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

  • Insider put together a chart showing which supplements are safe and which to avoid.
  • Doctors recommend getting nutrients through food, as an overdose of supplements can cause health problems.
  • But research shows that some supplements can be helpful.

You probably don’t need as many supplements as you think.

According to the nation’s top nutrition experts, healthy adults should prioritize eating balanced diets over consuming supplements.

Some dietitians recommend that people talk to a doctor before taking none nutritional supplements because excessive use 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 consider and which they might consider under certain circumstances. It is based on interviews with registered dietitians and physicians, and reviews of up-to-date research on dietary supplements.

The advice provided in this chart applies only to healthy adults. People who are pregnant or breastfeeding will likely require additional nutrients, and people who have certain health conditions or take specific medications may 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, skip the capsules and eat your vegetables

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

The vitamins and minerals found in food include fiber and additional biochemicals that are “difficult to manufacture” in a supplement, Emma Laing, national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, previously told Insider. In addition, a balanced diet has been shown to prevent chronic diseases and help control weight.

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

Research shows a benefit to taking certain vitamins and supplements

Still, some vitamins and supplements have merit.

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. There are numerous over-the-counter and prescription retinoid serums available.

Vegans, vegetarians and others who don’t have access to animal products could consider taking vitamin B12, said Dr. Eduardo Villamor, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan.

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

Sports nutritionists previously told Insider that creatine supplements can help build muscle. Research has yet to find serious health complications from overuse of melatonin in adults, although too much of the supplement can cause fatigue and mood swings.

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

Taking too many supplements can cause health problems

Many doctors warn against unsupervised supplementation because taking too many vitamin and mineral pills can damage nerves and organs.

A man in Australia lost his ability to walk after taking 70 times the recommended amount of vitamin B6. A man in the United Kingdom went to the hospital after losing 28 pounds in three months due to excessive use of vitamin D.

Iron supplements can 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 drugs, causing problems with the heart and the body’s ability to clot blood.

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

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