Are You Taking Too Many Supplements?

Are you taking too many supplements?
Are you taking too many supplements? There’s a common misconception that supplements, being natural, are harmless. Here’s why that’s not always the case and who can benefit from nutritional supplements.

In recent decades, dietary supplements have surged in popularity. According to Penn Medicine, one out of three adults take one or more nutritional supplements. Some people do it because they think it will improve their health. Others use them for weight loss or bodybuilding gains.

Yet, this heightened enthusiasm for supplements comes with challenges and complexities. The supplement industry isn’t regulated. Yet supplement manufacturers and marketers push them using clever marketing. Let’s delve into the world of supplements, explore their potential benefits, and shed light on the risks of taking them.

When Supplements Are Beneficial

One purpose of supplements is to bridge nutritional gaps that occur when dietary intake falls below optimal levels. They come in a variety of forms, from the enjoyable chewable gummies to the more traditional encapsulated forms. They house a spectrum of elements including vitamins, minerals, herbal extracts, botanical compounds, amino acids, and a multitude of additional nutrients.

Who needs one? Specific population groups, including children, teenagers, expectant or breastfeeding mothers, senior citizens, and those managing chronic health conditions, might benefit from taking one or more supplements, due to higher nutritional demands or problems with nutrient absorption.

Also, vegans fall short of vitamin B12, as this essential nutrient is absent in plant-based foods and plant-based eaters may need supplements to avoid deficiency. Plus, people who take certain medications that affect nutrient absorption or have health conditions that cause nutrient deficiencies may benefit from carefully chosen supplements.

The Risks of Overdoing Supplements

One concern about supplements is their lack of regulation. Unlike pharmaceuticals, supplements do not require approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they enter the market. This regulatory gap creates uncertainty as to their safety and effectiveness.

And they carry risks.  For instance, excessive iron intake can lead to gastrointestinal symptoms. Some supplements can also inflame the stomach lining, and reduce the absorption of other minerals, like zinc.  Similarly, excessive vitamin A can result in liver damage, headaches, hair loss, and dry skin.

High supplemental doses of vitamin C increase the odds of kidney stones in people who are susceptible to them. Plus, your body stores fat-soluble vitamins, making it hard to eliminate the excess. So, it’s possible to get too much of the fat-soluble vitamins, vitamins A, E, D, and K.

Some Supplements Aren’t Safe If You Take Certain Medications

Always talk to a healthcare professional before adding supplements to your daily routine. Even natural substances can interact with medications and cause unexpected side effects in some people. For example, green tea extract and turmeric can cause liver damage in rare cases.

Unfortunately, not all healthcare providers are well-versed in nutrition and supplements. To ensure you receive accurate guidance, consider seeking advice from physicians trained in integrative medicine, pharmacists, or registered dietitians.

Some Supplements May Contain Medications

One of the most concerning threats to consumer well-being is dietary supplements adulterated with prescription drugs. Since 2008, more than 400 such products have been recalled. Some of these products include those marketed for muscle gain, improving sexual performance, and aiding in weight loss.

Studies show these products may contain active ingredients like sildenafil (commonly known as Viagra), tadalafil (often recognized as Cialis), and sibutramine (commonly referred to as Meridia). In certain cases, they may even include synthetic steroids.

Getting prescription medications through supplements, even in some amounts, could be tragic in some cases. It could even lead to strokes, acute liver damage, kidney dysfunction, pulmonary embolism, and, in the most tragic instances, loss of life.

How common is the problem? A study looked at information from the FDA’s records of dietary supplements that contained pharmaceutical substances found between 2007 and 2016. During this period, they found 776 dietary supplements with these substances. The study showed that most of these, about 86 percent, were sold for sexual enhancement or weight loss purposes.

In contrast, 12 percent of the tainted products were marketed for muscle-building endeavors. Intriguingly, approximately one in every five of these products, totaling 20 percent, was discovered to harbor more than a solitary concealed drug ingredient.

You Can Get Most Nutrients by Eating a Healthy Diet

Before filling your medicine chest with supplements, think about whether you genuinely need them or whether you’re falling victim to clever marketing. If your diet already provides recommended nutrients through a balanced intake of fruits, vegetables, cereals, dairy, and protein, additional supplements may offer little to no benefit.

Looking at specific vitamins:

  • Vitamin A: Generally obtainable from a varied diet, with exceptions.
  • B vitamins: Most people receive adequate amounts through diet.
  • Vitamin C: While it may shorten the duration of cold symptoms in some cases, it doesn’t prevent colds.
  • Vitamin D: Sun exposure and dietary sources can suffice for some people. However, older individuals and those who get little sun exposure may benefit from a vitamin D supplement.
  • Vitamin E: High doses have been linked to increased mortality.
  • Multivitamins: Clinical trials suggest limited benefits for the average person.


Before adding supplements to your diet, make sure you need them. Prioritize diet first. The smartest way to get essential nutrients is through a balanced diet that prioritizes whole foods. Mother Nature generously supplies the majority of our nutritional needs in unprocessed, natural foods. It’s worth noting that vitamin D is an exception, as sunlight exposure provides most of this vital nutrient.

Larry Appel, M.D., the Director at the Johns Hopkins Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology, and Clinical Research, emphasizes that pills should not be viewed as a quick fix for achieving improved health and preventing chronic diseases. Instead, he points out the importance of eating a nutritious diet rich in essential nutrients, maintaining a healthy body weight, and consciously reducing the intake of saturated fats, trans fats, sodium, and sugar.

The best source of essential nutrients balanced diet rich in whole foods. Don’t gamble with your health by taking supplements that you haven’t researched thoroughly. Being educated and aware is the best defense against the dangers that may lurk within that seemingly harmless supplement bottle.


  • Office of Dietary Supplements – Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know. Nih.gov. Published 2023. Accessed September 5, 2023. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/WYNTK-Consumer/
  • Dangers of Vitamins and Supplements – Consumer Reports. Consumerreports.org. Published 2023. Accessed September 5, 2023. https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2012/09/10-surprising-dangers-of-vitamins-and-supplements/index.htm.
  • Rettner,LiveScience R. Hundreds of Dietary Supplements Are Tainted with Prescription Drugs. Scientific American. Published October 12, 2018. Accessed September 5, 2023. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/hundreds-of-dietary-supplements-are-tainted-with-prescription-drugs/
  • Tucker J, Fischer T, Upjohn L, Mazzera D, Kumar M. Unapproved Pharmaceutical Ingredients Included in Dietary Supplements Associated With US Food and Drug Administration Warnings. JAMA Netw Open. 2018;1(6):e183337. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.3337.
  • Is There Really Any Benefit to Multivitamins? Hopkinsmedicine.org. Published November 2021. Accessed September 5, 2023. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/is-there-really-any-benefit-to-multivitamins
  • ‌”Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS).” https://ods.od.nih.gov/..
  • “Nutrient Recommendations and Databases – Office of Dietary Supplements ….” https://ods.od.nih.gov/HealthInformation/nutrientrecommendations.aspx.‌
  • “The Truth About Supplements: 5 Things You Should Know – Penn Medicine.” 31 Mar. 2022, https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2020/february/the-truth-about-supplements.

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