Multivitamins Vs Individual Vitamins

Overview

Do you frequently get sick or feel lethargic all the time? Even if you eat a balanced diet, there is a potential that your diet lacks sufficient nutrients that promote cellular renewal, especially micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. Did you know that while your body only needs trace amounts of vitamins and minerals, a deficiency can have significant adverse effects on your general health? 

There are over 13 important vitamins, including vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and the B complex. Vitamins B complex includes thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, B6, B12, and folate. Also, there are over 7 vital minerals, including calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride, and sulphur. These vitamins and minerals are essential to human health, and their absence from the diet can seriously affect how the body operates and how people feel physically. The most straightforward strategy to compensate for a deficiency in dietary micronutrients is to regularly take supplements, widely known as multivitamins. According to research, six out of ten British citizens regularly ensure the intake of multivitamins.

Once you step out intending to purchase a vitamin supplement, you will discover a large array of products, some of which are multivitamins and others which are individualised supplements. It might be difficult to choose from the many options available, so here is a thorough comparison of the two options — individual and multivitamins — to help you decide which is best for you.

What Does Multivitamins Refer to Exactly?

Multivitamins, as the name implies, are combinations of several vitamins and minerals that are formulated to meet daily dietary requirements and compensate for dietary deficiencies in vitamins and minerals. They typically come in liquids, soft gels, tablets, and capsules. Even though they are widely recommended for pregnancies, and chronic illnesses, to make up for deficiencies and a variety of other disorders, they are also frequently ingested by both adults and children to cover up nutritional gaps in their diets. 

The composition of each supplement can vary because they are typically not standardised, but they all closely adhere to the daily dosages for each vitamin and mineral. Multivitamins are commonly referred to as multiples, multivits or multis due to the multiple vitamin combination. They are typically taken once or twice a day, depending on the dosage. Multivitamins are particularly well-liked due to their ease, once-daily compositions that are adjusted to the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) based on gender. Even though milligrams and micrograms are the most frequent units for measuring vitamins, they are also measured in international units (IU).1

What Does an Individual Vitamin Refer to Exactly?

Individual vitamins are made up of just one vitamin or mineral. Individual vitamins, which differ from multivitamins in emphasising the correction of a single deficit, are typically prescribed for vitamin deficiencies that cannot be resolved through diet. Even though there are over-the-counter solutions for specific vitamins, these are typically prescribed by doctors. Chronic illnesses and long-term poor nutrition also call for the usage of individual vitamin supplements.

Examples

Vitamin D and vitamin B12 are two examples of individual vitamin supplements, as both are sparingly acquired through diet. In addition to several other conditions, vitamin D deficiency can cause rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. Studies by the National Institute of Health show that supplement use can result in vitamin D intakes that are up to three times higher than those obtained through food sources.

Another crucial vitamin with a strong correlation to energy and mood is vitamin B12. There has been an increase in the incidence of vitamin B12 deficiency in elderly adults, vegans, and people with intestinal problems. Studies suggest that people taking Metformin for diabetes also suffer from B12 deficiency because it inhibits B12 uptake.2 Primary care physicians will recommend B12 supplements in such circumstances.

Similarly, folic acid shortage in women of childbearing age and expectant moms increases the chance of neural birth defects and abnormalities in infants and also predisposes mothers to the risk of developing anaemia and peripheral neuropathy.3 Due to this reason, gynaecologists prescribe folic acid to pregnant women and women who are trying to conceive.

Differences Between Multivitamins And Individual Vitamins

Following are the differences between multivitamins and individual vitamins:

  • Individual vitamins only contain a single vitamin, in contrast to multivitamins, which contain a variety of vitamins and minerals in a single pill or tablet. 
  • Since multivitamins combine a variety of vitamins and minerals, they have a trace amount of each, as opposed to standalone supplements, which contain a higher dosage of vitamins or supplements.
  • Multivitamins closely follow the guidelines for daily allowances, and on the other hand, due to the high dosage of individual vitamins, they often supersede the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs). 
  • Multivitamins have a generic use, while individual vitamins have a targeted usage. 

Are Multivitamins More Effective Than An Individual Vitamin?

Have you observed that multivitamins are significantly more frequently used than single vitamins? Does that imply that multivitamins are more potent? 

Certainly, multivitamins are much more practical than individual vitamins.  Since you can easily swallow a single pill and chew on a gummy multivitamin, they are practical. Individual multivitamins, on the other hand, are bothersome since you have to swallow many pills or tablets at once, which is not only a hassle but also dramatically raises the cost of buying each necessary mineral and vitamin. Due to all of this, multivitamin compliance is typically higher than that of individual vitamins, which significantly increases the efficacy of multivitamins. 

