While this might come as a surprise given the size of the American supplement marketplace, dietary supplements are rarely necessary. In fact, in many cases they can be more dangerous than beneficial because supplements are subject to minimal oversight.
How can you tell if you need a particular supplement or not? Barring a doctor’s recommendation, the simplest thing to do is skip the supplements, but these other guidelines can help you untangle the options you’re faced with.
One of the most important tools at your disposal, when trying to make sense of the supplement market, is a little basic science. For example, one of the most popular supplements on the market today are powdered collagen products – but what do these actually do?
The packages often say they’ll make your skin and hair look younger or healthier, but what they don’t mention is that collagen isn’t exactly in scarce supply. Found in almost every part of your body, you naturally produce collagen from amino acids in your diet. As long as you’re consuming a balanced diet, your body will make all the collagen it needs.
Benefits Versus Hazards
Another factor to consider when deciding whether you should be taking a supplement is by weighing the risks versus the benefits. In most cases, unless a doctor has explicitly recommended a supplement because of a nutritional deficiency – many people have a mild vitamin D deficiency, for example, and a significant percentage of young women are anemic due to iron deficiency – the risks are likely greater than the benefits. Such supplements are usually fine, and may even be available in prescription versions, meaning better oversight, but other supplements are another story.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from something like vitamin D, calcium, or iron supplements are things like pre-workout supplements, which are popular in the fitness community. These products are little more than expensive caffeine bombs, often packed with undisclosed and possibly dangerous fillers. When you know why you’re taking a supplement, you can evaluate whether there’s a better option – say, a cup of coffee – that can replace your supplement. You may even realize you don’t need another dietary add-on at all.
Deficiency Versus Desire
As noted above, there are certainly some common dietary deficiencies, like vitamin D or iron, and it certainly makes sense to take doctor-recommended supplements as needed. But, there are other popular single-vitamin supplements that are far less likely to be necessary to your overall health, like vitamin C.
We don’t naturally produce vitamin C, and it’s necessary for a variety of bodily functions, but it’s also very easy to get enough of it from natural sources. Additionally, when we get vitamins from whole foods instead of supplements, they tend to come with other nutrients that aid in their function and absorption. Since you’re unlikely to be deficient in vitamin C given dietary consumption, there’s no good reason to take it as a supplement, since you’re likely just paying for an excess of water soluble vitamins that your body will immediately excrete.
There are few hard and fast rules about supplement use, but in most cases, your best bet is to leave them on the shelves unless your doctor tells you otherwise. This is contrary to so much else we’ve internalized about better health through modern technology, and yet, in this case it’s the right way to go on your journey to better health.