Premenopausal women lose iron during menstruation, so experts advise that women in this age group take a multivitamin with 18 mg of iron, such as One-A-Day Women's (*Est. $7 for 50 tablets). This multi also contains 400 mcg of folic acid, which is recommended for all women of childbearing age to help prevent potential neural tube defects like spina bifida. Its 1,000 IU of vitamin D is slightly above the newest recommendation of 600 IU from the Institute of Medicine, but far less than the safe upper limit of 4,000 IU per day.
One-A-Day Women's is approved by ConsumerLab.com in its latest round of testing, and it's one of the few women's multivitamins evaluated that contains accurate amounts of the nutrients listed on the label. Five of the women's multis tested contain more niacin or vitamin B3 than stated. ConsumerLab.com says niacin in high doses is usually harmless, but it can cause skin flushing and tingling. Women's Health magazine says One-A-Day Women's is the best multivitamin for women. "This classic brand's formulation adheres to the updated DRIs [dietary reference intakes] more closely than most other multis," writes Richard Laliberte.
In August 2008, the FDA tested 324 multivitamins for lead, finding that 320 contain at least some trace. All of the multis are far below the provisional total tolerable intake (PTTI) levels, but some contain more lead than others. One-A-Day Women's has lower amounts of lead than many other women's multis evaluated, and doesn't exceed lead limits in ConsumerLab.com testing. User reviews at Amazon.com say women are generally happy with this One-A-Day multivitamin, but several complain of nausea if they don't take the pill with a substantial meal. Vegans and vegetarians should note that One-A-Day Women's contains fish ingredients and gelatin, which the company's website says is sourced from beef or pork.
Centrum A to Zinc (*Est. $8.50 for 100 tablets) is another popular, well-reviewed multivitamin that passed an older ConsumerLab.com test. In a 2010 survey by Pharmacy Times, 60 percent of pharmacists said they recommend Centrum A to Zinc to shoppers. This formula has 18 mg of iron, but just 400 IU of vitamin D and 200 mg of calcium compared to 1,000 IU of vitamin D and 500 mg of calcium in the One-A-Day Women's multi. If you prefer more of these nutrients, Centrum Ultra Women's (*Est. $12 for 100 tablets) contains 800 IU of vitamin D and 500 mg of calcium. Both Centrum A to Zinc and Ultra Women's contain gelatin, which is sourced from pork and poultry products, according to the manufacturer. Several users gripe at Amazon.com that Centrum multivitamins can cause digestive upset, especially when taken on an empty stomach.
If you're on a budget, experts say less expensive store-brand vitamins work just as well. Several brands pass muster in a recent independent test, including Costco's Kirkland Signature, Walmart's Equate, Rite Aid's Central-Vite and CVS's Spectravite. "We found that store brands did just as well in our tests as national brands, at a lower price," says ConsumerReports.org. "The biggest winner: Costco's Kirkland Signature, whose regular, 'mature' and children's multis cost a nickel or less a day." The Kirkland Signature Daily Multi (*Est. $13 for 500 tablets) contains 18 mg of iron and 500 mcg of folic acid but has less calcium and vitamin D than recommended for premenopausal women -- only 200 mg and 400 IU, respectively. It contains fish ingredients and gelatin, so it's not suitable for vegetarians or vegans.
The CVS Daily Multiple for Women (*Est. $8 for 200 tablets) also performs well in independent testing. It was approved by ConsumerLab.com in an older report, and it's one of the few multis evaluated that doesn't contain more niacin than stated on the label. It contains fish ingredients and gelatin.
If you don't like swallowing pills, Vitafusion MultiVites (*Est. $7 for 70 gummies) earn several recommendations. These gummy vitamins for adults come in a variety of flavors, including berry, peach and orange. Two gummies provide 800 IU of vitamin D, 400 mcg of folic acid, 12 mcg of vitamin B12, and other vitamins and minerals. However, they don't contain any calcium or iron. Although these multivitamins aren't included in recent independent tests, they get high marks at both Amazon.com and Drugstore.com. Reviewers say Vitafusion MultiVites taste great and are perfect for those who can't (or won't) swallow pills or tablets, but some users are disappointed that they lack nutrients like calcium.
