Supplements: Should you Swallow the Hype?

Health & Well Being

Vitamins, minerals and other nutrients have important work to do. Among other things: They help your body fight infections. They help turn food into energy. And they strengthen bones.

So you might think that taking a dietary supplement can only be good. If so, you’re not alone. Most adults in the U.S. take at least one once in a while.

But there’s something you should know before you join them. Most people can get by just fine without supplements. It’s possible — and usually better for you — to get all the nutrients you need from a variety of healthy foods.

Know the risks

Besides wasting money, taking a supplement you don’t need can be risky. Supplements may cause side effects, especially if you take large doses, take several together or combine them with other medicines.

They might also interfere with how a medicine works — making it stronger or weaker. Or they can be dangerous if you have certain health conditions.

So it’s best to play it safe. Always talk with your doctor before adding a supplement to your diet.

Are there exceptions?

As you age, you may need more of some nutrients than younger people do. Your doctor might recommend a supplement if you aren’t getting enough from diet alone.

There might also be good reasons for people with certain conditions to take a supplement. For example, someone going through cancer treatment might have trouble eating regular meals. So nutrition drinks may be helpful. Or doctors might prescribe extra calcium or vitamin D for someone at risk for osteoporosis.

The bottom line: Your doctor is your best source of information about the risks and benefits of supplements, as well as how to take them safely. It’s a conversation well worth having.