According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 40% of Americans take some sort of supplement each day. This amounts to what Market Watch refers to as a staggering $37 billion industry between multivitamins, supplements, and protein powders. Despite those numbers, there’s a growing amount of research suggesting that supplements are, for the most part, unnecessary.

One major problem with them is that they don’t exactly do what they claim, or at least not what we’ve been led to believe they’re going to do. There are a lot of myths and misunderstandings about vitamins and minerals in terms of what is needed, how much is needed, and what the positive and negative side effects are.

There are legitimate reasons, like a true deficiency, that require the use of vitamin and mineral supplements. Speak with your doctor about whether or not a deficiency exists or if you have any concerns about your current supplements.

If you’re struggling to wade through all of the information about supplements, read on. These are some of the things you need to know before deciding to start taking supplements.

There’s not a “one size fits all” approach to supplementing.

Vegans might need added vitamins.

The first question you may ask yourself when it comes to supplements is whether or not you need them. The short answer is maybe.

Although most people are able to get the adequate amount of vitamins and minerals from their diet, there are some groups who may need a supplement. The National Institute of Health, for example, notes that you may need extra support if you’re pregnant or a vegan. During pregnancy, getting enough iron is critical to helping prevent birth defects. Additionally, vegans may fall short on nutrients found primarily in animal proteins, like B12.

Carol Haggans, a registered dietitian and consultant to NIH, said, “vitamin B12 mostly comes from meat, fish and dairy foods, so vegans may consider taking a supplement to be sure to get enough of it.” 

Other conditions may affect the absorption of certain vitamins and require supplements, and of course, protein supplements can be added for those whose lifestyle requires them.

Too much of certain vitamins and minerals can have adverse effects.

Woman Bloating Stomach Pain
Too much vitamin C can cause nausea and diarrhea.

The human body needs vitamins and minerals in order to operate as efficiently as possible, but only in certain amounts. WebMd notes that too much of certain ones can be as dangerous, if not more so, than having too little. An excess of vitamin B6 can cause nerve pain, fat-soluble vitamins can be toxic at high levels, and too much vitamin C can cause nausea and diarrhea, as further noted by WebMD.

Be sure to check the UL (tolerable upper intake level) for the supplements you’re taking, and note that it’s different for each vitamin or mineral. And be aware that the UL is the limit for all sources of a vitamin, meaning if you get some from food and some from a supplement, you’ll hit that limit faster.

Understand the difference between water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins.

It matters whether they are fat or water-soluble.

Some vitamins are water-soluble, which means the body uses what it needs of them and gets rid of any excess through urine. Fat-soluble vitamins, on the other hand, are stored by the body for long periods of time in the case of excess. These are the ones, specifically vitamins A and K, that need special attention paid to them to be sure you’re not consuming more than the upper intake level, according to MedicineNet.

Some vitamins can lessen the efficacy of other medications.

birth control
St. John’s Wort, for example, affects birth control’s effectiveness.

When speaking with your doctor about whether or not a supplement is right for you, one factor they should look into is other medications you’re taking.

For example, Vitamin K can be dangerous for anyone taking blood thinning medication since it can reduce the effectiveness, as noted by the National Institutes of Health. Similarly, Chemotherapy treatments can be affected by vitamins C and E. And St. John’s Wort, which by itself is considered a treatment for mild depression symptoms, can lessen the effectiveness of antidepressants and birth control pills.

You may already be getting more than you think from fortified foods.

Many cereals are fortified with vitamins.

When you’re looking at the UL for vitamins and minerals, don’t forget about the amount you’re already getting pre-supplement. Many kinds of cereal, bread, and milk are fortified, meaning they have added vitamins and minerals added already, which can bring you closer to reaching ULs.

They aren’t as regulated as you might think.

vitamins supplements
They’re not categorized as drugs.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) treats supplements as a food, rather than a drug, which is important for a couple of reasons. Not categorizing it as a drug, means the claims and effectiveness of the products are not verified. The FDA only gets involved with the testing of any new ingredients that haven’t previously been on the market.

As consumers, it’s on us to thoroughly research manufacturers and only purchase supplements from trusted sources. Business Insider previously reported that supplement manufacturers have been found to use contaminated products, print incorrect nutritional information on the label, and exaggerate claims of health benefits.

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Make sure you understand the language.

tongue pills vitamins supplements mouth
Knowing the abbreviations will be key to understanding the information you’re getting and making the right choice.

If you’ve looked at a nutrition label, you’ve probably seen Daily Value (DV) represented as a percentage. This is usually reflected as a percentage, in reference to a 2,000 calorie a day diet, to show explain how much of each nutrient you should be getting in a day. This is sometimes also called the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA). When researching vitamins, you may also see references to the Adequate Intake (AI) amount or the UL, as discussed before.


Some synthetic vitamins can affect your bowel movements.

health food store vitamins natural organic
Talk to your doctor if you’re having problematic bowel movements.

Vitamin C, vitamin B12, and folic acid can help treat constipation, according to Healthline. But if you’re getting these in the form of a multivitamin, you may not see the positive effects. That’s because other vitamins included in the supplement, specifically calcium and iron can actually cause constipation. Different types of synthetic calcium — carbonate, and phosphate — can be more or less constipating, so one may affect you while one does not.

You probably don’t need a multivitamin.

vitamin D tablets
It might not be necessary.

Many Americans turn to multivitamins to ensure they are getting their daily intake of all vitamins and nutrients. This, however, might not be necessary. 

A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine reviewed “three trials of multivitamin supplements and 24 trials of single or paired vitamins.”  The authors concluded that, “there was no clear evidence of a beneficial effect of supplements on all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, or cancer.”

Experts agree that a balanced diet is the best case scenario.

eating healthy
The best thing you can do is eat a healthy diet.

With all of this information, it’s easy to understand why most experts agree on one thing when it comes to supplements — you’re better off getting your nutrients from food. Having a balanced diet that includes all the necessary vitamins and minerals will keep you from having to worry about any excess vitamins, ineffective supplements, and potentially dangerous and unregulated ingredients. Your doctor can easily test for a deficiency if you’re concerned, chances are, you don’t actually need them.

As Dr. David Jenkins previously told Business Insider, “no research on supplements has shown us anything better than healthy servings of less processed plant foods, including vegetables, fruits, and nuts.”

This article was originally published here