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The Truth Behind Centrum: Supplement Or Chemical Cocktail?

 


One of the most popular supplements on the market is the multi-vitamin Centrum. What many people don’t realize is that this multi-vitamin is probably doing more harm than good. Is Centrum a vitamin supplement or a synthetic chemical cocktail? And do we even really need to be taking supplements?

It has been well documented that our food supply isn't as rich in nutrients as it once was. This is due to several factors including mono-crop farming, depleted soil, earlier harvest for longer transports and the varieties being grown. Ideally we take multi-vitamin supplements with the intention of supplementing our existing diet.

The Purpose Of A Vitamin Supplement

I wish it were the case that we could get everything we need from a healthy and balanced diet. Sadly, evidence is not in our favour on that. As a society, we are experiencing steadily declining health. The Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) as outlined by our governments you'll find on the back of food packages and all supplement bottles just isn't accurate.

The RDI is the daily intake level of a nutrient that in 1968 was considered to be sufficient to meet the requirements of 97–98% of healthy individuals in every demographic in the United States. How they came to this belief is anyone's guess, but the reality is that our health has only declined since these numbers were presented. Since 1968, we have introduced thousands more chemicals into our environment, our soil has continually become depleted, our food supply has been adulterated and we've become sicker.

Let's say, for a moment, that the RDI is accurate, that it does in fact represent the ideal intake for a healthy person. Let's even assume it's the same requirements in 2016 as it was nearly 50 years ago. The challenge is that it's tough to find a healthy person these days. How many people do you know that are in perfect health? This means they sleep well, eat a clean diet, are drinking clean water, are getting regular exercise and don't suffer from any type of body pain, inflammation, digestive upset, allergies, skin conditions, hormonal imbalance, mood imbalance or any other type of bodily symptom.

When nearly 70% of the American population are on a pharmaceutical medication, we know we have a problem.

Nearly 70% of the American population are on a pharmaceutical medication.

There is a big difference between the RDI and the actual intake levels that are necessary to maintain optimal health. Not being sick is not the same thing as optimal health. And of course variations in optimal intake levels would vary further to resolve the deficiencies that are causing much of what we are suffering from.

So, Where Does Centrum Fit In?

Centrum is made by Pfizer, one of the companies making that 70% of pharmaceuticals that Americans are on. Pfizer published 2015 profits coming in at 48 billion. In case you were wondering, that looks like this: $48,000,000,000.00. I would never go so far as to suggest that they make shoddy supplements to keep consumers needing their medications, but they are making shoddy supplements.

Centrum has massive sampling programs. With the same access to doctors offices as pharmaceutical sales reps, it's no wonder that it is the most recommended supplement by doctors. They get boxes of samples to dish out. Is it the best multi-vitamin available? Definitely not. Is it worth taking? Nope, probably not, unless you're hoping for purely the placebo benefit. All supplements are simply not created equally.

Facts About Centrum

  • Trust in the makers: Centrum is a product produced by the company Pfizer, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.
  • Dose dependant: The dosages of most of the nutrients in Centrum are negligible and not even close to therapeutic levels.
  • Nutrient quality: The forms that the nutrients are provided in are the cheapest and the least absorbable forms.
  • The non-medicinal components: Supplements that come in tablet form are often hard to digest and contain binders and fillers (more on this below).
  • The "One A Day" marketing ploy: Water-soluble nutrients (vitamin C and the B-vitamins) are either used or excreted within about 4 hours. Thus, a one-a-day multi is completely useless and a sure sign that it is of poor quality.

Centrum, along with Kirkland, Walgreens and other store brands collectively set the bar very low. You can only go up from here.

#Centrum: Vitamin Supplement or Chemical Cocktail? via @meghantelpner #protip

Breaking Open The Centrum Tablet: What's Inside?

Understanding food labels is complicated enough. Understanding vitamin labels effectively requires a chemistry degree. What is important to note, are a few key nutrients as that can give you an indication of the overall quality.

SOME OF THE "Vitamin" Ingredients In Centrum

Not all supplements carry the same quality of nutrients. Vitamins and minerals in their singular form can come in different forms. For example, magnesium comes as oxide, citrate and glyconate - citrate and glyconate being more absorbable than oxide. This often makes me wonder who is behind the studies that attempt to 'prove' that supplements do not prevent disease. It ultimate will depend on the quality of the supplement and of course, loads of lifestyle factors.

