Vitamins 101

Some people pop multivitamins as religiously as they drink eight glasses of water a day, others dismiss them as frivolous--so do you ever need to be taking one? What's the point? Which ones are best? To find answers we checked in with Dr. Frank Lipman--board-certified doctor in internal medicine and wellness guru to Gwyneth Paltrow--for answers.

Who needs one?
"Most women, especially as they enter their thirties and forties, tend to be deficient in certain nutrients," says Dr. Lipman. "Vitamins are necessary for optimal functioning of the body, and a multivitamin is a great insurance policy." Not in the 30-to-40 range? Unless you eat a balanced, healthy diet 100 percent of the time you're probably deficient in some nutrients, especially if you regularly cut out an entire food group like carbs, dairy, or meat. Conclusion? Almost everyone can benefit.

Why do you need them?
Besides contributing to your overall health, multivitamins often come with a bonus: they make you feel and look good. "Your skin won't be as clear, your hair won't be as luminous, and your energy will be low if you're deficient in vitamins," says Dr. Lipman.

Need proof? In a recent double-blind Australian study researchers found that participants given a multivitamin reported higher energy levels and enhanced mood over those given a placebo--especially true for female participants. Those receiving a multivitamin also reported better sleep during the 16-week study.

But possible benefits don't stop at the short term. Numerous studies have found that popping a daily multivitamin can help prevent cancer, including a recent clinical trial supported by Harvard's School of Public Health and the National Institute of Health. The study followed 15,000 men for over 11 years and found those taking a multi had less occurrences of cancer than those who received a placebo.

How do you know which ones are best?
How does one navigate the vitamin aisle? Since the world of supplements is unregulated it's best to do your homework. Consumer Labs, the watchdog group of the vitamin world, recently released an independent analysis on 38 of the leading multivitamins. Only 25 passed. (Inaccurate levels of nutrients and insolubility caused some to fail.) Supplements with their seal of approval include One A Day's Women's Formula ($10), Nature's Way's Alive! Once Daily ($16), and Walgreen's One Daily For Women ($7). Hate pills? Soft gels, like Now Foods' Eve Women's Multivitamin ($15) are easier to swallow, or try a liquid version--Consumer Labs recommends Natrol's Liquid Multi-Vitamin ($12).

If you're looking for an option with a little something extra, try a vitamin pack. Dr. Lipman's own Daily Dose ($99) is a Who What Wear office favorite and includes his Complete Multivitamin along with omega-3 fish oil and a probiotic. Whatever you do, avoid reaching for a children's formula. "Gummy vitamins are often full of crap," Dr. Lipman says. "A lot of children's vitamins and gummy vitamins aren't high quality, so it may not be better than doing nothing."

Now pop a multi and stay tuned for Vitamins 102, where we'll dive into exactly what you need to max out the beauty benefits of supplements!