What Vitamin Supplements Should I Take?

  • Author:
    Betty Kovacs Harbolic, MS, RD

    Betty is a Registered Dietitian who earned her B.S. degree in Food and Nutrition from Marymount College of Fordham University and her M.S. degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. She is the Co-Director and Director of nutrition for the New York Obesity Research Center Weight Loss Program.

  • Medical Editor: Ruchi Mathur, MD, FRCP(C)
    Ruchi Mathur, MD, FRCP(C)

    Ruchi Mathur, MD, FRCP(C)

    Ruchi Mathur, MD, FRCP(C) is an Attending Physician with the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism and Associate Director of Clinical Research, Recruitment and Phenotyping with the Center for Androgen Related Disorders, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Last Editorial Review: 8/18/2017

Ask the experts

I started taking dietary supplements a couple months ago, but I don't really feel any different. What dietary supplements should I be taking to maintain a healthy lifestyle overall?

Doctor's response

Many people use dietary supplements with the hopes of improving their health without knowing that there is typically little proof, if any, that a supplement will do what it claims to do. The truth is that supplements are not monitored for their safety and efficacy the way that prescription and over-the-counter medications are. Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for ensuring the safety of drug products (prescription and over-the-counter). Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), manufacturers of dietary supplements are the ones responsible for ensuring the safety of their own products. This means that the companies making the supplements do not have to report to anyone but themselves. There are many reasons why this becomes a problem:

  1. There are no required tests to determine if the supplement will do what it claims.
  2. Many supplements combine ingredients that have never been tested together, so there is no way to know if they are safe to take together.
  3. Supplements do not need to be tested with other medications, so there is no way to know how they will interact with any medications that you take.
  4. If you have any medical conditions, there is no way to know how the supplement may affect you.
  5. The dosing in supplements may vary from batch to batch, and this is not monitored.

The FDA does get involved with monitoring the safety of the supplement once it is marketed. When a supplement is found to contain unsafe ingredients or a manufacturer is making false claims, the FDA can take action. For example, the FDA has taken action against weight-loss supplements that contained undeclared prescription ingredients by removing them from the market. Unfortunately, these actions take place after problems have occurred.

Until the supplement laws change, I recommend sticking with modifying your diet and physical activity as a means to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Research is clear that there are countless health benefits to following a diet that is high in vegetables, fruits, and fiber and low in fat, sugar, and alcohol. Small changes can have a big impact, so don't worry about changing everything that you eat all at once.

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Last Editorial Review: 8/18/2017
Medically reviewed by Robert Bargar, MD; Board Certification in Public Health & General Preventive Medicine


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