Here is some of what you'll find in Centrum:

  • Calcium as Calcium Carbonate:  This is the least absorbable forms of calcium on the market. A very small percentage is actually absorbed.
  • Magnesium as Magnesium Oxide: The least absorbable, cheapest form of magnesium.
  • Iron as Ferrous Fumarate: This form of iron is incredibly constipating.
  • Vitamin E as DL-Alpha Tocopherol: This is vitamin E and they are using two forms. The “D” form which is natural and the “L” Form which is synthetic. The “L”  form is used to “water-down” the more expensive more bioactive “D” form.
  • The B vitamins: Citing anywhere from 1.1 mg to 15mg per vitamin is a concentration so low as to have no impact on energy levels, as outlined in their claims.
  • Nickelous Sulfate and Tin:  I was unable to locate any references discussing a need for humans to supplement with nickel or tin.

The "Non-Active" Ingredients

Though it could easily be argued by any functional medicine expert that the entire pill is non-active given the low dose of poorly absorbable, cheap nutrient varieties, more harm may actually be coming from the non-active ingredients, the binding agents and colourants used to make the pill a pill.

  • Pregelatinized Corn Starch: This is used as a binder to hold all of the ingredients together. It most likely a genetically modified corn, which presents a number of problems for sensitive people.
  • Talc: Has been implicated with increased risk of cancer.
  • Gelatin: Though not inherently a bad product, most of is manufactured from feed lot animal waste. And vegans and vegetarians best beware.
  • BHT: Butylated hydroxyanisole has been shown to be toxic to the liver, thyroid, kidney, lungs, and affecting blood coagulation. BHT can act as a tumour promoter.
  • Yellow 6 Lake:   Why is there food colouring in a health supplement? Also known as tartrazine or FD&C Yellow #6, this chemical is banned in some European countries. Side effects of ingestion can include gastric upset, diarrhea, vomiting, nettle rash (urticaria), swelling of the skin (angioedema) and migraines, it's also linked to hyperactivity in young children.
  • Red 40 Lake: Contains chemical compounds, including benzidine and 4-aminobiphenyl, that research has linked with cancer.
  • Hydrogenated Palm OilHydrogenating any oil converts the fat into an unnatural structure that has shown to be toxic to the body. It forms strong free radicals associated with increased risk of cancer and heart disease.
  • Maltodextrin: Several studies have linked maltodextrin consumption to the suppression of “good bacteria” in the digestive system increasing risk of gastro symptoms and intestinal inflammation.
  • Crospovidone: There is an abundance of documented cases of serious allergenic response.
  • Sodium Benzoate: Especially dangerous because of its destructive effect on DNA. This means that the sodium benzoate consumed today may still be causing problems in future generations. Sodium benzoate is known to specifically attack the mitochondria of DNA.
  • Sodium Aluminosilicate Used as a food additive for its anti caking effect.

The list of fillers, binding agents, and texturizers goes on. In fact, there are more "non active" ingredients on the ingredient label than actual vitamins and minerals.

The are more "non active" ingredients in Centrum than actual vitamins and minerals.

To answer the original question posed, is centrum a supplement or chemical cocktail?

It's both. And that's not a good thing. When choosing a supplement the form of the vitamins and minerals does matter. Of equal importance as what is in that supplement is paying attention to what isn't. Keep the additives, preservatives, binding agents, food dyes and other harmful ingredients out. Studies often cite them as safe in small doses, but you're taking a daily dose. That adds up.

You don't want anything in your supplement that can cause further harm to your health.

5 Things You Need To Know When Choosing Supplements

1. "One-a-day" multi-vitamins are a marketing-made myth.

Multi-vitamins are meant to provide nutrients our diets might be lacking. We want them to mimic food as closely as possible. Certain nutrients, like vitamin C and the B's, only last in the body about 4 hours. Thus, we need to keep the body topped up throughout the day.
Tip: Look for multivitamins that indicates a dosage of at least 2-3 times per day.
 

2. Drug stores are for drugs.

Drug stores are exactly that...stores that sell drugs, not supplements. They usually carry the lowest quality and cheapest supplements available. Cheaper supplements most often contain fillers and additives that may do more harm to our health than any nutritional value the pill could supply.
Tip: Buy drugs at drug stores and health foods at health food stores.
 

3. You get what you pay for.

Often, the more you pay for a supplement the better the quality. For example, the cheapest calcium supplements are composed of calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. These forms of calcium are the least absorbable (meaning least effective) forms and the cheapest. The best form of calcium in supplement form is microcrystalline hydroxyapetitie complex (MCHC), which is basically ground up bone. This is the most usable form by the body and also the most expensive.
Tip: If you are looking for a specific nutrient, a little google search including the phrase "most bio available" or "most absorbable form" followed by the nutrient might be helpful.
 

4. Labels are misleading.

Choose a supplement based on your research, not what the label says. Labels often make claims that target a certain customer. Or, labels give dosages that are way too low. For example, vitamin D supplements will never recommend a dose higher than 1000 IUs (in Canada) due to Health Canada regulations. The latest research shows that most Canadians need at least 5000 IUs of vitamin D per day for optimal health.
Tip: Consult with an informed health store employee or nutritional practitioner to find out the right dosage for you.
 

