Dietary supplements that are safe to take, which to avoid: experts

  • Insider put together a chart showing which supplements are safe, and what to avoid.
  • Doctors recommend getting nutrients through food, as overdosing on supplements can cause health problems.
  • But research shows some supplements can be useful.

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You likely don’t need as many supplements as you think you do.

Healthy adults should prioritize eating balanced diets instead of scarfing down supplements, according to the country’s top nutrition experts.

Some dietitians recommend people speak to a clinician before taking any nutritional supplements because overuse can lead to serious health complications.

Still, some supplements may be worth the hype depending on your needs. 

The chart below breaks down which supplements healthy adults should stay away from, and which they might consider in certain circumstances. It’s based on interviews with registered dietitians and doctors, and reviews of up-to-date research on dietary supplements.

The advice provided in this chart applies only to healthy adults. Pregnant or lactating people will likely require additional nutrients, and people who have certain health conditions or take specific medications might also be more prone to deficiencies

Nutrition experts previously told Insider to talk to a doctor about deficiencies before taking supplements. 

Unless you have a diagnosed deficiency, ditch the capsules and eat your vegetables

It’s better to get vitamins and minerals through food rather than pills whenever possible, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Vitamins and minerals found in foods come with additional fiber and biochemicals that are “difficult to manufacture” in a supplement, Emma Laing a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, previously told Insider. Plus, eating a balanced diet has been shown to prevent chronic disease and help with weight management

Many people may not even realize they are already consuming the daily allowance of vitamins and minerals through everyday foods like bread, tomatoes, peppers, and milk. For instance, Americans spend millions each year on high-dose vitamin C supplements even though only about 6% of Americans are deficient in the nutrient and studies show taking vitamin C supplements won’t prevent a cold. 

Research shows a benefit to taking certain vitamins and supplements

Still, there is merit to certain vitamins and supplements. 

Dermatologists recommend using topical retinoids, which are derivatives of vitamin A, to increase skin cell turnover, improve discoloration, and plump the skin — all ways to improve signs of aging. Numerous retinoid serums are available over-the-counter and via prescription.

Vegans, vegetarians, and others without access to animal products might consider taking vitamin B12, said Dr. Eduardo Villamor, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan.

The nutrient is primarily found in animal products, and deficiencies in B12 can cause serious problems like anemia and nerve damage. 

Sports nutritionists previously told Insider that creatine supplements can help build muscle. Research has not yet found serious health complications from adult melatonin overuse, though too much of the supplement can cause fatigue and mood change.

Research suggests zinc supplements may slightly reduce the length or symptoms of a cold when taken early, but Mayo Clinic still recommends consulting a doctor as too much of the mineral can damage the nervous system.

Taking too many supplements can lead to health problems

Many doctors caution against unsupervised supplementation because taking too many supplements can damage the body.

A man in Australia lost his ability to walk after taking 70 times the recommended amount of vitamin B6. A man in the UK went to the hospital after shedding 28 pounds in three months due to vitamin D overuse.

Iron supplements may contain more than 100% of your daily allowance, and taking too much iron can cause irreversible damage to the liver and brain. Some supplements can interact with prescription medicine, causing problems with the heart and the body’s ability to clot blood.

A cardiologist who has seen a rise in heart problems stemming from herbal remedies told Insider she would never recommend a person take supplements without consulting a doctor.

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