senior men’s brand has 417% of the B12 RDI; another has 1667%.  Why?  For another brand, the senior women’s has 1/3 the vitamin C of the men’s senior formula.  Why?  The differences start to look random, just to make the products look different.

Take Away Message

His and Hers multiple vitamin/mineral supplements make some sense, especially formulas for younger adults, mainly because of the iron difference.  For the over-50 crowd, senior vitamin formulas generally do not contain iron, which is appropriate.  All the other nutrient differences may not be that meaningful.

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