Should Teenagers Take a Multivitamin Supplement?

To supplement or not to supplement — that is the question for many teenagers and their parents. While there aren’t magic pills to fix symptoms and poor diet habits, many attribute superior health to multivitamin supplements. So, what is the truth and what is simply trending? 

The verdict is this: Teenagers do not need a multivitamin supplement if they are already eating a balanced diet. Some at risk adolescents may need a multivitamin supplement to stay healthy.

Read on to learn more about multivitamins for teenagers and why they aren’t always the best choice for health.

Can Teenagers Take a Multivitamin Supplement?

Multivitamins are generally a low risk option for your teen’s health. Following the label instructions and monitoring your teen’s nutrient levels over time is important to understanding how the supplement and dose are working for your teen. 

Some vitamins provide too much of a good thing. Looking at the “Daily Value” on the food or supplement label can help you to determine if a multivitamin will meet your teen’s needs. Values of 100% or less are generally an appropriate amount to supplement with. The labels are usually based on an average 2000 calorie diet. 

Not every teenager needs a multivitamin supplement. A supplement does not make up for a bad diet. “Food first” as dietitians like to say. Speak with your teen’s dietitian or doctor if you think a multivitamin may be needed.

What are the Health Risks of Taking a Multivitamin Supplement?

Supplements are not heavily regulated by the FDA, and some brands may contain unsafe ingredients or amounts. Many supplements contain high doses of nutrients that put teens at risk for toxicity and bad side effects.

Some individuals should avoid supplements including individuals who are taking other medications, pregnant or breastfeeding, planning on getting surgery, or have certain health issues and some types of cancer. Always check with a doctor before taking a supplement or multivitamin.

If you do choose a multivitamin supplement, make sure the type and amount are safe and store it safely where younger kids and pets can’t get into it.

What are the Health Benefits of Taking a Multivitamin Supplement?

For teens at risk for deficiencies, daily multivitamins can help them meet the needs that their diet does not. Adolescent females tend to have lower intakes of protein, iron, folate, and B vitamins. Multivitamins can help to supplement and enhance the quality of a teen’s diet so that they can have improved performance — from their daily tasks to athletic ability. 

What Supplements do Teenagers Need? 

Before starting supplements, remember that getting your vitamins and minerals from food first is likely the best option for you or your teen. Any sort of supplement usually requires processing in order to get it to a source suitable for human consumption. “Processing” isn’t always a bad thing, but in the case of multivitamins versus whole foods, whole foods almost always have a more bioavailable form of the nutrients you need. 

Most teenagers do not need vitamins or supplements if they are regularly eating a wide variety of foods. There is no perfect “one-size-fits-all” vitamin for teenagers, however, it would be a good idea to check in with a doctor or dietitian every 6 months to a year. 

Keeping up with regular healthcare appointments can help identify specific individual nutrient recommendations (by completing food frequency questionnaires and blood tests). Trends towards deficiencies can be more closely monitored before the situation gets serious and begins to interfere with the teen’s quality of life. 

High-Quality Multi-Vitamins

If you do an internet search, you’ll find an overwhelming amount of supplements and vitamins. The supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar industry and marketing is often way ahead of science. Everyone tells you health comes in a magic “pill” form. How do you make sure you aren’t wasting money on unnecessary or even harmful multivitamins?

A multivitamin from a reputable brand may be beneficial for young athletes and other teenagers, just remember that food is almost always better than supplements and a supplement doesn’t make up for a bad diet. Check your teen’s supplement label for each nutrient amount to see at what level it is meeting their needs. An appropriate multivitamin has 100% Daily Value or less for each nutrient. 

Think of it this way — the best multivitamin is a varied diet full of nutrient-rich foods. The second best way to meet your nutrient needs is to supplement what your body can’t get from those foods with a high-quality multivitamin or mineral supplement. 

Check with your doctor to see if your teen is deficient in any of these important nutrients:

Vitamin C 

Vitamin C is known for its role in immunity. However, it is also crucial to many other functions in the body, such as helping the body to recover from wounds. Most teens can meet their vitamin C needs through foods by including more produce such as citrus fruit, berries, melons, tomatoes, bell peppers, and broccoli in their diets. 

If your teen has trouble meeting their vitamin C needs through food, consult with a dietitian to see what options are available for supplementation. Generally, a multivitamin can be suggested or a dietitian may recommend a high-quality supplement along with increasing intake of certain foods in the diet. 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is important for bone health and strength, muscle growth, immune health, and heart and lung function. For athletes, it can be a nutrient crucial to recovery rate, strength, avoiding serious injury, and immune health.

Vitamin D comes from sun exposure (and a few foods) so regular time outdoors is important, however, certain factors influence vitamin D level including where you live, air pollution, sunscreen, layers of clothing, skin pigmentation, and age.

Many teens are deficient in vitamin D. Supplementing with vitamin D is a common recommendation for teens, especially since the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 have identified it as a nutrient of public health concern. Along with calcium, vitamin D is crucial in maintaining bone health, especially during youth and young adulthood when approaching peak bone mass. 

Incorporating a high-quality supplement as recommended by a dietitian can help to both improve dietary quality as well as avoid the onset of chronic disease later in life. Many milks and milk alternatives are now fortified with vitamin D. Fish and fortified breakfast cereals are also a great source of the nutrient as well.  Your teen’s healthcare providers can help determine whether or not they are meeting their vitamin D needs. 

I tend to recommend vitamin D supplements more often than anything else. Check with your child’s doctor or dietitian if you think they may benefit from a vitamin D supplement.

