For many people, taking a multivitamin is the first step to starting a supplement regimen. However, the wellness potential of a supplement routine can extend much further than taking a daily multivitamin.

Individual supplements, which are available in myriad forms and doses, are just as important for bolstering your regimen, addressing nutritional inadequacies, and targeting functional areas of health.

But when (and how) do you choose between multivitamins vs. individual vitamins, exactly?


If you’re looking to get into supplements, multivitamins are an excellent place to start. A smartly formulated, comprehensive multivitamin conveniently offers the bulk of your daily essential vitamins and minerals in a single dose, says registered dietitian Victoria Whittington, R.D. “This can help save money and confusion [as to] whether you’ve taken all your vitamins each day,” she adds.

Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN. homes in further …  “Consider the large percentages of U.S. adults failing to consume basic nutrient levels daily. About 40% of the American population fall well below daily nutritional requirements for multiple micronutrients (aka vitamins and minerals). These nutritional gaps account for 38% calcium, 43% magnesium, 33% vitamin A, 11% zinc, 10% vitamin B6, 35% vitamin C, 80% vitamin E, and a whopping 93% for vitamin D.

The key is to choose a well-rounded, quality multivitamin/mineral that offers nutrients in the right forms and doses that are also bioavailable and gentle. This level of completeness will ensure your multi helps address your nutritional shortcomings, especially if you have a hard time hitting the daily recommended intake of five servings of fruit and vege per day.

In addition, some nutrients like vitamin D aren’t even found in fruit and vege – another reason for smart supplementation.

But despite the nutritional multi-tasking of quality multivitamins, there are several other factors to consider. Casey Kelley, M.D., ABoIM, functional physician and founder of Case Integrative Health says multi’s are a great starting point for filling in nutritional gaps, but they aren’t personalised for you … as in, you might need specific vitamins and minerals in exact amounts. This can be especially true if you’re following a certain diet, such as vegan or keto.

This is why it’s so important to make sure the multi-vitamin you’re buying is comprehensive (look for a full array of high-quality forms of vitamins, minerals, and even phytonutrients and botanical bio-actives) and considered high-potency that contain efficacious doses of each ingredient.

Additionally, depending on the formula, some multi’s may not deliver as advanced or as targeted benefits as some individual vitamins.

Absorption considerations should also be considered. As a case in point: “Many nutrients compete for absorption in your body,” explains registered dietitian Joanna Foley, R.D., CLT. Thus, taking multiple nutrients at once in the form of a multi-vitamin may actually decrease the absorption of some vitamins or minerals.

Ferira explains further, “While this concept of competitive inhibition is true in a textbook sense, in practicality, this is only a real consideration when you’re megadosing macrominerals (e.g. calcium, magnesium, and potassium) alongside or around the same time you’re taking trace minerals.”

Putting her nutrition scientist hat on, she divulges that, “no well-rounded or smartly formulated multi is megadosing macrominerals for this competitive inhibition reason, and also because these minerals are literally big – you would have to take loads of capsules or tablets.”

She concludes and cautions: “In fact, this is precisely what stand-alone or mineral complexes are for (e.g. for bone health, sleep support).

Don’t take these larger doses of macro-minerals at the same time as your multi to ensure you optimise the absorption and utility of the nutrients in both products.”

Individual Vitamins

Speaking of the incremental benefits of utilising individual vitamins, let’s explore the pros. Ideally, you (and your health care practitioner partner) can take full control over your supplement routine, designing and personalising your own vitamin regimen for your problem areas of nutritional insufficiency and functional health support area needs.

This involves taking individual vitamins, minerals, and other bio-actives (think phytonutrients, botanical and herbal extracts, omega-3s, peptides or amino acids, probiotic strains, etc.) in varying doses and forms, to not only fill nutritional gaps and achieve (and maintain) sufficiency but also for targeted health needs like brain, heart, immune, gut, beauty, and even eye health.

And don’t get confused: “Single vitamins as a concept is just semantics. It simply means leveraging stand-alone supplements or targeted complexes that are not a multi-vitamin for nutritional and overall health,” Ferira explains.

A personalised vitamin regimen may also pave the way for optimal absorption. As Foley notes, taking individual supplements at separate times of the day (or with certain meals) means they may be better absorbed and utilised by your body. For instance, “both zinc and calcium compete with iron for absorption,” shares Foley.

So, if you’re taking large doses of zinc or calcium as stand-alone “vitamins” (i.e., they are technically minerals), it may be more beneficial to take zinc and calcium in the morning and iron midday or the evening rather than taking all three at the same time, she says.

A major drawback of taking individual vitamins is that you’ll need to plan your day and nutrition ritual to swallow more pills. This can take some real intention, especially if you’re frequently on the go. Not to mention, having multiple bottles in your medicine cabinet can create clutter, making it difficult to stay on top of your routine. Plus, it can become costly, albeit an investment in health and wellbeing.

Additionally, if you’re taking multiple supplements with the same vitamins and minerals, in limited cases, you may end up taking more than you need, which can introduce negative side effects or simply exceed your needs altogether. For example, a multi-vitamin with iron combined with a separate stand-alone high-dose iron. Granted, that very scenario may be warranted in certain situations under health care supervision (e.g. perinatal nutrition or addressing an iron deficiency).

In other cases, you are intentionally seeking additional amounts of nutrients in stand-alone formulas in order to bolster the baseline dose you receive in your multi. Vitamin D3 would be a prime example of that since science demonstrates that 5,000 IU or more is needed daily for adults to achieve and maintain sufficiency.

Many vitamins and minerals have a tolerable upper intake level (UL), or the max daily intake that has been demonstrated to be safe to take. Higher intake levels over prolonged periods of time may lead to side effects. This is often considered a greater concern with fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), as they can accumulate in the body’s fat tissue, instead of being excreted in the urine like water-soluble vitamins, according to Whittington. For example, “too much vitamin K may interfere with blood clotting,” says Foley.

However, as Ferira once explained, making sweeping statements about the dangers of fat-soluble vitamins “lacks nuance and is an antiquated concept.” In fact, it’s quite difficult to reach toxic levels of fat-soluble vitamins, particularly vitamin D. She also says, “Every person is unique, so this is where consulting a health care provider makes lots of sense.” For example, Ferira shares that “if you’re on medications related to blood clotting, then it’s important to keep your vitamin K intake constant and blood biomarkers monitored.”

“It’s not about restriction but instead personalised approaches and monitoring.”

As far as minerals go: Taking too much iron may lead to GI issues related to things moving along (or not) and abdominal discomfort and could affect zinc absorption, notes Foley. And while taking a harmful amount of magnesium is incredibly rare, it can lead to digestive upset, depending on the form.