Health

7 Big Myths About Supplements, Debunked By Experts

#1: If they’re natural, they’re good for you.

A woman holds up a vitamin supplement. Experts explain misconceptions about supplements.
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Since the days of those surprisingly delicious Flinstones gummies you might have taken as a kid, you've probably thought of vitamins as a way to stay healthy, right up there with brushing your teeth twice a day. But there are a number of misconceptions about supplements that have made their way into the wellness canon. What can they actually do for your health? Do they really work? And which ones should you be taking? Experts say that people often believe certain myths about vitamins and supplements that just aren’t true at all.

When it comes to deciding what to take, it can be tempting to just hop on whatever is trending at the moment or take whatever your friends swear by. But this method doesn't take into consideration your specific lifestyle, health needs, and more. Instead, experts suggest talking to your doctor about what your body, specifically, could use a boost of, as well as doing quality research. Your doctor should know about supplements you're taking anyway, as they could interfere with any prescriptions you're on.

The more you know, the more empowered you are to make the right health decisions for you. Here are some common misconceptions about supplements, according to experts.

1

If They're Natural, They're Good For You

"One of the biggest misconceptions that people have about the supplements is that they think they are all natural which means that they are not harmful," Inna Lukyanovsky, PharmD, a functional medicine practitioner and gut and hormones expert, tells Bustle. "The reality is that not all 'natural' claiming products are derived from well-tested 'clean' sources," she says. Do some research into the brands you're considering to see how extensively they've tested their products, so that you have a good idea of what you're buying.

2

Different Brands Of The Same Supplement Are The Same

Any bottle of fish oil pills might seem the same to you, but that really isn't true. "Another big misconception is to think that there is no difference whether you buy an expensive quality product or inexpensive same main ingredient product," Lukyanovsky says. When it comes to supplements, you really do get what you pay for. "The quality brands invest into clinical studies of their product including safety, efficacy, allergens, etc.," she says. "More reputable brands label their products non-GMO and check each batch for cross contamination with the allergens."

3

Multivitamins Prevent Illness

There's a reason the saying is "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" and not "a multivitamin a day keeps the doctor away."

"Many people believe they can promote general health and ward off serious conditions such as cardiovascular diseases and cancer," Dr. Morton Tavel, MD, author of Health Tips, Myths and Tricks: A Physician's Advice, tells Bustle. "But the facts don't support these contentions," he says. "Clinical trials repeatedly fail to show the benefit of multivitamin supplements to healthy people." In fact, you could even run into the problem of getting too much of some vitamins, such as vitamin A and calcium, both of which can be risky for your health, Dr. Tavel says. An NIH-funded study of over 27,000 people published in 2019 in Annals of Internal Medicine found that people who took dietary supplements had the same risk of dying as those who got key nutrients through food. People who took more than 1,000 milligrams of supplemental calcium per day also had an increased risk of dying from cancer than those who didn’t.

Make sure you're keeping track of the amounts of micronutrients you're getting from your regular diet, so that you don't accidentally overload through supplements.

4

They're Totally Unnecessary

While multivitamins may not prevent you from getting cancer, that doesn't mean they’re useless, Brandi Cole, PharmD, medical advisory board member for Persona Nutrition, tells Bustle. "Yes, in an ideal world we would get all of the nutrients we need from food," she says, "but unfortunately, a significant number of people don’t [...] have access to high-quality, nutrient-rich foods." If you’re deficient in certain vitamins, which your doctor can test for, your body might process them better in supplement form.

5

It Is Always Best To Take Your Vitamins And Supplements In The Morning

Taking a handful of supplements with your morning glass of lemon water might seem like the best way to start your day. But this really isn't the case, Cole says. "There are nutrients that should be taken at various times of the day to help optimize health," she says. For example, a nutrient that helps energize you isn't the kind of thing you'll want to take right before bed. Others might sit better on a full stomach, so you'll want to make sure you're having them with your lunch.

6

A Multivitamin Will Cover All Of Your Bases

Through the name alone, a multivitamin seems perfect since it sounds like it contains everything you need. But since people have their own unique needs, there's no reason to assume that whatever you find in the store will give you everything you need in the right ratios, Cole says. "Just like one [lifestyle] doesn’t fit all, one supplement regimen doesn’t either," she says. What you're supplementing with should take your lifestyle, age, gender, health goals, stress levels, sleep patterns, dietary restrictions, medical conditions and the medications you are taking into account, so work with your doctor to determine what is best for you.

7

All Supplements Are FDA-Approved

If you find a supplement on a shelf, it's reasonable to think that it has gone through a rigorous approval process from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). "This is incorrect," Dr. Robert Segal, MD, co-founder of Lab Finder, tells Bustle. "The FDA's role is after the supplements are already available in the market." In fact, the only time that the manufacturer will report to the FDA is if consumers experience any side effects from the product. That's why doing your research into how the supplement was tested and made is so important.

Experts:

Inna Lukyanovsky, PharmD

Brandi Cole, PharmD

Dr. Robert Segal, MD

Dr. Morton Tavel, MD

Study cited:

Chen, F., Du, M., Blumberg, J. B., Chui, K. K., Ruan, M., Rogers, G., . . . Zhang, F. F. (2019). Association Among Dietary Supplement Use, Nutrient Intake, and Mortality Among U.S. Adults. Annals of Internal Medicine, 170(9), 604. doi:10.7326/m18-2478