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10 Supplements That You Shouldn't Buy

Ask your doctor before buying any of these.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

Executives in the multi-billion-dollar vitamin and supplements industry might not want you to read this, but you do not need many of the supplements you are already taking. Most of the essential nutrients we need to establish a healthy lifestyle we already get from a balanced diet. Here are 10 vitamins and supplements you—probably—did not need in the first place. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

Multivitamins

Smiling young lady looking at her vitamins
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They sound good on paper. Multivitamins must mean multiple vitamins. Often touted to improve heart health, brain function, and support the immune system, ingredients can include herbs, amino acids, folic acid, and more. Certain multivitamins like prenatal ones for pregnant women or those planning to get pregnant could prove beneficial. The same goes for people who struggle to eat the proper foods for a healthy diet. But there is no hard evidence to suggest they make a definitive impact on overall health. Kris Sollid, a registered dietician and Senior Director of Nutrition Communication at the International Food Information Council, says, "For those who meet nutrient needs through diet—not everyone does, however—a multivitamin won't do much other than create colorful, expensive urine." He recommends getting the nutrients found in multivitamins through food and beverages first. 

2

Vitamin A

vitamin a supplement
Kate Hliznitsova / Unsplash

Found in foods like yogurts, cheeses, and eggs, most people already get plenty of vitamin A from three meals a day. So, if you take more than you need, your body could undergo vitamin A toxicity, which is not that hard to do. Side effects could be confusion or inexplicable excitability, skin irritation, even hair loss. And those are the less severe side effects. Unless you have allergies that restrict certain foods, it's best to stick with getting your daily vitamin A through food and drink. 

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3

Kava

kava kava supplement capsules on brown wooden plate
Shutterstock / Iryna Imago

Some believe kava could be a mild, less dangerous alternative to drugs to relieve anxiety. When taking kava, people who stand by its potential benefits say they experience a general feeling of relaxation, well-being, and reduced stress. Some even believe they experience this all-natural high. While studies have indicated that it can treat anxiety to some degree, there is no other proof to show its effectiveness in treating other conditions. In fact, an excess can result in liver damage. 

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4

Iron

Red pills of Iron supplements
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Just over 1.5% percent of the US population (five million) has iron-deficiency anemia, where supplements might improve if recommended by a doctor. While ten million in total are iron deficient (not anemic), that issue can be remedied with an improved diet. Outside that demographic, most people get their daily iron from brown rice, shrimp, beans, beef, eggs, and even tofu. Taking more iron than needed through supplements can contribute to irregular heartbeat, even internal bleeding in extreme cases. 

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5

B12 and other B Vitamins 

Person taking out Vitamin B12 pills out of bottle.
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We need B12 to keep our nerve and blood cells healthy. Deficiency can lead to megaloblastic anemia, which makes people feel frequently tired and weak. That said, Kris Sollid, RD, says being deficient can take "a long time to happen because our daily needs are relatively small." Of course, this does not apply to everyone. He goes on to say that a B12 deficiency can affect "between 1.5 and 15% of the general population." However, certain demographics are more prone to deficiencies than others, says Sollid:  

  • "Vegetarians, and especially vegans, limit or avoid food from animal sources, where B12 is naturally found. It's particularly important for pregnant and lactating mothers who are vegetarian or vegan to get enough B12 because both mother and child need it.
  • "Older people are less able to absorb B12 from foods. Certain medications can also interfere with our ability to absorb B12 as well. 
  • "Those with malabsorptive conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, or people who've had weight loss surgery are less able to absorb nutrients." 

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6

Vitamin E

vitamin e
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An antioxidant that supports the immune system, it also improves vision and reproductive health. Foods containing vitamin E include avocados, plant-based oils, peanut butter, and mangos. Men need about 4 mg. a day and for women 3 mg., but there does not need to be through daily intake. Vitamin E is stored in the body for later if it is not needed immediately after ingestion. Like others mentioned, a well-balanced diet will most likely negate the need for supplementing. 

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7

Biotin

biotin
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Deficiencies are rare, to say the least. The National Institutes of Health states that those with alcohol dependence, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and those with the rare disorder biotinidase deficiency might want to consider supplementing. That said, they should consult with their primary care physician first. Biotin is important for the hair, skin, nails, as well as a vehicle for converting nutrients into essential energy, and can be found in many foods. Meat, fish, eggs, spinach, and broccoli all contain concentrations that should be suitable for most people. 

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8

Red Yeast Rice

Red Yeast Rice
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The yeast product that grows on white rice, this supplement is a tenet in traditional Chinese medicine for lowering cholesterol. As of now, because of supplement regulations, there is no way to know how much of the active ingredient is in the product, so it is not a good substitute for prescribed medications or statins. While it shows promise in lowering cholesterol and preventing heart disease, there are risks involved that can be avoided if you just eat foods that contribute to heart health instead. There are several potential negative interactions red yeast rice could have with alcohol, certain medications, even grapefruits. It might also contain citrinin, which could lead to kidney failure. 

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9

Iodine

Dripping medical iodine from pipette into glass bottle
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Although it is needed for producing thyroid hormones, iodine is found naturally in many foods like dairy products and fish. Anyone with a deficiency can put more iodized salt in their diet. Pregnant women might want to supplement because they need 50% more iodine for their unborn fetus, as well as those practicing a vegan diet. Individuals outside those categories probably do not need to take additional iodine because of possible health risks such as damage to the thyroid when taking too much. 

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10

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

omega 3
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According to the CDC, omega-3 is one of the most popular supplements used by American adults. Kris Sollid, RD, says, "Omega-3 fatty acids are found in both plant and animal foods. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is the type of omega-3 found in plant foods (flaxseed, canola, and soybean oils) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are marine forms of omega-3 (fish and seafood). Our bodies can convert ALA into DHA and EPA, but it happens inefficiently, which is why it's recommended that we consume DHA and EPA directly. There is no recommendation for the amount of EPA or DHA that we should eat, but there is for ALA. Most people get enough ALA from food." And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Matt Gillick
Matt Gillick has been writing about world news, culture, and sports since graduating from Providence College in 2015. He received his MFA from Emerson College in 2021. Read more