How natural are the most popular multivitamins?
To find out we analysed the ingredients in the thirty (30!) best-selling multivitamins on amazon.co.uk.
We excluded any products that weren’t actually multivitamins and were duplicates of each other.
While looking through the most commonly sold supplements, we saw that companies frequently rebranded the same multivitamin to appeal to different demographics.
A company could brand the exact same multivitamin differently to appeal to women, men, or children. The underlying composition of ingredients and vitamins would stay the same.
We also saw that there were several supplements in the best-selling multivitamin list with a small number of actual vitamins. Often, these supplements were marketed for a specific purpose (tan supplement or joint health). But, if you look at the ingredients list, you’ll see that they just contain a subset of the vitamins in a proper multivitamin (and at a comparable price).
There can be a blurry line between what is natural and what isn’t. To avoid getting into an unnecessarily technical discussion of what is natural, we’ll base our criteria on side effects.
We consider any ingredient that is not a nutrient and has a known side effect to be unnatural. This isn’t a strict definition of what is natural, but it allows for a comprehensive analysis.
So how many unnatural ingredients did we see when analyzing the ingredient list of these thirty multivitamins:
Nineteen of the supplements had one unnatural ingredient. Ten had two unnatural ingredients. One had five unnatural ingredients.
If these don’t seem like a lot to you, remember how we’re using a strict definition of unnatural to focus on ingredients that have known side effects.
For example, we saw that several multivitamins contained calcium phosphate. Calcium phosphate naturally occurs in our bones and teeth. However, it’s not always clear how the calcium phosphate used for multivitamins is obtained.
Another hard-to-classify ingredient in magnesium stearate. Magnesium stearate is used as a lubricant in the manufacturing process. It’s usually created in a lab, but the two ingredients used to create it (magnesium and stearic acid) are found in nature.
Magnesium stearate has been found to be safe at minor doses. We couldn’t find any studies that would suggest that it has any potential side effects.
Would you consider magnesium stearate to be natural? Furthermore, this may come down to your preferences. Maybe you just don’t want to risk consuming it when there are obviously natural alternatives available.
Since we couldn’t find any known side effects of consuming calcium phosphate and magnesium stearate, we decided not to include them as unnatural ingredients.
An ingredient we decided to classify as unnatural is maltodextrin. Even though it’s made from natural ingredients like rice and wheat, those ingredients must be highly processed before maltodextrin is formed.
We went through this same analytical process for a number of other ingredients. What makes this process even harder is that it’s not clear how exactly other companies make their multivitamins.
What we can say is that the ingredient list we’ve compiled would pass even the strictest of criteria for what is “unnatural”.
Regardless, it’s important to emphasize that all of the top selling multivitamins we looked at contain unnecessary additives with known side effects.
Here are the unnatural ingredients we found:
All of the ingredients above are commonly found in food and supplements. Ingesting a small amount will most likely not cause you any harm, but the long-term consequences of some of these ingredients are not always fully understood.
For example, studies on mice have found that maltodextrin can have long-term side effects. Mice that were exposed to maltodextrin have been shown to have their gut bacteria balance changed. They ended up with less of the beneficial bacteria and more of the harmful bacteria.
Various other studies (like this one) have shown a link between maltodextrin and Crohn’s disease, gastroenteritis, and other chronic inflammatory conditions.
And while Xylitol is considered to be a safe sweetener, there is some concern in the medical community that consuming too much of it over a long period of time can cause tumors.
There is still so much we don’t know about what is safe or not over a long period of time.
So why do companies include these ingredients? First, let’s look at a graph that groups the ingredients together by their category:
As you can clearly see, the most common unnatural ingredients we saw were used to as binders. Binders are used to hold all of the multivitamin’s ingredients together and to prevent capsules from sticking to each other and machines.
Preservatives are used to make supplements last longer. Sweeteners are made to make supplements taste better, often to make supplements easier for children to eat. Lubricants make it easier for the pill to be properly formed and pass through machines.
If you want to learn more about the different types of additives found in supplements, we suggest you check out this Wikipedia article on excipients. That’s where we got these categories from.
Are these binders absolutely necessary? Not at all. We’ll explain later that it’s definitely possible to create a multivitamin without any binders or artificial ingredients. The reason companies use these is for convenient and cheaper manufacturing.
As consumers have become more conscious of what goes into their body, companies have been using the word “nature” or “natural” to capitalize on the trend.
Unfortunately, looking at the ingredients of these supplements show how some companies could fool customers with how they are portraying themselves.
There has been some action by various governments to crack down on manufacturers misusing the word “natural” in advertising. For example, the U.K. Advertising Standards Authority ruled against a juice drink creator named Appy for falsely claiming that their products were natural.
Still, it’s not enough to hope that the government can uphold a standard for natural products that everyday people would agree with.
While we don’t want to have to call out certain companies specifically, it’s the only way to show how misleading practices happen in the real world.
For example, here’s a multivitamin called “Yoga Naturals”:
When you look at the ingredients, you can see that it uses a bulking agent: microcrystalline cellulose:
Microcrystalline cellulose is created by submerging wood pulp into hot mineral acid. We’d guess that most people would not consider it to be a natural product. Also, microcrystalline cellulose has known side effects of causing gas, bloating, and depression.
Here’s another example of a supplement called “natures aid”:
One would expect that this supplement would be completely natural and contain nothing artificial or unnecessary inside of it.
When we look at the ingredients, we see something else (you don’t need to read the whole ingredients list, just the bottom section in bold):
It says “No Added Sugars”, “No Artificial Flavourings”, and “No Artificial Colours”. However, on the second line of the ingredients list, it says “Preservative (Potassium Sorbate)”.
Technically, they didn’t say “no preservatives”, but they are trying to portray this multivitamin as a safe and natural supplement. While that may not be lying, it’s misleading at best.
The reality is that potassium sorbate does have known side effects such as eye irritation, nausea, and diarrhea. And while it’s true that most people can handle potassium sorbate, a portion of the population does not handle it well.
We mentioned earlier that it’s possible to make a truly natural multivitamin that doesn’t contain preservatives or other unnecessary ingredients. In fact, it’s possible to create a multivitamin without any ingredients which are hard to classify as natural or not natural.
We know this to be true because we make a completely natural multivitamin. Our multivitamin, Feel, contains the nutrients themselves along with a rice-based ingredient to hold everything. That’s it.
We don’t have to worry about ingredients that are even arguably natural or not. We don’t have to worry about potential side effects or unknown long-term effects. It’s just the nutrients your body needs and a natural crop (rice) that’s been grown and consumed for thousands of years.
We created Feel because we saw that there were other products in the market that claimed they were natural but weren’t actually natural.
Other multivitamins are filled with all sorts of artificial and unneeded ingredients. Nobody knows what half those ingredients are. You shouldn’t need a science degree to know exactly what it is that you’re putting into your body.
Feel is natural in every sense of the word. You can see and understand the ingredients for yourself.
If you’re looking for a natural multivitamin, we encourage you to give Feel Multivitamins a try.