People are becoming increasingly more health conscious, yet myths and misconceptions about vitamins and supplements continue to abound. How much do you really know about nutritional supplements? Do you even need to take them? If you do take them, how much should you take and when? Are they always safe?
Myths about Vitamins and Supplements
1. If you eat a healthy diet, you don’t need supplements.
While this may have been true 100 years ago, it’s no longer the case. Our vegetables and fruits are only as nutritious as the soil in which they’re grown. And the sad fact is the nutrient content of much of our soil has been so stripped and polluted over the past few decades that the plants grown in it no longer have the same nutritional value as they did a century ago.
Additionally, most of us lead such busy lives that it’s almost impossible to shop for, prepare and cook three totally healthy meals a day. As hard as we may try, sometimes we have to rely on prepared, packaged foods or even fast foods in order to accomplish everything we need to get done in a day.
There are also individual factors to consider. Even someone who follows the healthiest diet plan and eats the most well-balanced meals may have increased nutritional needs due to genetics, aging or chronic illness that can’t be met through food alone.
A good example of this is the antioxidant coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). Every cell in your body is fueled by CoQ10, yet CoQ10 levels decrease as we age and are often low in people who have various health challenges.
However, it is virtually impossible to significantly increase your CoQ10 through dietary sources alone. In order to get 100 mg of CoQ10 from food, you would have to eat 133 cups of cabbage, 77 cups of broccoli, 921 oysters or five pounds of beef liver. The only way to provide your body with the additional CoQ10 it may need is through supplementation.
2. Taking a daily multivitamin can make up for what’s lacking in your diet.
Sometimes people treat multivitamins like an insurance policy, thinking they will cover any nutritional needs they may be missing due to poor eating habits. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way. Although taking a multivitamin can be helpful, not even the best supplements can replace eating a healthy diet.
Another problem with depending on a multivitamin to cover your nutritional needs is the challenge of deciding which multivitamin to choose. There are hundreds––probably even thousands–– of different multivitamins on the market, and they all contain different combinations and amounts of a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. If you want to take a multivitamin, you need to determine which one has the best combination of nutrients to meet your specific needs.
Ideally, you should be tested for a wide variety of nutrients to find out if there are any deficiencies you need to address. While a multivitamin can be a good starting point, you may also need to add specific individual nutrients to support any areas where you may be lacking.
3. The higher the dose, the better.
Some people have the philosophy that if a little is good, more must be better. That’s seldom a good rule of thumb to follow for anything in life, including supplements. While some supplements are relatively safe and effective at fairly high doses, others can actually lose effectiveness and some can even become toxic.
Typically, fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body and are more likely to become toxic when too much is taken. On the other hand, water-soluble vitamins do not accumulate in the body, but even those can sometimes cause unpleasant side effects if taken in excessive amounts.
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Then there are supplements like undenatured chicken collagen (OsteoTec UC·II) that require pretty precise dosing. Small amounts can be very effective for relieving joint pain––more than twice as effective as glucosamine and chondroitin––however, at higher doses, it can actually have the opposite effect.
It’s important to look into any supplements you might be considering and find out what the right dose is for your particular needs.
4. Supplements are natural so they must be safe.
In the supplement world, natural means a supplement comes from a natural source, like plants, as opposed to being man-made or synthetic. But just because something comes from a plant, doesn’t necessarily mean it is automatically safe. After all, water hemlock is a natural plant, but consuming it could be fatal. Of course, natural supplements are not made from poisonous plants, however, they can still be dangerous if you take too much, as mentioned above.
Another thing many people don’t realize is that even natural supplements can interact with medications––both prescription and over-the-counter. That’s why it is so important to make sure your doctor knows about any supplements you may be taking. When your doctor asks for a list of the medications you’re taking, be sure to include supplements on that list. And since many doctors are not well-versed on supplements and their potential drug interactions, it’s also a good idea to make sure your pharmacist has that list as well.
If you would like to check out any possible drug interactions yourself, Medscape offers a drug interaction checker where you can enter all of the medications and supplements you are taking or considering to find out if there are any potential interactions.
5. It doesn’t matter when or how you take your supplements.
Sometimes we’re just glad when we remember to take our supplements, and we may not think that when and how we take them is important. But just as with medications, things like time of day and with or without food can make a difference.
Some supplements work best on an empty stomach, so it’s usually best to take them first thing in the morning before you’ve eaten anything. Others are far more effective when taken with food, so those should be consumed with a meal. Then there are the fat-soluble nutrients that need to be taken with a meal that contains some fat in order to be really effective.
Be sure to always read the label directions on your supplements. It should tell you not only the recommended dose, but also whether when and how you take it is a factor.
Supplements can be a wonderful addition to your wellness plan. providing essential support to help improve your overall health and wellbeing. As with most things in life, you just need to educate yourself and make sure you are using them wisely and responsibly.
Karen Lee Richards is ProHealth’s Editor-in-Chief. A fibromyalgia patient herself, she co-founded the nonprofit organization now known as the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) in 1997 and served as its vice-president for eight years. She was also the executive editor of Fibromyalgia AWARE magazine. After leaving the NFA, Karen served as the Guide to Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for the New York Times website About.com, then worked for eight years as the Chronic Pain Health Guide for The HealthCentral Network before coming to ProHealth. To learn more about Karen, see “Meet Karen Lee Richards.”
1. Shea A. Six incredible ways to get ubiquinol CoQ10 from food. Ubiquinol.org. Retrieved May 6, 2019. https://ubiquinol.org/blog/six-incredible-ways-get-ubiquinol-coq10-food