Vitamin Supplements: What You Need to Know

Every year, Americans allocate over $12 Billion to vitamin supplements, money that many believe can be spent better elsewhere. Approximately 50% of American adults take some form of vitamin supplement. Companies tell us from a young age that vitamin supplements are beneficial to our health. But is it necessary for us to load up on half a dozen pills every morning for our health? 

Food or Vitamins?

Marketing Tactics or Real Medicine? 

The FDA regulates dietary supplements as food instead of drugs. This means that the FDA simply reviews the ingredients in vitamin supplements for safety and does not approve for effectiveness. Many dietary supplements also contain ingredients that could have side effects depending on medications or preexisting health conditions. Because regulations around supplements are very loose, some products contain hidden additives falsely marketed as supplements putting the user at risk.

According to both John Hopkins Medicine and Penn Medicine, if you are eating a well-balanced diet, you are getting all the essential vitamins and nutrients. Numerous studies have shown that there is no connection between multivitamins and a reduced risk of heart disease or cancer. Also, in a study that tracked about 6,000 men for 12 years, there was no evidence that multivitamins reduced the risk of cognitive declines with age.

Besides already having the vitamins your body needs from your diet, many vitamins are harmful in large doses. Vitamins A, C, E, and beta carotene can actually increase the risk of cancer and other diseases due to their higher concentrations in your body. The best way to ensure that you’re getting the correct amount of vitamins is to eat a balanced diet with a variety of different foods and maintain a healthy weight. In short, “pills are not a shortcut to better health and the prevention of chronic disease” – Lary Appel, M.D.

B and C Vitamins

So What Vitamin Supplements Should You Take? 

Not many vitamins are proven to have positive effects on normal bodily functions. But there are a few supplements you may benefit from taking: 

  • Fiber – While best to get from food, sometimes supplements are needed due to different medical conditions or dietary restrictions.
  • Folic Acid – For pregnant women or women trying to get pregnant, folic acid is one of the few exceptions to additional supplements. It prevents birth defects when taken during early pregnancy. 
  • Probiotics – When prescribed antibiotics, the trillions of bacteria that live our gut and help regulate gut health are suddenly wiped out. So, taking a probiotic supplement a few hours after your antibiotic can be beneficial. Or you could instead eat foods where probiotics are abundant like cultured milk, yogurt, and fermented foods (sourkraut, kimchi, etc.).  
  • Zinc- It’s been proven numerous times that Vitamin C does nothing to help your body to get over a cold. Zinc, however, appears to interfere with the replication of rhinoviruses which cause the common cold and could help you get over one faster. 
  • Your doctors recommendation – There are many diseases that can cause a person’s body to act “abnormally” which may mean you regularly need to take a vitamin supplement to stay healthy.

Every person has different biological needs and all vitamin supplements come with risks. It is crucial to consult a medical professional about your health and lifestyle before adding supplements to your daily routine.


John Hopkins Medicine

Penn Medicine

Smithsonian Magazine

FDA Dietary Supplements

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