Multivitamins might be a waste of money, here are supplements to consider instead

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This post is brought to you in partnership with Novant Health. All opinions are our own.

There are thousands of supplements out there that promise everything from rapid weight loss to boosting your immune system. It’s a maze far too complex for most of us to navigate.

That’s why it’s best to start by asking your health care provider before you start taking anything.

What about the most common of supplements, the multivitamin? We talked to Kim DeRhodes, an integrative pharmacist at Novant Health, about whether they’re a good idea. She also weighs in on other supplements you might want to ask your provider about.

Multivitamins

DeRhodes has seen a lot of healthy adults take multivitamins, assuming the pills will add to their health. She said one of the biggest misconceptions is that supplements can act as a substitute for nutrients you’d get from a healthy meal.

But using a vitamin to make up for eating a lousy diet is not going to accomplish much, DeRhodes said. Research on the payoff of multivitamins is mixed. And many providers are not sold on their efficacy, and even consider them a waste of money.

If the health benefits of multivitamins are dubious, how can so many of them be on the market? Turns out, The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 ruled that supplements were foods, not drugs. So that means they’re not subject to the same quality and safety rules that over-the-counter medications are required to meet.

Supplements you might consider

There are some supplements that have been found to benefit those who take them. For healthy adults, these are the supplements you might take as a preventive measure before specific conditions develop. Consult your provider before acting.

Vitamin D

The natural way we get vitamin D is from our exposure to sunshine, but the reality is that a lot of us don’t get to spend a lot of time in the sun. Having a vitamin D deficiency can increase your risk of several conditions including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and some cancers.

“That’s why it’s incredibly important to get enough vitamin D either through diet, supplements or (safe exposure to) sunlight,” said DeRhodes. “Even though the recommended dietary allowances for vitamin D came out a couple of years ago, we know that even this increased amount can still be too low for some people.”

Here are potential recommended dosages, according to the government.

The National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements

AgeMale/Female
recommended
amount
Pregnancy/lactation
recommended
amount
0-12 months*400 IU (10mcg) 
1-70 years600 IU (15 mcg)600 IU (15mcg)
70 years and older800 IU (20mcg) 

* Adequate Intake (AI)

Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral that you can get from a variety of foods like leafy green vegetables and salmon. It’s responsible for many of our body’s crucial functions (hundreds of biochemical reactions, in fact).

“It’s well documented that many Americans are deficient in magnesium and it’s very difficult often for people to get the recommended amount of magnesium without taking supplements,” DeRhodes said.

The National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements

AgeMale
recommended
amount
Female
recommended
amount
Pregnancy
recommended
amount
Lactation
recommended
amount
Birth to
6 months
30 mg*30 mg*  
7- 12 months75 mg*75 mg*  
1-3 years80 mg80 mg  
4-8 years130 mg130 mg  
9-13 years240 mg240 mg  
14-18 years410 mg360 mg400 mg360 mg
19-30 years400 mg310 mg350mg310 mg
31-50 years420 mg320 mg360 mg320 mg
51 years
and older
420 mg320 mg  

* If you’re vegetarian or vegan, calcium supplements can help

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, calcium supplements can help

Some vegetarians and vegans may not be getting enough calcium, a mineral crucial for your bone health. Although it’s still up to debate on whether going meatless increases bone fracture risk among adults, there is some evidence that consuming less than 525 mg a day could lead to increased risk of bone fractures.

The National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements

AgeRecommended
amount
Birth to 6 months200 mg
Infants 7-12 months260 mg
Children 1-3 years700 mg
Children 4-8 years1,000 mg
Children 9-13 years and teens 14-18 years1,300 mg
Adults 19-50 years and adult men 51-70 years1,000 mg
Adult women 51-70 years and adults 71 years and
older
1,200 mg
Pregnant and breastfeeding teens1,300 mg
Pregnant and breastfeeding adults1,000 mg

Buyer beware

Worried that you may be running low on any essential nutrient that your body needs to stay healthy? Talk to a health care provider. You’ll want to make sure there’s no potential for them to interact with each other or with prescription medication.

“Any pharmacist can do what’s called a ‘medication therapy management’ session, where we go over everything a patient is taking, including drugs and supplements to assess whether medications and dietary supplements are being used appropriately and not causing problems,” said DeRhodes.

She also emphasized that vitamin shop attendants and sales representatives are not considered reliable sources and that the only advice patients should only heed advice from qualified health care providers.

“For example, I had a patient recently who was told that if she used CBD oil, that it would shrink her tumor,” she said. “We know there is not a shred of evidence to back up that false and illegal claim. Most of the claims associated with dietary supplements are either unproven or false, safety should always be the primary consideration.”

Need advice on whether you should be taking supplements? Find a provider.

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