The saying, “more is better,” is not always right. Especially true if you are taking a handful of nutritional supplements each day. Besides, there is little proof or scientific evidence supporting the efficacy and safety of many dietary supplements on the market. However, the supplement industry is big business. A Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) 2019 survey found that 77 percent of Americans take a dietary supplement. The age group, with the highest usage of dietary supplements at 81 percent, is adults between the ages of 35-54.
Even though exercising, eating healthy, managing stress and sleeping well will always be the backbone of a healthy lifestyle, the supplement industry is becoming more mainstream with each passing year.
While a majority of Americans are putting their trust in taking multiple supplemental pills, too much of a “good” thing can backfire. There are situations where a nutritional supplement is necessary and should be used. But when taking multiple supplements, and many at higher doses than needed, could pose health risks.
Let’s take a closer look at why attempts to boost health with dietary supplements can be risky:
- Difficult in managing too many supplements: When taking multiple supplements, at least three or more, you may miss doses of prescription medications. Or you may believe that since you’re taking a dietary supplement, you can skimp medications your doctor has prescribed.
- Supplements can interfere with your medications: Some supplements may increase the effect of your medication while others may decrease it. Certain dietary supplements can also change absorption, metabolism, or excretion of a medication thereby affecting its potency. For instance, if you take warfarin (a prescription blood thinner) along with vitamin E, omega-three fatty acids, ginseng and ginkgo biloba (all supplements), each together can thin the blood. This will increase the potential for internal bleeding or stroke.
- A large amount can be hard on your body: It’s not unusual for people who take an arsenal of dietary supplements to experience stomach problems or other side effects from fillers in the supplements. The fillers used in supplements can prevent the active ingredients from being absorbed, making them not as effective as you like.
- It’s difficult to know what’s inside a supplement: Many Americans may not know that the FDA does not require supplement manufacturers to prove what’s in their products before selling them. These same manufacturers also do not have to prove if the supplement is safe or effective.
- Be careful not to overdo it with supplement use: Truth be known, if every American would follow the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) set for calories, fiber, vitamins and minerals, very few of us would need any dietary supplement. Consider this; if you eat a medium baked sweet potato, it will provide 1,110 mcg of vitamin A which is far more than the daily 700-900 mcg of vitamin A for women and men, respectively. But if you’re taking multiple dietary supplements offering the same nutrients in addition to any intake of fortified cereals, juices, protein bars or shakes, you could be ingesting far more of a nutrient than necessary. For instance, too much vitamin A can possibly lead to osteoporosis and hip fractures and maybe even liver problems. This same issue is possible if you take high doses of a calcium supplement (more than 2500 mg/day) which could cause heart problems or excess vitamin E possibly causing bleeding in the brain, and too much vitamin B6 that can lead to nerve damage.
What about multivitamins – are they risky too? If you have concerns that you’re not eating that healthy and you simply want to fill in the gaps of possible nutritional deficiencies, then a multivitamin can be used. However, it won’t take the place of simply eating a healthier diet.
The best advice when considering taking a dietary supplement is to ask these questions: Do I really need this? How will it benefit me? What improvements can I make in my food choices? If you do decide taking a supplement may offer you benefits, do not go overboard. Remember, too much of a good thing is likely to backfire.