What is the Difference Between Vitamins and Supplements

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.

Key Areas Covered

1. What are Vitamins
     – Definition, Types, Importance
2. What are Supplements
     – Definition, types, Importance
3. What are the Similarities Between Vitamins and Supplements
     – Outline of Common Features
4. What is the Difference Between Vitamins and Supplements
     – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms

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.


1. “Vitamins.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 8 Feb. 2019, Available Here.
2. “Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know.” NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Available Here.

Image Courtesy:

1. “vitamin-c-paprika-fit-red-food-3684098” By pasja1000 (Pixabay License) via Pixabay
2. “fish-oil-capsule-yellow-oil-capsule-1915424” By Monfocus (Pixabay License) via Pixabay

About the Author: Lakna

Lakna, a graduate in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, is a Molecular Biologist and has a broad and keen interest in the discovery of nature related things. She has a keen interest in writing articles regarding science.

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