Vegetarians and vegans have fewer options for multivitamins, largely because many top brands contain animal-derived gelatin or fish products. ConsumerLab.com tests several vegetable-based multis in its latest report and the results are largely disappointing. Although these products are supposed to be healthier, three of the eight evaluated aren't approved and three exceed the recommended UL for niacin. Of the approved products with proper levels of niacin, both are aimed specifically at women -- Thorne Research Basic Prenatal and Garden of Life Vitamin Code Raw One for Women. The latter gets very good user reviews on Vitacost.com and Amazon.com, and the Thorne Research prenatals get decent feedback on Amazon.com.
While neither is considered a general adult vitamin, Thorne Research Basic Prenatal (*Est. $19 for 90 capsules) is good for all women of childbearing age, according to reviews. Garden of Life Vitamin Code Raw One for Women (*Est. $26 for 75 capsules) contains 800 mcg of folic acid and 1,000 IU of vitamin D, but only 6 mg of iron and 16 mg of calcium -- 33 percent and 2 percent of DV, respectively.
Nature's Way Alive! Multi-Vitamin Vcap (*Est. $19 for 60 capsules) comes in a plant-derived capsule without gelatin, and contains 100 percent of most essential vitamins and nutrients, including 400 mcg of folic acid and 18 mg of iron. The multi contains only 400 IU of vitamin D -- 200 IU less than current guidelines recommend -- and 250 mg of calcium. Nature's Way Alive! also features a variety of fruit and vegetable powders, including alfalfa, wheat grass, kale, parsley, carrot, plum, cherry and more. There's no concrete evidence that these whole-food blends are effective, but they're showing up in more and more multivitamins.
Nature's Way Alive! Multi-Vitamin Vcap hasn't been included in recent independent tests, but it gets high marks from more than 60 reviewers at Amazon.com. Users say the vitamins are easy on the stomach and some report feeling energetic throughout the day. However, some are annoyed that they have to take six capsules daily, especially since the cost adds up quickly.
Some newer multivitamin formulas are appearing on store shelves to meet the demands of those who eat organically and want a supplement that follows suit. The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) warns that many multis marketed as natural still contain chemicals and synthetic vitamins, not to mention fillers and dyes. The OCA recommends food-based multivitamins that don't contain synthetic forms. For example, food-based organic vitamins obtain B vitamins from brewer's yeast rather than synthetic riboflavin, and vitamin C from citrus fruits or rose hips instead of ascorbic acid. Companies that meet the OCA's requirements for food-based, organic ingredients include MetaOrganics and Raw Source Organics. The latter makes a Daily Multiple (*Est. $35 for 90 capsules), but it hasn't been evaluated in independent tests, contains low amounts of calcium, and lacks vitamin D and iron altogether. It does contain 400 mcg of folic acid, in addition to vitamin C, vitamin E, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6 and more.
The New Chapter Organics brand isn't recommended by the OCA, but its Every Woman's One Daily multivitamin (*Est. $17 for 60 tablets) earns several recommendations. These vegetarian tablets contain 1,000 IU of vitamin D, 400 mcg of folate and 60 mg of vitamin C, but have only 3 mg of iron and 25 mg of calcium -- 17 percent and 2.5 percent of DV, respectively. Better Nutrition magazine says the New Chapter Organics multivitamin is one of the best of 2010. "These are not your average multis," say editors, who like that the formula focuses on organic food-based ingredients.
New Chapter Organics also gets high ratings at Amazon.com, where users rave about the multi's organic ingredients. They also like taking just one tablet a day, but some say the pills are large and hard to swallow. Unlike the brand's One Daily multivitamin, its Every Woman formula containing multivitamins, herbs and minerals (*Est. $17 for 60 tablets) requires two tablets a day but has 9 mg of iron, half of what's recommended for premenopausal women.