Other Nutrient Needs

The recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 emphasized protein as an area where intake generally meets targets except for adolescent females ages 14-18.

Seafood is a subgroup of protein. It supports intakes of healthy fatty acids, yet it is consumed far below the recommended levels. If your teen is having a difficult time incorporating seafood into a healthy and balanced diet, you may want to consider a supplement such as Fish Oil or Fermented Cod Liver Oil that contains omega-3 fatty acids

Other nutrients of concern include calcium, potassium, and dietary fiber. It is key that teenagers strive to meet their nutrient needs through diet first. Dietitians can help to recommend foods particularly high in needed nutrients, as well as supplements from trusted brands to meet the needs that food is not. 

Who Should Take a Multivitamin Supplement? 

Teenagers with allergies, other health and digestive issues, vegans and vegetarians, and other at risk adolescents may benefit or even need a supplement to meet daily nutrient needs. Why? These teens are prone to nutrient deficiencies more than the average teen. 

Some teens choose to take multivitamin supplements to boost their health or specific supplements to fill a specific nutrient gap. Consider why your teen might need a multivitamin before buying anything.

  • Will this supplement benefit my teen’s health? Is it for a medical condition?
  • What does the research say? Does it have clear benefits?
  • How much does my teen need to take?
  • Are there any side effects?

Vegan and Vegetarian Teens

Vitamin B12 is found in animal-based foods, so primarily plant-based teens may need a multivitamin to make sure they don’t become deficient. B vitamins are crucial to maintaining many normal body functions, but especially are key in maintaining metabolism and energy levels. With busy teen schedules, B vitamins are extra important.

Teens with Digestive Disease

Youth with intestinal issues such as celiac disease or Crohn’s disease have a higher chance of experiencing deficiencies. In these cases, absorption of the vitamin is impeded by disease and damage of the intestine. Many vitamins are primarily absorbed in the intestine and so digestive diseases can interfere with vitamin absorption. 

Teens with Challenging Eating Habits

Teens who have a poor appetite, drink lots of sugar-sweetened beverages, take multiple medications, or have chronic medical conditions may want to consider taking supplemental multivitamins to meet their needs.  

Adolescent Females

Teenage girls are particularly prone to deficiency in iron. Blood volume expands due to increased muscle mass from growth spurts. This increases the need for iron but simultaneously girls begin to lose iron stores during menstruation.

Unfortunately, many teens also experience calorie-restrictive diets and become focused on body image. The combination of these patterns makes teen girls in particular at higher risk for deficiency, not only in iron intake but also in other important vitamins and minerals. 

What Multivitamin Should Teenagers Take Every Day?

The best multivitamin for most teens is eating a well-balanced diet that meets the daily recommended intake amounts for vitamins and minerals. A well-balanced diet could include eating the following elements: 

  • Dairy or fortified dairy alternatives
  • Fruits and vegetables (preferably in their whole form)
  • Whole or ancient grains
  • Protein foods (i.e. poultry, eggs, nuts)
  • Legumes (i.e. beans, lentils) 

If you choose a multivitamin, check the National Institute of Health – Office of Dietary Supplements for evidence on specific nutrients. Choose supplements that are labeled with a quality seal, such as NSF International, US Pharmacopeia, Underwriters Laboratory, or Consumer Lab. These labels certify the product has been tested and contains what is listed on the label.

Avoid products labeled with claims that are too good to be true.

The Bottom Line 

Multivitamins can be a great way to meet the needs of a teen who can’t absorb all they need from food. However, most teens are capable of meeting their nutrient needs from food. The best way to do this is to eat nutrient-rich foods that are full of vitamins and minerals instead of choosing foods that are high in calories but low in nutrients (such as sugar-sweetened beverages like soda or sports drinks). Delicious foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean protein can improve health and also help the body better absorb supplements. 

Want to learn more? The following articles can help you know whether popular supplements are a good choice for you or your teen: 

Related Questions

What Supplements Should I Take as a Teenager? Teenagers generally do not need any supplements, but some may benefit from a vitamin D supplement if deficient. Speak to your doctor and check in regularly for blood tests if you believe you are deficient.

Can a Teenager Take Vitamin B12? Most teenagers do not need to take vitamin B12. Vegan or vegetarian teens should check in with their doctor regularly for blood tests to see if they need a vitamin B12 supplement. B12 is water soluble and usually safer at high doses than other vitamins.

Is it Bad to Take Supplements Everyday? Taking a multivitamin supplement with appropriate amounts of nutrients (less than 100% DV on the label) is low-risk. Taking supplements with high doses of nutrients can cause bad side effects.

At What Age Should a Child Start Taking Multivitamins? Children can take multivitamins starting at age 2, but always check with a pediatrician before giving any supplements to your children.

See Also


Ellis E. Does My Child Need A Supplement. Published August 10, 2019. 

Ellis E. How to Keep Your Immune System Healthy. Published October 23, 2018. 

Klemm S. Vitamin D Deficiency in Kids. Published April 29, 2020.

Klemm S. Vitamin Needs of Athletes. Published November 6, 2018. 

Ryan M. Give Your Teen’s Iron a Boost. Published April 2, 2019. 

United States Department of Agriculture. Published December 2020. 

Katherine Harmer, RDN

I'm a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a love for coaching others to success in their health goals, especially teenage athletes. Tennis was my sport of choice in high school. Now I'm a little bit older, a little bit smarter, and a little bit worse at tennis.

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