When it comes to good nutrition, there's no substitute for a healthy diet. Getting your vitamins and minerals from food is best. But some people may find their diet leaves them falling short on important nutrients so they give their body a boost by taking vitamins and minerals in supplement form. But what do you need? Can you take too much? And what happens if you do?
The most popular dietary supplement is one that includes a wide range of vitamins and minerals, referred to as a multivitamin. If you eat a well-balanced diet, a multivitamin may not be necessary. But it may be helpful for people who don't eat enough healthy food, avoid certain food groups or have a greater need for vitamins, such as from pregnancy or illness.
There's not much evidence that taking multivitamins offers major health benefits, but you may figure it's better to be safe than sorry by supplementing your diet. Although the vitamins may not be doing much good, can they be detrimental to your health?
The good news is that most multivitamins don't include dosages that are much higher than the recommended daily allowances (RDAs), so if your body doesn't need what you're taking, there isn't much harm in consuming the extra vitamins and minerals. All that may happen is that your body excretes what you don't need in your urine, so you'll be wasting money on supplements that aren't needed.
Individual Vitamins and Minerals
Some people prefer taking individual supplements that contain only one vitamin or mineral. Popular supplements include vitamin D, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids, but there are many others you can take, from vitamin A to zinc. Many supplements provide more than the RDA, with some containing very high doses.
As with multivitamins, there isn't much evidence to show that high doses of individual vitamins or minerals do much good. There may be some cases where they are helpful, such as if bloodwork shows you are deficient in a specific vitamin, such as vitamin D, or you need more iron.
Taking individual supplements may not be dangerous, as long as you don't take too much. But high doses of some vitamins and minerals can cause problems. For example, too much vitamin A or D may result in serious liver or kidney problems. High doses of vitamin C can cause gastrointestinal issues, like cramping and diarrhea. Too much iron may cause vomiting, diarrhea or weakness and may even lead to more serious consequences. The levels at which vitamins and minerals can cause harm varies, and in some cases may not be very much above the RDA.
Another concern about taking multiple individual supplements is that some combinations may be dangerous when they interact with one another. Some supplements may also interact with medications you take. It is best to talk to your doctor before taking any supplements to make sure it is safe to do so. You may be wasting your money if supplements don't help, but you want to make sure they won't cause you any harm.
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Date Last Reviewed: June 16, 2023
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Jane Schwartz, RDN, CLT