Multivitamin vs Individual Vitamins - Which is Better?

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Published by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: November 28, 2023
FACT CHECKED by Dr. Kristy Dayanan, BS, MD
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Taking one multivitamin a day is much more convenient than juggling a variety of individual pills. However, it's crucial to understand that multivitamins aren't a one-size-fits-all solution.

As an experienced nutritionist and personal trainer, I often discuss this topic with my clients.

This article delves into the nuances of multivitamins versus individual vitamins, covering common multivitamin combinations and helping you determine the best approach for your specific health needs.

Quick Summary

  • Multivitamins are convenient and provide a wide range of vitamins and minerals in one pill, while individual vitamins are better for addressing specific deficiencies or medical conditions.
  • Individual vitamins can be prescribed in specific dosages based on individual needs and health conditions, while multivitamins provide a general dosage for overall nutrition.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends taking individual folate supplements before and during early pregnancy to reduce the risk of birth defects and congenital disabilities.
  • In my view, the decision between multivitamins and individual vitamins hinges on personal health goals and nutritional gaps, a balance I help my clients navigate daily.

8 Common Individual Vitamins and Minerals

Doctors typically prescribe individual vitamin supplements or minerals to treat or prevent specific nutrient deficiencies.

Some of the most common mineral supplements prescribed individually are:

1. Iron

A woman having a headache

In my experience as a nutritionist, I've seen numerous clients struggle with iron deficiency, one of the most common mineral deficiencies globally.

A doctor may recommend supplements to treat this mineral deficiency that causes anemia.

Iron deficiency is also linked to restless leg syndrome, thinning hair, and recurrent Candida infection.

On the other hand, high levels of iron can cause toxicity, so be careful not to exceed the recommended dosage.

2. Magnesium

This mineral has a beneficial laxative effect and enhances a good night's sleep.

There are a couple of different magnesium salts with different absorptions, and your doctor will prescribe the best one for you.

Common fat soluble vitamins and water soluble vitamins that are prescribed together:

3. Folic Acid

An exhausted anemic woman

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends taking individual folate supplements before and during early pregnancy to reduce the risk of birth defects and congenital disabilities [1].

Lack of this supplement is also linked to a specific form of anemia, often accompanied by vitamin B12 deficiency.

4. Vitamin B12

This vitamin is prescribed in high doses to treat pernicious anemia, which develops when your immune system attacks the stomach cells that produce the factor needed for vitamin B12 absorption.

5. Vitamin B6

B6 is very popular among women with premenstrual tension and people suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome. However, the evidence for the vitamin’s effectiveness is inconsistent.

B vitamins in general have a positive impact on mental health, particularly brain health and mood.

6. Vitamin C

A person drinking a lemonade

Vitamin C deficiency, though rare, can lead to scurvy. This essential vitamin is widely consumed in high doses to enhance immune function.

Being water-soluble, Vitamin C is generally safe, but excessive long-term use may result in indigestion.

Incorporating essential vitamins like Vitamin C is crucial for overall health, as they support various bodily functions and promote well-being.

Additionally, Vitamin C serves as a potent antioxidant, guarding the body against harmful free radicals.

7. Vitamin D

This is recommended especially during winter months when people don't get enough UV light to synthesize their supplies.

Even when the sun is shining, you'll probably need to take a single vitamin D since it's hard to absorb it from food as Medical News Today reports [2].

“Frequent, moderate exposure to the sun is healthful, but prolonged exposure can be dangerous. It is important to note that when someone stays in the sun so long that their skin burns, they have a higher risk of developing skin cancer."

- Amanda Barrell, Health & Medical Education Journalist

8. Vitamin E

Vitamin E is typically taken with other antioxidants, such as vitamin C, to regenerate vitamin E once it has acted as an antioxidant.

Individual Vitamin Dosage

Different vitamins scattered around

From my personal experience, I've learned that there's no one-size-fits-all dosage for single vitamins and minerals.

Consulting a doctor or nutritionist is crucial for tailored advice based on life stages, deficiencies, and health conditions.

Severe deficiencies might need increased supplement doses, while certain conditions may alter these needs.

Single vitamins are vital for optimal nutrition, each offering unique benefits and recommended daily intakes.

In specific deficiency cases, healthcare providers may suggest targeted single vitamin supplementation for effective treatment.

Pros and Cons of Taking Single Nutrient Vitamins

As a nutritionist, I've observed that while multivitamins are generally preferred, there are cases where single vitamins are more beneficial.

Additionally, it's important to consider how certain vitamins might interact with prescription medications, a factor often overlooked but crucial for those on long-term medication regimes.

Pros
  • Better for addressing specific nutrients and deficiencies
  • Ideal for supplementing specific medical conditions
Cons
  • The only con is that you need professional advice to combine them and avoid taking too much, too little, or cause side effects from interaction with your meds.

Taking Multivitamins

Different kinds of multivitamins compressed at each other

Through my years of experience, I've seen how multivitamins can be a game-changer for many. They offer a convenient way to get all the necessary vitamins and minerals.

A typical multivitamin contains vitamins A, B, C, D, and K, but formulas vary among brands, with some including vitamin E and various B complex vitamins.

Brands often design supplements for specific body functions or parts. Common combinations include:

  • Potassium, magnesium, and B vitamins - These are often combined to maintain normal blood pressure and reduce tiredness and fatigue.
  • Selenium and vitamins A, C, E - This blend is very popular in antioxidant blends as they protect cells from the damaging particles (free radicals) associated with premature aging.
  • Antioxidants, B vitamins, carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin), beta carotene, and zinc - This combination are frequent ingredients in blends that support eye health. We recommend you opt for one of the best ZMA supplements.
  • Calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin K, and boron - They are combined in multivitamins designed to support bone health, like in K2&D3 supplements. Moreover, calcium is typically combined with vitamin D to aid its absorption.

Also read: The best multivitamins for vegans

Multivitamin Dosage

As with taking vitamins individually, you need to consult a doctor and follow their instructions.

Pros and Cons of Taking Multivitamins

Pros
  • Taking a multivitamin is much more convenient than taking many vitamins.
  • You can get a high concentration of vitamins and minerals in one single pill.
  • Taking a multivitamin should cover all the bases and be more cost-effective than multiple supplements.
Cons
  • You can’t target specific deficiencies or health issues with a multivitamin.

When to Use Individual Vitamins vs Multivitamins?

Top view of different kinds of vitamins

My opinion as a nutritionist is that individual vitamins should be used for specific deficiencies. In most other cases, I advise clients to opt for multivitamins for broader nutritional support.

Using a multivitamin is better for their absorption as they support each other and help one another function better and deliver the best results.

Needless to say, they should be prescribed by a doctor after running the required tests.


References:

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/about.html
  2. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326167
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About The Author

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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