5 Supplements To Replace Your Multivitamin

By Dennis Buckley


Table of Contents:

Most supplements suck.

In fact, when it comes to supplements that are a complete waste of money, your daily multivitamin is perched right at the top of the list.

Since you were a kid, your parents probably told you to take a multivitamin every morning (mine sure did).

They also probably told you do drink your milk, eat your vegetables, and eat an apple a day to keep the doctor away.

Sound familiar?

Multivitamins have a lengthy track record for being a cheap, preventative measure for maintaining a sensible baseline of health. We take them because they make us feel like we’re providing our bodies with a broad spectrum of nutrients that collectively help protect us from nutrient deficiencies and decrease our risk for illness as we age and move through life.

The debate about whether or not multivitamins actually do you any good has been ongoing for decades, but a systematic review from 2006, which analyzed multivitamin intake and its effect on a host of specific health outcomes, came to the conclusion that:

"The strength of evidence is insufficient to support the presence or the absence of a benefit from routine use of multivitamin and mineral supplements...there are no data from randomized, controlled trials on the efficacy of multivitamin and mineral supplement use for preventing type 2 diabetes mellitus, Parkinson disease, dementia, hearing loss, osteoporosis, osteopenia, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, chronic renal insufficiency, chronic nephrolithiasis, HIV infection, hepatitis C, tuberculosis, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease." [1]

Did you get that?

The authors of the paper concluded that taking multivitamins confers no significant benefit (or risk) on the above listed health outcomes.

Several other studies have arrived at the same conclusion [2, 3, 4].

So, instead of taking your grey multivitamin tablet every morning (and peeing the brightest of neon green), there are a few select supplements that are sure to give you more bang for your buck in the health department -- and they have the research to back.

5 Supplements To Take Instead of a Multivitamin


Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient and one of the 24 essential micronutrients critical for human survival. While sunlight and foods like fish and eggs are commonly cited as good sources of the vitamin, it would behove most individuals to take a supplement to reach optimal levels, especially since our ability to synthesize vitamin D declines as we age and getting your vitamin D from sunlight poses certain risks (i.e. harmful UVB exposure).

It’s not that most people are necessarily deficient in vitamin D, rather, most people simply do not have optimal levels to derive the noteworthy health benefits.

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin D is currently set at 400 - 800 IU per day, which is an easy target to hit, but especially for adults, this is far too low [5]. Based on the research, it’s clear that an intake between 2,000 - 5,000 IU per day (with an upper limit of 10,000 IU per day) is a better recommendation.

For those interested in getting their levels tested, individuals that test with levels between 40 - 60 ng/ml have been shown to have the lowest all-cause mortality rates [6].

Vitamin D controls the expression of over 1,000 genes, and adequate levels of the nutrient are associated with a wide range of benefits including cognitive health, immune health, bone health, and a greater sense of well-being [7, 8, 9].


Magnesium deficiency is the second most common deficiency in developed countries (second only to vitamin D).

Magnesium is an essential mineral and the second most prevalent electrolyte in the human body.

Deficiency is common because Western cultures subsist on a largely grain-based diet, which are poor sources of the nutrient. While it is possible to get adequate amounts from foods like nuts and leafy greens, it is far easier and more effective to supplement, as magnesium in many food sources tends to have a poor absorption rate [10].

Healthy levels of magnesium are associated with improved mood, normalized blood pressure, and insulin sensitivity. Conversely, deficiency is associated with increased blood pressure, reduced insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, and increased neural excitation [1112].

The standard daily dose for magnesium supplementation is 200 - 400 mg per day. In general, magnesium citrate or glycinate are well-absorbed, and magnesium L-threonate is another option that has been shown to support cognitive enhancement [13].

Coenzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10, ubiquinol) is a molecule that is naturally produced in the body used to help mitochondria generate energy in the form of ATP [14].

CoQ10 is considered a pseudovitamin because while it is necessary for survival, it doesn’t necessarily need to be supplemented.

Low levels of CoQ10 are associated with a variety of conditions and diseases ranging from neurological disorders, cardiovascular disease, fibromyalgia, and even male infertility [15, 16]. If a comparison can be drawn between the idea of a multivitamin and what we hope to accomplish by taking it, and a single supplement in this article, CoQ10 would be the closest example.

Most people take a multivitamin as a simple, minimal effective dose to maintain a baseline of health. Similarly, CoQ10 can be supplemented as a way to support mitochondrial function. Mitochondria are the tiny engines in your cells (classified as organelles) that generate energy to help bodily processes run smoothly on a cellular level.

To learn more about how to support mitochondrial function, read this article called 5 Ways to Improve Your Health By Boosting Mitochondria. Or, If you’d prefer to pop in some headphones and learn about the powerful role of mitochondria in the body, check out this recent podcast we recorded about how to boost recovery and enhance mitochondrial function.

