Vitamin Vs Supplement


Vitamin vs supplement. A healthy lifestyle is an important part of staying healthy and feeling great, but it’s easy to get confused about the difference between vitamins and supplements.

Both of these substances can help you maintain your health, but they work in different ways.

Vitamins are organic compounds that are found in food—they are essential for good nutrition and help your body perform certain functions. Supplements are chemical compounds that may be added to your diet if you have a deficiency or need additional nutrients.

Vitamin Vs Supplement

The main difference between vitamins and supplements is that vitamins are naturally-occurring nutrients in our body whereas supplements are naturally-occurring or synthetic chemicals taken as a complement to the diet. Furthermore, vitamins include vitamin A, B, C, D, E, and K while supplements contain multiple ingredients such as multivitamins and dietary minerals.

Vitamins and supplements are two types of nutrients which can be included in the diet. They have various beneficial effects on the functioning of the body.

Dietary Minerals, Essential Fatty Acids, Proteins, Natural Products, Supplements, Vitamins

Difference Between Vitamins and Supplements - Comparison Summary

What are Vitamins

Vitamins are a type of essential micronutrients required in minute quantities to maintain proper metabolism. Generally, vitamins have to be included in the diet as our body cannot synthesize vitamins in the required quantities. There are 13 vitamins required for the metabolism of the human body. They include vitamin A (retinol and carotenoids), vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin B7 (biotin), vitamin B9 (folic acid or folate), vitamin B12 (cobalamins), vitamin C (ascorbic acid), vitamin D (calciferol), vitamin E (tocopherols and tocotrienols), and vitamin K (quinones).

What is the Difference Between Vitamins and Supplements

Figure 1: Fruits and Vegetables Containing Vitamins

Usually, vitamin A regulates the growth and differentiation of tissue. Whereas, most of the vitamin B complexes are cofactors or their precursors. Meanwhile, vitamin D serves as a hormone regulating the metabolism of minerals in bones and other organs. Additionally, vitamin C and vitamin E are antioxidants. On the other hand, vitamin K plays a role in blood coagulation and the synthesis of some proteins. However, we can classify all vitamins into two categories based on their solubility as fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins. Vitamin A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble while vitamin B and C are water soluble. Unfortunately, the excess amounts of fat-soluble vitamins tend to accumulate in fat tissues while the excess amounts of water-soluble vitamins are eliminated from the body.

What are Supplements

Supplements, dietary supplements or food supplements are a variety of products including multiple ingredients required for the proper functioning of the body. The main function of supplements is to fulfill the requirement of nutrients, which occur in insufficient amounts of in the diet. One of the main characteristic features of supplements is that they contain multiple ingredients, which are active in a particular metabolic pathway. Vitamins, dietary minerals, proteins, and amino acids, essential fatty acids, probiotics, bodybuilding supplements, and natural products are the main categories of supplements. However, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) agency claims that supplements are not intended to “diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease,” as done by drugs.

Difference Between Vitamins and Supplements

Figure 2: Fish Oil Capsules

As mentioned before, vitamins play a key role in regulating metabolism. Also, dietary minerals which are not ubiquitous in food including sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, manganese, copper, iodine, chromium, molybdenum, selenium, and cobalt come in the form of supplements. Additionally, proteins and amino acids have a key role in the structural and regulatory functions in the body. Moreover, protein supplements including whey protein, casein protein, egg protein, pea protein, hemp protein, brown rice protein, etc. are important for bodybuilders and weightlifters. These supplements provide both essential and non-essential amino acids to the body. Some of the other bodybuilding supplements are BCAA, glutamine, arginine, essential fatty acids, creatine, HMB, etc. Meanwhile, omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid) and omega-6 fatty acids (linoleic acid) are the two types of essential fatty acids to humans. Supplements such as fish oil contain them. However, probiotics contain the microbiota in the intestine, which can increase the digestion when taken as supplements. Finally, some of the natural products including ginseng, ginkgo, St. John’s wort, curcumin, cranberry, glucosamine, collagen, resveratrol, etc. are taken as supplements as well.

Similarities Between Vitamins and Supplements

  • Vitamins and supplements are two types of nutrients present in the diet.
  • They are important for the functioning of the body.
  • Also, they can cure or prevent some diseases.

Difference Between Vitamins and Supplements


Vitamins refer to any of various organic substances that are essential in minute quantities to the nutrition of most animals and some plants while supplements refer to the products taken orally containing one or more ingredients intended to supplement one’s diet and considered food. Thus, this is the fundamental difference between vitamins and supplements.


Moreover, the main difference between vitamins and supplements is that vitamins are naturally-occurring compounds in the body while supplements can be either natural or synthetic.

Type of Food

While vitamins are a component of food, supplements are not the components of food. Hence, this is another difference between vitamins and supplements.


The types of vitamins are vitamin A, B, C, D, E, and K while the types of supplements are vitamins, dietary minerals, proteins, amino acids, fatty acids, probiotics, and other bodybuilding supplements.

