Multivitamins vs. Individual Vitamins: Which Is Better?
Updated: May 1
As a healthcare provider, I often get asked about the differences between multi-vitamins and individual vitamins.
Multi-vitamins are supplements that contain a combination of vitamins and minerals, while individual vitamins contain only one nutrient. It's important to understand that for most healthy individuals, a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods is sufficient to meet their daily nutrient needs. However, there are instances where individuals with nutrient deficiencies or health conditions may benefit from taking supplements.
When it comes to choosing between multi-vitamins and individual vitamins, it's important to consider your specific needs. If you have a nutrient deficiency, you may need to take individual vitamins to address that specific deficiency. For example, if you have a vitamin D deficiency, taking a vitamin D supplement may be recommended.
On the other hand, if you don't have a specific nutrient deficiency, a multi-vitamin may be a more convenient and cost-effective option. However, it's important to choose a high-quality multi-vitamin that contains the right balance of vitamins and minerals for your age, gender, and other factors. Look for a multi-vitamin that contains vitamins and minerals that are in their most bioavailable forms and avoid those with fillers, additives, and artificial colors.
Can help you meet basic nutrient requirements
Generally safe if not above your recommended limits
Can choose a formulation based on your age, sex, and pregnancy status
Nutrient synergy may be higher
Doesn’t allow for personalization
Potential for excess
May not contain enough of a certain nutrient you need
Can be tailored to your specific needs
Generally safe if not above your recommended limits
Can be cumbersome and expensive if taking many individual vitamins
Possibility for toxicity
Nutrient synergy may be lower
I would recommend multivitamins if…
You are unable to eat a balanced diet most of the time;
You have a gastrointestinal condition you’re working on healing, and/or;
You have increased nutrient needs like during pregnancy.
I would recommend individual vitamins if…
You’re looking to target a specific nutrient deficiency. It's also important to remember that supplements should not replace a healthy diet. A balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods is the best way to ensure that you are getting all the nutrients your body needs. Additionally, it's always a good idea to consult with a healthcare provider before taking any supplements to determine the right supplements and doses for your individual needs.
In summary, whether you should take multi-vitamins or individual vitamins depends on your specific needs. A balanced diet is the best way to ensure you are getting the nutrients your body needs, but supplements may be beneficial in certain situations. Always consult with a healthcare provider to determine the right supplements and doses for you.
Micronutrient Inadequacies in the US Population: an Overview | Linus Pauling Institute | Oregon State University [Internet]. [cited 2022 Apr 21]. Available from: https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/micronutrient-inadequacies/overview
United States Department of Agriculture. Make Every Bite Count With the Dietary Guidelines. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 2020;
Bird JK, Murphy RA, Ciappio ED, McBurney MI. Risk of deficiency in multiple concurrent micronutrients in children and adults in the united states. Nutrients. 2017 Jun 24;9(7). DOI: 10.3390/nu9070655. PMID: 28672791. PMCID: PMC5537775.
Blumberg JB, Bailey RL, Sesso HD, Ulrich CM. The Evolving Role of Multivitamin/Multimineral Supplement Use among Adults in the Age of Personalized Nutrition. Nutrients. 2018 Feb 22;10(2). DOI: 10.3390/nu10020248. PMID: 29470410. PMCID: PMC5852824.
Blumberg JB, Cena H, Barr SI, Biesalski HK, Dagach RU, Delaney B, et al. The use of multivitamin/multimineral supplements: A modified delphi consensus panel report. Clin Ther. 2018 Apr;40(4):640–57. DOI: 10.1016/j.clinthera.2018.02.014. PMID: 29573851.
Gaziano JM, Sesso HD, Christen WG, Bubes V, Smith JP, MacFadyen J, et al. Multivitamins in the prevention of cancer in men: the Physicians’ Health Study II randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2012 Nov 14;308(18):1871–80. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2012.14641. PMID: 23162860. PMCID: PMC3517179.
Zhao L-Q, Li L-M, Zhu H, The Epidemiological Evidence-Based Eye Disease Study Research Group EY. The effect of multivitamin/mineral supplements on age-related cataracts: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrients. 2014 Feb 28;6(3):931–49. DOI: 10.3390/nu6030931. PMID: 24590236. PMCID: PMC3967170.
Beeram I, Mortensen SJ, Yeritsyan D, Momenzadeh K, von Keudell A, Nazarian A. Multivitamins and risk of fragility hip fracture: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Arch Osteoporos. 2021 Feb 11;16(1):29. DOI: 10.1007/s11657-021-00893-x. PMID: 33575883.
