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The Evolution of Letter Vitamins & Multiples

Letter Vitamins Letter Vitamins
Phase 2

Retailers can expect new developments from well-established letter and multivitamins.

Today, there are 13 known essential or letter vitamins. On its website, WebMD provides a breakdown of their functions—nine of which are water soluble and the remaining four being fat soluble.

In short, the water soluble ones (B vitamins and vitamin C) travel throughout the body and are excreted by the kidneys, while the four fat soluble ones (vitamins A, D, E and K) are the contrary; they are stored in the cells and are not passed as easily. Respectively, one requires smaller, more frequent doses, while the latter requires less, but more sufficient servings.

There can be confusion as to which vitamin serves what particular function, but manufacturers have developed—and continue to develop—unique formulations that are marketable to both retailers and consumers.

Trends & Delivery Choices

When it comes to ingredients used in letter vitamins and multivitamins, one perspective centers on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) 2016 NDI (new dietary ingredient) Revised Draft Guidance.

This mentions the specifics of submitting an NDI notification, which involves notifying the FDA of dietary ingredients marketed in the U.S. after October 15, 1994.

“With the FDA’s final rule on new dietary ingredients still in limbo, there have not been a lot of truly novel ingredients introduced in the last few years because manufacturers don’t know what the FDA would require to allow them to be marketed,” noted Anne Trias, product director with Massachusetts-based American River Nutrition, producers of DeltaGold Tocotrienols. “Instead, the best suppliers of branded ingredients are focusing more on scientific substantiation of their existing products, and looking into additional applications and dosage forms.

“Today, it’s the amount of research on nutraceutical ingredients that impacts trends—just look at curcumin, for example,” Trias said. “Given our commitment to research and staying focused on the science, we believe the growing body of research will work in our favor, as tocotrienols take prominence over the old standby form of tocopherols. The consumer preference for natural as opposed to synthetic gives tocotrienols a clear advantage in this day of ‘clean labels.’”

In fact, according to Marci Clow, RDN, educator with Rainbow Light in California, “people are looking for clean and more natural products, along with transparent business and environmental practices. This has greatly impacted the market, as there are many mainstream shoppers who are crossing over to the natural products industry to find brands that are on pulse with this trend.”

She also referenced data from the National Marketing Institute (NMI), which not only suggests that more than 50 percent of supplement users are more likely to buy products with sustainable or environmentally friendly ingredients, they prefer to buy supplement ingredients derived from natural and organic sources as well.

From a more micro point of view, Florida-based Garden of Life currently has a mykind Organics line, whose formulas feature extracts and powders from more than 30 organic fruits, vegetables and herbs, as noted on the manufacturer’s website. Some, such as vitamin B12, are even available in spray form.

Amber Lynn Vitse, CN, Northeast regional educator for Garden of Life, pointed out the importance of utilizing legitimate plant sources.

“A big trend that we chose to dive into wholeheartedly was to use actual plant sources for the vitamins. Historically, there have been synthetics, synthetics with added natural cofactors, synthetics fermented with foods that usually contain that vitamin, and synthetics chelated and complexed into living microorganisms to renature them back to being whole foods,” she said. “I see more and more products besides our Dual Certified mykind Organics letter and multivitamins that include ingredients sourced from true botanicals.”

In addition, Stacey Gillespie, director of product marketing with New Hampsire-based MegaFood, mentioned that “novel delivery forms,” including gummies and liquids, are continuously gaining popularity in this category among adults.

Unique Formulations & Developments

Rainbow Light offers Vibrance Men’s Multivitamin plus Stress Support and Vibrance Women’s Multivitamin plus Stress Support, both of which are food-based multivitamins that contain full-spectrum highly bioavailable B vitamins and magnesium—they even have “targeted gender specific” botanicals, Clow noted.

She added that not only do lifestyle factors such as one’s age, diet, medications, environment, and the aforementioned stress impact, which multivitamin a customer ought to consume, but the safety, sourcing bioavailability and overall ingredient quality should be also considered.

“Although vitamin deficiency diseases, like scurvy from lack of vitamin C or rickets from lack of vitamin D, are rare in today’s modern world,” Clow explained, “many American diets are still lacking in several nutrients, that, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), are low enough to be a public health concern. American diets fall short of the amount considered ‘adequate intake’ for potassium, dietary fiber, choline, magnesium, calcium, and vitamins A, D, E and C. Iron also is under-consumed by adolescent girls and women ages 19 to 50 years. Low intakes for most of these nutrients occur within the context of unhealthy overall eating patterns, due to low intakes of the food groups—vegetables, fruits, whole grains and dairy—that contain these nutrients. Of the under-consumed nutrients, calcium, potassium, dietary fiber and vitamin D are considered nutrients of public health concern because low intakes are associated with health concerns.”

Clow continued, “The DGA’s are published every five years, and for the first time ever, the 2015/2020 revisions acknowledge that fortified foods and dietary supplements may be useful in providing nutrients that otherwise may be consumed in less than recommended amounts. In addition to the DGA data, statistics pooled from various U.S. government sponsored studies suggest that marginal deficiencies of selected nutrients exist in about half of the population.”

With a similar “targeted gender specific” vision that Rainbow Light stressed, MegaFood breaks down the differing health needs of men versus women via its MegaFood Doctor Formulated Multivitamins, which were formulated by Tieraona Low Dog, MD.