5. Do your research or hire someone who has done it!

Although supplements are not prescription items, they should be treated as such. There's a specific dosage, for a specific person, at a specific frequency, for a specific duration that will elicit the optimal effect of the supplement. This can have consequences at both ends of the spectrum. The most common example seen in practice people not taking high enough dosages.
Tip: A product line can have one great product and the rest not be. Don't rely on a brand name but instead what is actually in the supplement. If that is too much for you, then find someone who can make the best recommendations for your needs.

#Centrum: Vitamin Supplement or Chemical Cocktail? via @meghantelpner #protip

Get empowered! Enjoy this directory of Healthwashing resources that will empower you to understand food labels. Learn More

34 Responses to “The Truth Behind Centrum: Supplement Or Chemical Cocktail?”

  1. Suzan said… April 9, 2016
    Enjoyed reading this article. Are there any multi-vitamin supplements that you would recommend?
    • Typically professional brands like Douglas Labs, Metagenics, and Biotics are great. Now brand has some good products also- the key is to ensure you are taking what is most right for your individual needs.
  2. Tanya Faison said… April 10, 2016
    It would be great if you provided alternatives or a link to a website that has products that are healthier. I had gastric bypass surgery and I have to take supplements so that I am getting what I need to live. It's not an option for me and with a smaller stomach, trying to get the nutrients from food alone is impossible.
    • I don't typically like to recommend brands as different multi-vitamins will have different levels of nutrients. Especially when people have very specific needs- like you. For example, you may want to explore supplements that include more digestive support for protein, as the primary place for protein digestion is the stomach. If you have a local health food store near you, I'd recommend popping in and having a chat with someone there. Typically professional brands like Douglas Labs, Metagenics, and Biotics are great. Now brand has some good products also- the key is to ensure you are taking what is most right for your individual needs.
  3. Ian said… April 12, 2016
    How about stresstabs?
  4. What are your thoughts on GNC multivitamins or products available through these stores? What options would you suggest for a men's multivitamin or a source to order them from. BTW, I just threw my bottle of centrum away also. ;)
    • I'm not personally a fan. They also use a lot of fillers and unless certified GMO-free, the corn and colourants very well are likely derived from chemical rich processing methods.
  5. eunice frazier said… April 22, 2016
    Thank you for such an informative article. It is well written and very much appreciated. A family member gave my daughter and I a bottle of Centrum for women recently and I was already suspect of it. You truly answered my questions as I to why I was suspect of it and had no desire to take them. We try to get as much vitamins and minerals from the foods we eat. Thanks again.
  6. Robert McRonald said… May 5, 2016
    Hi Meghan, Appreciated this article. My wife and I used Shacklee vitamns for years but more recently have been using vitamins by Melalueca. I assume you have heard of their Oligo brand. I have found that I feel completely different on their supplements... better... more energy. What other brands of vitamins do you recommend? Or do you try to stay impartial?
    • I do try and stay impartial but I also take supplements :) I have a different brand for each supplement I take as I always seek out the best for my needs. I use Douglas Labs and Biotics a lot. Have used Mteganeics in the past. For basic top-ups like magnesium or vitamin C I'll use Now.
  7. Shirley said… May 7, 2016
    It is by the grace of God that I stormed on this life-saving article of yours. I am 8 weeks pregnant and my husband and I started taking Centrum vits at week 7. My first two doses got me vomiting as I was fund of breaking the tab into two as I felt it was large. My next three doses where taking in full making a total of 5 doses only and all hell was let loose: body started itching all through the day and night and all my body was swollen that I thought I had swallowed poison. My husband on his part complained of migraine and severe ear pain. It's been two days now that we discontinued the supplement and everything is back to normal. Sì anyone who thinks Meghan Telpner is not saying the fact should die risking. Whenever I hear a pharmaceutical company gallantly jubilant about it's profits I get moved to tears and cry " poor we taking those drugs!!!!"
  8. Mary said… May 8, 2016
    Is Centrum Women healthy for wpmen over 60 to consume?
  9. Lila said… May 20, 2016
    I live in undeveloped country, where we don't have many options about diet and usually our food is even less rich in nutrients than yours. I received a Centrum ® for Adults donation and I would like to give my children of 7 and 8 years old. Do you think I do wrong if a I give them half tablet daily?
    • Without knowing anything about you or your children, I can't say. I would think though that if you have access to fresh grown food that is minimally processed (fruits, vegetable, fish etc) then you like don't get much from half of a centrum.

Before you post your comment, please note that I am unable to offer nutritional advice or recommendations via my blog.

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