Li K, Liu C, Kuang X, Deng Q, Zhao F, Li D. Effects of Multivitamin and Multimineral Supplementation on Blood Pressure: A Meta-Analysis of 12 Randomized Controlled Trials. Nutrients. 2018 Aug 3;10(8). DOI: 10.3390/nu10081018. PMID: 30081527. PMCID: PMC6116168.
Park SH, Hwang JS, Shin YJ. Effect of multivitamin drug on intractable dry eye symptoms. Front Med (Lausanne). 2022 Sep 6;9:978107. DOI: 10.3389/fmed.2022.978107. PMID: 36148465. PMCID: PMC9486468.
Zhang FF, Barr SI, McNulty H, Li D, Blumberg JB. Health effects of vitamin and mineral supplements. BMJ. 2020 Jun 29;369:m2511. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.m2511. PMID: 32601065. PMCID: PMC7322674.
Andrews KW, Roseland JM, Gusev PA, Palachuvattil J, Dang PT, Savarala S, et al. Analytical ingredient content and variability of adult multivitamin/mineral products: national estimates for the Dietary Supplement Ingredient Database. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017;105(2):526–39. DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.116.134544. PMID: 27974309. PMCID: PMC5267296.
Data brief 399: dietary supplement use among adults: united states, 2017–2018. Hyattsville, MD: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2021 Feb. DOI: 10.15620/cdc:101131.
Morris AL, Mohiuddin SS. Biochemistry, Nutrients. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022. PMID: 32119432.
Home | Dietary Supplement Label Database (DSLD) | NIH Office of Dietary Supplements [Internet]. [cited 2022 Sep 8]. Available from: https://dsld.od.nih.gov/
Home | Dietary Guidelines for Americans [Internet]. [cited 2022 Jan 7]. Available from: https://dietaryguidelines.gov/
Vitamin B12 – Consumer [Internet]. [cited 2021 Jun 15]. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-Consumer/
Reider CA, Chung R-Y, Devarshi PP, Grant RW, Hazels Mitmesser S. Inadequacy of Immune Health Nutrients: Intakes in US Adults, the 2005-2016 NHANES. Nutrients. 2020 Jun 10;12(6). DOI: 10.3390/nu12061735. PMID: 32531972. PMCID: PMC7352522.
2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines | health.gov [Internet]. [cited 2022 Sep 8]. Available from: https://health.gov/our-work/nutrition-physical-activity/dietary-guidelines/previous-dietary-guidelines/2015
National Institutes of Health State-of-the-Science Panel. National Institutes of Health State-of-the-Science Conference Statement: multivitamin/mineral supplements and chronic disease prevention. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Jan;85(1):257S-264S. DOI: 10.1093/ajcn/85.1.257S. PMID: 17209206.
24-hour Dietary Recall (24HR) | INDDEX Project [Internet]. [cited 2022 Sep 9]. Available from: https://inddex.nutrition.tufts.edu/data4diets/data-source/24-hour-dietary-recall-24hr
Food Composition Databases | INDDEX Project [Internet]. [cited 2022 Sep 9]. Available from: https://inddex.nutrition.tufts.edu/node/204
FoodData Central [Internet]. [cited 2021 Oct 14]. Available from: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/ndb/nutrients/report?nutsort=608&max=25&offset=0&nutrient1=610&nutrient2=609&nutrient3=608&measureby=g&subset=0&sort=c&totCount=6323
Barrett DM. Maximizing the Nutritional Value of Fruits & Vegetables [Internet]. [cited 2022 Oct 14]. Available from: https://fruitandvegetable.ucdavis.edu/files/197179.pdf
Should I Take a Daily Multivitamin? | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health [Internet]. [cited 2022 Sep 13]. Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/multivitamin/
Magnesium – Health Professional Fact Sheet [Internet]. [cited 2022 Oct 14]. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/#h5
Kominiarek MA, Rajan P. Nutrition recommendations in pregnancy and lactation. Med Clin North Am. 2016 Nov;100(6):1199–215. DOI: 10.1016/j.mcna.2016.06.004. PMID: 27745590. PMCID: PMC5104202.
Fayemi PO, Muchenje V, Yetim H, Ahhmed A. Targeting the pains of food insecurity and malnutrition among internally displaced persons with nutrient synergy and analgesics in organ meat. Food Res Int. 2018 Feb;104:48–58. DOI: 10.1016/j.foodres.2016.11.038. PMID: 29433783.
Eaton JC, Rothpletz-Puglia P, Dreker MR, Kaganda J, Iannotti L, Lutter C, et al. Effectiveness of provision of animal-source foods for supporting optimal growth and development in children 6 to 59 months of age. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017 Oct 3; DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD012818. PMID: 30779870. PMCID: PMC6380771.