Millions of people turn to supplements to help with a variety of things like weight loss, hair growth, acne, strong nails, overall health and more. But whether we should take them is a different story. While there are some benefits, there’s also great risk, according to medical and health experts. Kellie K. Middleton, MD/MPH, an Atlanta-based Orthopaedic Surgeon says, «As a physician, I have extensive experience in health, fitness, and wellness. Before taking any supplement, it is essential to research the supplement and discuss its use with your physician. Supplements can be beneficial when used appropriately. However, some supplements may not be worth the money or risk taking them due to potential side effects or lack of evidence for their efficacy.»
Supplements are a massive business and IBIS World reports, «The market size, measured by revenue, of the Vitamin & Supplement Manufacturing industry is $39.8bn in 2023.» Although the market is booming, not everyone is impressed with supplements and warns about dangerous risks. «Unfortunately, my industry is full of trainers who sell supplements that our clients don’t need,» Grace Albin, an ACE-certified fitness instructor reveals to us. «Not only are these financially wasteful, some could do more harm than good. Various supplement makers contact me every week, offering high commissions for me to engage in aggressive sales tactics. But I will never recommend my followers to buy these products.»
Albin emphasizes, «You should only take supplements if you have a deficiency of that specific vitamin or mineral. And if you can’t resolve that deficiency through eating foods rich in the missing nutrient. Everybody should have an annual physical where their physician reviews blood work and informs them which levels are too high or low. A few years ago, mine showed I was low on D3 and iron, so those are the only two I take.» Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with experts who share what to know about supplements before taking them and which ones to avoid.
Dr. Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies says, «Before diving into the world of vitamins and supplements, one must understand one’s specific needs and research various available options. Before taking any vitamin, people should be aware of the potential side effects and consult their doctor or pharmacist if they have any doubts or questions. Additionally, consider timing – for instance, some vitamins may need to be taken with food to maximize absorption.
Furthermore, although many vitamins are available over-the-counter, there are cases where a prescription is required for specific vitamins for optimal benefit. It is important to consider careful dosage amounts – taking too much of a particular vitamin could lead to adverse effects on the body rather than its intended benefits. Understanding one’s health goals and individual situation before collecting a stash of vitamins is vital.»
Dr. Mitchell states, «With so many vitamins and supplements available today, it can be challenging to decide which ones are worth spending money on and which are not. But due to many factors, such as improper production or storage, some purported health-providing vitamins may not benefit your body. Many vitamins, particularly ones from an unknown source sold in convenience stores or gas stations, lack the potency necessary for good long-term health benefits, making them a waste of money.
Additionally, some vitamins occur naturally in almost any balanced diet, rendering them unnecessary purchases for those who already eat a lot of fresh produce and protein. Therefore, it’s essential for anyone purchasing vitamins or supplements to know how they may be cutting corners with their product and how you can avoid this by seeking out trusted brands.»
Dr. Middleton says, «One supplement that may not be worth taking is Garcinia cambogia extract. This supplement has been touted as a weight loss aid and appetite suppressant, but there is little evidence to support these claims. Garcinia cambogia extract can cause adverse side effects such as nausea, digestive upset, and even liver damage in some cases. It may not be worth the money or the potential risk of taking this supplement.
The National Center for Complementary and Health Integration says, «Several studies have investigated the effect of garcinia cambogia on weight loss in people. Less research has been done on other uses of garcinia cambogia. Several dozen cases of liver toxicity have been reported in people who were taking products labeled as containing garcinia cambogia. A 2020 review of 11 short-term studies in people did not find significant effects of garcinia cambogia products on weight loss. Cases of liver damage associated with the use of garcinia cambogia products have been reported. This problem appears to be uncommon, but some cases were severe. Most of the reported cases involved products labeled as containing a combination of ingredients, but some involved products labeled as containing only garcinia cambogia.»
Dr. Middleton explains, «Another supplement that may not be worth taking is Kava. This supplement has been used traditionally to reduce anxiety and stress and improve sleep quality. Studies have shown that the long-term use of this herb can cause liver damage. It can interact with many common medications and increase their side effects. Given the potential for severe adverse reactions, taking this supplement may not be worth the money.»
UCLA Health says, «Kava has been banned in the United Kingdom and within Europe due to liver toxicity. More than 100 cases of liver toxicity related to the use of kava have been identified, some leading to liver transplant and some leading to death. There are many reasons for liver damage. For one, kava depletes glutathione, a chief antioxidant, within the liver. It also inhibits enzymes involved in the metabolism of many drugs. Many of the cases of liver toxicity were seen in people who had prior liver disease or used alcohol in addition to kava.»
Dr. Middleton says, «The next supplement that may not be worth taking is Yohimbe. This supplement has been touted as a sexual enhancer. Studies have shown that it can cause adverse side effects such as increased heart rate and blood pressure, anxiety, and even seizures in some cases. The potential risks may outweigh any benefits of taking this supplement, and it may not be worth the money or trouble.»
The National Center for Complementary and Health Integration says, «There is very little research in people on the effects of yohimbe as a dietary supplement. But studies have documented the risks of taking it. Yohimbe has been associated with heart attacks and seizures. Because of inaccurate labeling and potential for serious side effects, yohimbe supplements have been restricted or banned in many countries. Yohimbe caused stomach problems, tachycardia (a rapid heartbeat), anxiety, and high blood pressure, according to a study comparing calls about yohimbe and other substances made to the California Poison Control System between 2000 and 2006. People calling about yohimbe were generally more likely to need medical care than other callers. Most yohimbe products don’t say how much yohimbine they contain. The amount may vary a lot among products, according to a 2015 analysis of 49 brands of supplements labeled as containing yohimbe or yohimbine for sale in the United States. Some of the yohimbine was either synthetic or from highly processed plant extract. Most of the supplements did not provide information about known side effects.»
Albin shares, «Multivitamins contain dozens of vitamins and minerals, although virtually nobody needs even a fraction of that many. In the case of vitamins, they are generally water-soluble. That means your body will simply urinate the ones you don’t need, and you wasted money. For the minerals, many of them cause constipation in addition to the financial waste.»
John Hopkins Medicine says researchers studying the benefits of multivitamins found, «multivitamins don’t reduce the risk for heart disease, cancer, cognitive decline (such as memory loss and slowed-down thinking) or an early death. They also noted that in prior studies, vitamin E and beta-carotene supplements appear to be harmful, especially at high doses.» Larry Appel, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology and Clinical Research says in John Hopkins article about multivitamins, «Pills are not a shortcut to better health and the prevention of chronic diseases. Other nutrition recommendations have much stronger evidence of benefits—eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and reducing the amount of saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and sugar you eat.»