“The line includes multivitamins designed to support the unique nutritional needs of men and women at various phases of life,*” Gillespie said. “The nutritional needs of men and women vary greatly. Take iron for example. Men in general should not supplement their diet with iron, whereas women benefit from iron supplementation. Iron supplementation for women, however, should stop once a woman completes menopause. Women also have higher requirements for folic acid, whereas men have higher requirements for B vitamins. All of these factors, and others were taken into consideration when formulating the line of MegaFood Doctor Formulated Multivitamins.”

As for American River Nutrition’s DeltaGold, it flourishes in the vitamin E category due to its quality of tocotrienols.

“DeltaGold is unique,” Trias explained, “because it is the only tocotrienol ingredient sourced from the annatto plant, which is naturally free of tocopherols. Going tocopherol-free is important to prevent any potential hindrance of tocotrienol functions. Further, DeltaGold contains exclusively delta- and gamma-tocotrienols, the most potent vitamin E isomers for the majority of applications. Among the most prominent attributes of tocotrienols are cardiometabolic and cellular health benefits, as well as their more recently discovered bone health benefits.”

Market Status & Suggestions for Retailers

The letter vitamin and multivitamin market continues to show promise for the industry.

“Letter vitamins and multis have held pretty steady in total dietary supplement sales over the last few years,” Vitse noted. “They remain the most used category of dietary supplements by far. Only innovation in sourcing and third-party certification seems to propel a brand to grow faster than the market in the vitamin category.”

From a retailer standpoint, these items—especially multivitamins—have gained more recognition as a result of customer knowledge.

“For us, the market for letter vitamins has stayed roughly the same, but I have noticed an increase in demand for multivitamins,” observed Travis Lemon, manager and herbalist at Healthy Life Market in West Virginia. “The diversity of multivitamins combined with greater customer awareness of terms like ‘whole-food’ and ‘co-enzymated’ seem to be the driving force.”

Lemon recommended that retail staff members know the differences between the various forms of vitamins. The logic: informed staff = informed customers.

Clow even offered some specifics that retailers could follow, consisting of marketing and education tips:

• Having an infographic or a handout that can help answer, ‘Why take a multivitamin?’ These can be simple, yet effective tools for marketing the necessity and importance of multivitamins.

• Creating end caps or other forms of promotions that encourage and focus on living a healthy lifestyle, including choosing a wide variety of foods, physical activity, lifestyle habits, hydration and stress management. The idea of featuring a multivitamin as a part of that healthy lifestyle might also be included.

• Providing store tours and/or educational seminars featuring credentialed presenters, incorporating the aforementioned factors and concentrating on how a multivitamin can fit into living a healthy lifestyle.


When monitoring research on supplement ingredients, it is essential to consider both the “good” and the “bad.”

“Rainbow Light’s team closely follows both positive and negative research looking at both individual ingredients and a combination of multivitamin type products,” Clow said. “It is important for our team to stay abreast of new developments so that we can offer both new products and reformulations of existing products that are supported by the body of evidence. Of particular interest was a systematic review, published in January of this year [2017], which looked at the safety and rationale of long-term multivitamin use, suggesting a link to counteracting potential health issues caused by dietary inadequacy.1”

Some vitamins, such as vitamin E, have existed for decades, which signifies one idea: progress. Over the years, research has continued to evolve and has opened up room for discovery along the lines of tocotrienols and tocopherols, the two compounds that comprise this vitamin.

“When vitamin E was discovered in 1922, it was only known as tocopherol—the tocotrienol form had not yet been identified—so all the early research was on the tocopherol form,” said Trias. “When demand made truly natural tocopherols impractical, research found a way to address that. Today, much of the ‘natural’ alpha-tocopherol on the market is semi-synthetic, with soy- and corn-based tocopherols synthesized to (RRR- or d-) alpha-tocopherol via the addition of one methyl group to gamma-tocopherol and two methyl groups to delta-tocopherol (these methyl groups are petro-chemically sourced).”

Even though tocotrienols were finally discovered in the mid-1960s, it has taken a while to identify how the various forms of vitamin E, and the benefits they provide, differ,” Trias explained. “More recently, research on the composition of different sources of tocotrienols, rice, palm and annatto, has shown they vary. Palm and rice sources contain 25-50 percent alpha-tocopherol, and annatto is the only known source of tocotrienols with virtually no tocopherols present. This is an important feature, because alpha-tocopherol has consistently been shown to interfere with tocotrienol functions.

“Tocotrienols have proven to contain some remarkable benefits that cannot be substantiated with tocopherols. Today, the brightest spot for tocotrienol research is in inflammatory disorders such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.”

Vitse noted research that has casted a dark cloud over certain vitamins. “There has been some bad press in the last few years about individual letter vitamins that have shown negative effects in various research endeavors. The forms of vitamins used in the research are typically completely synthesized, not the molecules as they exist in the human body or in the foods we eat, she stressed. “Thus there is always a risk of side effects from the non-therapeutic racemic isomer. Therefore, we, as manufacturers, have had to put a lot of extra effort into both the education about different types of letter vitamins and multis, as well as into the development of vitamins that are in their natural forms. I’m sure most quality companies are engaged in active education about the difference between synthetic vitamins and those that are in the forms that exist naturally.” VR

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.


1 Biesalski HK, Tinz J. Multivitamin/mineral supplements: Rationale and safety -A systematic review. Nutrition. 2017 Jan; 33:76-82.

For More Information:
American River Nutrition, Inc., (413) 253-3449
Garden of Life, (561) 748-2477
MegaFood, (800) 848-2542
Rainbow Light, (800) 475-1890

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