Vitamins

Reporter: Helen Wellings

From A to Zinc .. a staggering 70% of Australians buy nutritional supplements, spending on average $200 per year - a total of $2.3 billion. But, how do you know which to choose from a mind-blowing 30,000 different types on the market? We're about to make that easier for you .. we'll show you which brands give you the most vitamins in the best formula - the most effective to the least effective.

We've uncovered an extraordinary scientific analysis by a team of Canadian and US biochemists, leaders research on nutritional supplements. They've thoroughly examined over 100 leading multi-vitamins available in Australia. They've evaluated and compared their formulations by separating and measuring each ingredient - vitamins, minerals anti-oxidant and other components. Coming up .. their staggering conclusions, especially on some popular brands.

"What you've got is 7 experts from the US that have put together what I would call a wish-list - a list of ingredients they believe would be the ultimate to have in a multi-vitamin" says Dr Lesley Braun. "It was done on a range of issues which include how absorbable the vitamins were, the range of vitamins and minerals that were in the tablet and whether they were in the appropriate amounts and in the appropriate form" says Professor Marc Cohen. Dr Lesley Braun, Pharmacist and Naturopath from the National Herbalists Association of Australia and Dr Marc Cohen, Professor of Complementary Medicine at RMIT are authors of "Herbs and Natural Supplements". We showed them the latest comparison of multi-vitamin products which scores brand by brand.

"Their aim is to try to find a product on the market that is as close as possible to their wish-list ... of the most comprehensive, of the highest doses, for them what they would consider the best .. it is very important when you look at a vitamin supplement that not only have you got the key ingredients, but you've got them in the right combinations" says Lesley.

They say the absolutely perfect multi-vitamin tablet would be a huge poly-pill, the size of a walnut, but Professor Cohen says we should be aiming for this."The full range of vitamins eg A, the full range of vitamin Bs and B should be done in a complex, not just 1 or 2 of the vitamins, certainly vitamin C and a range of minerals. There is also an argument to say you should not put everything in the one pill because things absorb differently, eg the fat soluble vitamins" says Pro Cohen.

So the results .. first the final top 5 scorers. Remember they're rated against an ideal multi-vitamin pill. Best ... USANA Health Sciences Essentials scores a very high 74% followed by Solgar Omnium at 56.5%, Thorn Research Al's Formula 47%, Clinicians Vitamin and Mineral Boost, 45%, and NFS Nutraceuticals Ultimate Sports Multi 44.5%. But you won't find them at the supermarket nor pharmacies .. they're available online, some through naturopaths and herbalists.

What is it that gave these brands such top ratings? "They do contain a lot of the B group vitamins, the antioxidents that are traditional vitamins, so bioflavonoids and they contain a few other little bits and pieces as well in high doses such as the minerals with magnesium and calcium ... a lot of the key ingredients are in very high doses. So when you match it up to the wish list that these US experts put together, it looks very good" says Lesley.

Most of the multivitamins tested get lower than 20%, again though, all are rated against the ideal. About one third only manage single figure scores. Bottom of the list .. unbelievably some of our top supermarket and pharmacy brands. Myadec and Nature's Own Multivitamins and Minerals both with just 2.4%, Herron Clinical Nutrition All-in-One Multi-Vitamin and Mineral 2%, Guardian Multi Vitamins and Minerals Hi Potency also 2%, and last is Advocare Macro-Mineral Complex just 1%. But at a fraction of the price of the top scorers, our expert nutritionists say you do get what you pay for.

"They tend to have fewer number of ingredients compared to the ones that rated very highly. Also the strength of the ingredients tended to be lower. .56 So I see them as just a very basic stop-gap for someone whose diet really needs some work... whereas as they go higher in the list they become more sophisticated and have better combinations" says Lesley.

Mark Cohen says "I think the ones in the supermarkets and pharmacies are competing on price ... you could have the vitamin on the label and only a very tiny amount, it won't actually do anything for you... but it is still on the label and consumers don't really know how much is the correct amount."

So are the right vitamins worth the money? "Go with the ones that are comprehensive in good doses. The ones on the list. Ideally though, go to a health professional, get your diet looked at, start working on the diet and get the right supplement for you" says Lesley.

"There is strong evidence now that everyone over the age of 55 should be taking a multivitamin every day to prevent long-term diseases ... I'd extend that to say everyone should be taking a multivitamin because the risks are very low and the benefits are potentially very high" says Pro Cohen.

So what does an expert take daily, as well as blueberries? And here's a tip ... don't waste your money taking multivitamins with a cup of tea. "The best way to take them is in the morning with breakfast, big glass of water, tea not so good because it binds some of the iron and you won't get the absorption. Cancels out the iron."

Lesley Braun takes:

  • § "Dona Glucosamine" by Your Health.
  • § "CoQ10", Co-enzyme Q10 by BioCeuticals for healthy cardio-vascular function and good for people taking statins for lowering cholesterol. Lesley also takes them for migraine.
  • § "Multi-biocomplex" with selenium, a multivitamin by Nutrimedicine.
  • § A bowl of blueberries which are neuro regenerative - to combat the loss of brain-cells due to ageing. If she can't buy fresh in season, she buys frozen blueberries.

Dr. Lesley Braun

National Herbalists Association of Australia.

Website: http://www.nhaa.org.au/

Dr Lesley Braun and Professor Marc Cohen wrote "Herbs and Natural Supplements: An Evidence Based Guide. Published by Elsevier, November 2004. ISBN 0729536823. Contains 567 pages. Price $A40.00

TEST RESULTS:

The scores and brand analysis of multi-vitamins, as mentioned in our story, are in "Comparative Guide to Nutritional Supplements. A Compendium of over 100 Products available in Australia and New Zealand", written by Lyle MacWilliam BSc, MSc, FP. Northern Dimensions Publishing, Vernon, British Columbia, Canada. Revised 1st Edition. It is not in bookshops in Australia. Go to

http://www.uniprotools.com.au/. You can order the book from this site by selecting Lyle MacWilliam's name on the left hand side of the page. Price is $40 including postage and handling.