In general, taking a multivitamin is a holistic approach to fill any nutrient gaps in the diet. However, individual supplements might be better for a specific health problem. Water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C and B vitamins, are generally considered safe. On the other hand, fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E and K, are stored in the organs and can remain in the body for up to 6 months, increasing the chance of an overdose.
It's also relatively easy to overdose on minerals. Taking large amounts of supplements for long periods of time can cause certain side effects. Moderation is key when it comes to vitamins and minerals. As we mentioned before, there are 13 essential vitamins and 14 minerals.
Most likely, you'll take some vitamins and minerals that have been recently promoted in the media and just ignore the others. There's no such thing as an unimportant vitamin. A deficiency of any vitamin or mineral can cause serious medical conditions over time. Taking individual vitamins is like buying home fire insurance and then refusing protection against water damage, vandalism, or natural disasters.
Do the smart thing and get comprehensive insurance by taking a multivitamin. Additional supplementation with individual vitamins may make sense for certain medical conditions. For example, if you have anemia, your doctor might recommend that you take an additional iron supplement of up to 100 mg per day in addition to your multivitamin. However, taking extra iron without a valid medical reason can be dangerous.
If a healthy person takes 100 mg of iron a day, they may develop secondary hemochromatosis, a condition that can cause liver damage and heart problems. Unless you understand all the possible interactions and side effects of a particular supplement, take it only after consulting with a doctor. Taking an individual supplement should be treated as if you were taking a prescription medication. Taking a multivitamin is much safer and doesn't expose you to a risk of overdose or a nutrient imbalance.
It's important to remember that a multivitamin cannot in any way replace a healthy, balanced diet. The main purpose of a multivitamin is to fill nutritional gaps and provides just a sample of the wide range of nutrients and healthy chemicals found naturally in foods. It can't offer fiber or the taste and enjoyment of foods, so key to an optimal diet. However, multivitamins can play an important role when nutritional needs are not met by diet alone.
When this is the case, there's no need for an expensive brand, as even standard store brands will deliver results. Look for one that contains the recommended daily amounts and that bears the United States Pharmacopoeia (USP) seal of approval on the label. As Foley points out, taking individual supplements at different times of the day (or with certain meals) may be better absorbed and used by the body. If you were to buy 27 different products, the cost of your supplements could end up being several times higher than simply buying a multivitamin.
To create a supplement regimen that addresses your deficiencies holistically and, at the same time, promotes multiple organ systems and areas of health, the best thing to do is to combine a multiple supplement with individual supplements. However, the wellness potential of a supplement routine can extend far beyond your daily multivitamin.