Fish Oil

Unless you eat fatty fish several days a week, it’s more than likely that you aren’t getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Omega-3 supplements in the form of fish oil contain fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

The available research suggests the greatest benefits of omega fatty acid intake occur when the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in the body is closest to equal (1:1 ratio) [17]

A 1:1 ratio is associated with healthier blood vessels, lower lipid count and reduced risk for plaque buildup [18]. Fish oil supplementation has also been shown to support healthy glucose metabolism and has a general protective effect on brain health as well as a range of common diseases and conditions [1920].

Omega-6 fatty acids are plentiful in the Standard American Diet (SAD), but getting enough omega-3’s in your diet likely requires a more deliberate effort. For this reason, increasing your intake of fatty fish, and or supplementing with a high quality fish or krill oil will help improve your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, bringing it closer to 1:1.

Creatine Monohydrate

Creatine monohydrate gained notoriety in the fitness community as a cheap, effective means to increase muscular force production and muscular contraction. However, one of the lesser known benefits of creatine is its effect on brain health.

Creatine is a molecule that is naturally produced in the body. It is stored in the body in the form of phosphocreatine, and during periods of stress, it release energy to aid in cellular function [21]. In physical performance, this is the mechanism that causes increased strength, but it is also the same action that supports the brain, bones, muscles, and liver [22].

Creatine is found in most animal products, but because it is so cheap and reliable, supplementation is encouraged The standard dose for application to fitness and to support neuro-protection and cardio-protection is 5 grams per day [23, 24].

Conventional creatine monohydrate typically requires a “loading phase” in order to fully saturate muscle tissues, though creatine can be taken with other nutrients like fenugreek and sea salt to increase absorption.

The Verdict on Multivitamins

With the exception of certain at-risk populations like the elderly, pregnant women, or if you're at risk for several deficiencies and are somehow unable to change your diet, there appears to be little to no benefit in taking a multivitamin [25].

At the same measure, they haven't been shown to have any significant harmful effects either, so if taking a daily multivitamin gives you peace of mind, then by all means, keep on truckin'.

The supplement industry is a massive, multi-billion dollar industry, and while many of the items you'll find on the shelves at your local health food or supplement store are pure, unrefined, snake oil, there are a select few supplements worth the money.  

Vitamin D, magnesium, fish oil, CoQ10, and creatine monohydrate are some of the safest, well-studied compounds on the market, and can be taken every day, long-term, at recommended doses with no concern for side effects or issues.

So even if you decide to stick with your multivitamin, these supplements would be welcome additions to your daily stack, no doubt about it. Combine them with a delicious smoothie designed to optimize brain health, and you’ll have your micronutrition bases covered.


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  2. Mursu, J., Robien, K., Harnack, L. J., Park, K., & Jacobs, D. R. (2011). Dietary supplements and mortality rate in older women: the Iowa Women's Health Study. Archives of internal medicine, 171(18), 1625-1633.
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  6. https://www.nap.edu/read/13050/chapter/1
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  9. Holick, M. F. (2006, March). High prevalence of vitamin D inadequacy and implications for health. In Mayo Clinic Proceedings (Vol. 81, No. 3, pp. 353-373). Elsevier.
  10. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/
  11. Guerrero‐Romero, F., & Rodríguez‐Morán, M. (2011). Magnesium improves the beta‐cell function to compensate variation of insulin sensitivity: double‐blind, randomized clinical trial. European journal of clinical investigation, 41(4), 405-410.
  12. Furukawa, Y., Kasai, N., & Torimitsu, K. (2009). Effect of Mg2+ on neural activity of rat cortical and hippocampal neurons in vitro. Magnesium research, 22(3), 174S-181S.
  13. https://www.nap.edu/read/5776/chapter/1
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  15. Karlsson, J., Lin, L., Sylvén, C., & Jansson, E. (1996). Muscle ubiquinone in healthy physically active males. Molecular and cellular biochemistry, 156(2), 169-172.
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  19. Muldoon, M. F., Ryan, C. M., Sheu, L., Yao, J. K., Conklin, S. M., & Manuck, S. B. (2010). Serum phospholipid docosahexaenonic acid is associated with cognitive functioning during middle adulthood. The Journal of nutrition, 140(4), 848-853.
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  22. Mujika, I., & Padilla, S. (1997). Creatine supplementation as an ergogenic aid for sports performance in highly trained athletes: a critical review. International journal of sports medicine, 18(07), 491-496.
  23. McMorris, T., Mielcarz, G., Harris, R. C., Swain, J. P., & Howard, A. (2007). Creatine supplementation and cognitive performance in elderly individuals. Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition, 14(5), 517-528.
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