Main Function

Moreover, one other difference between vitamins and supplements is that the vitamins serve as coenzymes and precursors for the coenzymes in the regulation of metabolic processes while supplements serve as bodybuilding units, energy molecules or precursors to various types of biomolecules.


Vitamins are natural compounds that either occur in the diet or produced inside the body. There are several main forms of vitamins including vitamin A, B, C, D, E, and K. Significantly, the main function of vitamins is to serve as coenzymes. In contrast, supplements are either natural or synthetic compounds, which have bodybuilding or energy-producing functions in the body while serving as a number of precursors to biomolecules. Generally, supplements are composed of multiple ingredients. Therefore, the main difference between vitamins and supplements is their origin, types, and function in the body.

why is it better to get vitamins from food than supplements

Researchers have found that nutrients from food may be linked to lower risks of death, while excess intake of certain supplements may have the opposite effect.

close up of a plate of food
Research examines the effects of nutrients from food and supplements.

Taking supplements leads to an increased level of total nutrient intake.

Dietary supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, and enzymes.

Suppliers sell them in different forms, including tablets, capsules, powders, and liquids.

Common dietary supplements include calcium, fish oil, and vitamin D.

Dietary supplements should not replace complete meals, which are essential to nurturing the body. Talking to healthcare providers before making the decision about whether to take supplements is a good practice. Doctors can help people achieve a balance between nutrients from food and supplements.

Many supplements also contain active ingredients that may have strong biological effects. Any of the following actions could be harmful or even life-threatening: combining supplements, mixing supplements with medicines, or taking too much of some supplements, especially vitamin A, vitamin D, and iron.

When buying supplements in the United States, it is important to read labels and get information about the manufacturer. The Food and Drug AdministrationTrusted Source (FDA) are responsible for taking action against any adulterated or misbranded supplements — but not before the products are available on the market.

Supplement consumption in the US

According to the 2018 consumer survey conducted by the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), consumer confidence in products and trust in the dietary supplement industry is strong among people in the U.S.

The survey found that 75 percent of U.S. individuals take dietary supplements, as opposed to just 65 percent in 2009.

“This year’s data provide further evidence that dietary supplements are mainstays in modern-day health and wellness regimens,” explains Brian Wommack, the senior vice president of communications at the CRN.

Vitamin and mineral supplements such as vitamin D and calcium remain the most popular types. However, the use of herbals and botanicals — especially turmeric — has significantly increased during the past 5 years.

The main reason that U.S. individuals take dietary supplements is overall health and wellness, according to the survey.

Nutrients from food vs. supplements

Although many people use dietary supplements, a recent study found that multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin C showed no advantage or added risk in the prevention of cardiovascular disease or premature death.

However, folic acid alone and B vitamins with folic acid may reduce the risk of heart disease.

The team, from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Medford, MA, conducted a study to evaluate the association between dietary supplement use and all-cause mortality. The researchers have published their results in the journal Annals of Internal MedicineTrusted Source.

“As potential benefits and harms of supplement use continue to be studied,” points out senior study author Fang Fang Zhang, Ph.D., an associate professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, “some studies have found associations between excess nutrient intake and adverse outcomes, including increased risk of certain cancers.”

The study used data from more than 27,000 U.S. adults and assessed whether adequate or excess nutrient intake was linked to all-cause mortality, and whether results changed if the nutrients came from supplements instead of food.

For each nutrient, the scientists calculated the daily supplement dose by “combining the frequency with the product information for ingredient, the amount of ingredient per serving, and ingredient unit.”

They assessed the participants’ dietary intake of nutrients from foods using 24-hour dietary recalls and mortality outcomes through the National Death Index through December 31, 2011.

There were several key findings:

  • Adequate intakes of vitamin A, K, zinc, and magnesium — from food, not supplements — were linked to a lower risk of death.
  • Adequate intakes of vitamin A, vitamin K, and zinc — from foods, not supplements — were associated with a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
  • Excess intake of calcium was associated with a higher risk of dying from cancer.
  • Excess intake of calcium from supplements (at least 1,000 milligrams per day) was associated with an increased risk of death from cancer.

High intake of some supplements is harmful

In addition to the harmful effects of excess calcium intake from supplements, the researchers found that people with no sign of vitamin D deficiency who use vitamin D supplements may have an increased risk of all-cause mortality.

Further research on this potential connection is necessary.

“Our results support the idea that, while supplement use contributes to an increased level of total nutrient intake, there are beneficial associations with nutrients from foods that aren’t seen with supplements.”

Fang Fang Zhang, Ph.D.

Zhang adds that it is important to understand the effect that the nutrient and source might play on health and mortality outcomes — especially if not beneficial.

She also notes some limitations in the study, including the duration of dietary supplement use studied and the fact that dietary supplement use was subject to recall bias.

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