Additionally, multivitamins are made to counteract any nutrient-to-nutrient interactions by containing a decent percentage of antagonistic and synergistic ingredients. The main benefit of multivitamins is the balanced ratio of all the ingredients. You are more susceptible to nutrient-to-nutrient and nutrient-to-medicine interactions when you take individual vitamins, which might also prevent you from absorbing certain vitamins.

Another significant point to note is that while you can take multivitamins on your own, you should consult with a doctor before picking a particular vitamin to avoid overdosing by taking more than the recommended dosage. Water-soluble vitamin overdoses like Vitamin B and C are manageable because the excess is eliminated in the urine. But toxicity is a concern with fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K.

Individual vitamins require you to pick and choose from the essential vitamins, and since there is no such thing as unnecessary vitamins, their use puts you in a disadvantaged position. Since multivitamins have a more comprehensive composition, they have a better chance of bridging any dietary and nutritional gaps. 

Can I Take Several Individual Vitamins At The Same Time? 

There is no evidence to support the idea that taking different vitamins at the same time poses any risks. Given that they do not interact, you can typically take several different vitamins at once. But just because something is safe does not imply you should continue taking different vitamin pills one after the other. 

While some vitamins can be more effectively absorbed at specific times of the day, others need a specific combination of host conditions. For example, iron supplements are absorbed better when taken on an empty stomach, while the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, are better absorbed when consumed with a meal rich in fatty acids. Some supplements improve the absorption of each other. For example, vitamin C accelerates the absorption of iron, and calcium aids in better absorption of Vitamin D. Similarly, vitamins A and E are also preferentially taken together. Research has proven that Vitamin D alone is not as efficient as vitamin D and calcium together.5 

Some vitamins have an antagonistic effect on the other, and they should never be taken in combination as they counter the effect of each other and hinder appropriate absorption. Some of the examples include calcium, magnesium and zinc, when taken together compete for absorption adversely affecting the absorption of each.6 The same is the case with copper and zinc. It is also important not to pair multivitamins with a fibre-rich meal as it can adversely affect absorption.

How Do I Know Which Is The Best One For Me? 

Picking your multivitamin or dietary supplement selection is like shooting an arrow in the dark. It is crucial to discuss your symptoms and concerns with your primary care doctor so they can create a personalised vitamin prescription for you after doing a few baseline tests. Your doctor would be better equipped to determine whether you should continue taking multivitamins or transition to a personalised individual vitamin regimen based on the results of your lab tests, family history, underlying deficiencies, and chronic diseases.

Summary

Generally, a healthy person will typically obtain all the necessary vitamins and minerals from a balanced and healthy diet. Even though incorporating a multivitamin into the routine significantly helps with filling in nutritional gaps, minimising vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and fostering optimal health and well-being. Before purchasing individual and multivitamins, it is wise to consult with internal medicine specialists and medical professionals as the gold standard approach. Your primary care doctor and a nutritionist can help you determine your specific dietary needs and, if necessary, help you incorporate an individual vitamin supplement.

References

  1. Vitamins and minerals. nhs.uk [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2022 Nov 8]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/.
  2. Ting RZ-W, Szeto CC, Chan MH-M, Ma KK, Chow KM. Risk factors of vitamin B(12) deficiency in patients receiving metformin. Arch Intern Med. 2006; 166(18):1975–9.
  3. Greenberg JA, Bell SJ, Guan Y, Yu Y-H. Folic Acid supplementation and pregnancy: more than just neural tube defect prevention. Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2011; 4(2):52–9.
  4. Do you need a multivitamin? » Mayo Clinic Connect. Mayo Clinic Connect [Internet]. [cited 2022 Nov 8]. Available from: https://connect.mayoclinic.org/blog/take-charge-healthy-aging/newsfeed-post/multivitamins-stick-to-the-basics/.
  5. Lips P. Interaction between vitamin D and calcium. Scand J Clin Lab Invest Suppl. 2012; 243:60–4.
  6. Sandström B. Micronutrient interactions: effects on absorption and bioavailability. Br J Nutr. 2001; 85 Suppl 2:S181-185.

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Sidra Irfan

Bachelors of Dental Surgery, Dentistry, Lahore Medical & Dental College, Pakistan

Sidra is a general dentist who enjoys writing in general but particularly enjoys compiling health tech innovation and patient awareness material. She is an equal healthcare access advocate who is currently engaged in research and public health. She also works as a medical, health, and wellness SEO content writer.

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