Perks & Pitfalls of Taking Supplements: All You Need To Know

Your body and brain need tons of nutrients to stay on top of performance and keep up with everything planned. Few of us have time to be picky about food and cook something healthy each time. With the help of supplements, you can be more productive and active. You won't need to think about nutrients or vitamins anymore because you can instantly get them in an easy-to-take form.

Unfortunately, here comes another issue: most people take supplements unconsciously, without even thinking about how it may affect their health. If you do this, you will not get the full benefit from health supplements, and you might even do something harmful to your health. This article will uncover the perks and pitfalls of taking supplements to ensure you're getting enough - dive in!

Supplements can't replace regular food

Our modern lifestyle is mostly about keeping things simple. You can buy everything quickly and get it right at your doorstep. If you eat fast food or refined products as the main meals and "fill the gaps" with supplements, then be aware of one thing. Health supplements might fill in a few missing gaps in your micronutrition intake but will not help you with the underlying unhealthy issues from eating unhealthy food.

Supplements should primarily help you fight deficiencies, not replace regular foods. So they will supply your body with a particular mineral or vitamin but won't manage to provide you a bunch of healthy nutrients as foods do. Moreover, supplements don't contain calories, making them unsuitable for food replacement.

 Plahe with a salad

Studies show that a beneficial effect of healthy foods like veggies or fruits comes from their phytochemicals combos. Besides, micronutrients that come with foods are less likely to cause an overdose. Meals contain smaller vitamin and mineral doses as they maintain your health in the long term. Supplements, in turn, work as a rapid response unit, quickly delivering the nutrients you're lacking.

Be careful about those mixes of supplements

It is common for people to take more than one supplement daily. That way, you can enhance your diet and possibly improve your general well-being by taking them regularly. There are, however, some essential things that you need to keep in mind when you choose which supplements to mix.

If you're taking more than one supplement at a time, it’s good to know how you get most of this and what might even be harmful to you. Here are a few of such mixes:

  1. Ginkgo biloba and Omega-3. Mixing these two supplements can prevent your blood from clotting and cause non-stop bleeding. Thus, make sure you take them at least a two-hour interval.
  2. Calcium with magnesium or zinc. When taken simultaneously, minerals are absorbed poorly by your body because they compete with each other. So consider taking mineral supplements with different meals to avoid deficiencies.
  3. Ashwagandha and melatonin. By taking these two supplements that have a sedating effect, you can become too sleepy and weak. Either choose one of them or take them on different days to not become low on energy.
  4. Calcium and vitamin D. For a long time, these two micronutrients were considered by nutritionists as a great match to support bone health. But then, recent research has shown their combination may increase your risk of a heart stroke. So it's better to take them separately and avoid possible heart disorders.
  5. Folic acid and vitamin B12. In normal conditions, these two supplements are okay to take together. If you have a vitamin B12 deficiency, folic acid masks it, so you won't treat it. In turn, long-term B12 lack can irreparably damage nerve cells. Thus, before taking folic acid, test your vitamin B12 level.
  6. Iron and calcium. The issue is that calcium can interfere with iron absorption, leading to iron deficiency in the long term. According to the WHO, you should separate iron and calcium intake by at least two hours.

Cup of milk

Which supplements are beneficial to take together?

On the other hand, by mixing certain supplements, you can multiply their benefits and improve absorption. Get acknowledged with powerful supplement mixes to ensure your body receives most of them.

  1. Vitamin C and iron. Both of these micronutrients have immunity-strengthening properties and benefit your cardiovascular system. Taking them together can be even more helpful, as vitamin C significantly boosts iron absorbance.
  2. Zinc and vitamin B6. These two nutritional supplements are a genuine inseparable pair since zinc is necessary for vitamin B6 absorption and thymus gland optimal function.
  3. Magnesium and vitamin D. Taking a vitamin D supplement without magnesium would be a colossal waste. This mineral allows your enzymes to convert vitamin D into an active form, suitable for absorption.
  4. Vitamin D and Omega-3. Since vitamin D is fat-soluble, combining it with Omega-3 fatty acid enhances its absorption. In turn, the vitamin won't disturb Omega-3 from delivering all its cellular and cardiovascular health benefits to your body.


Can supplements harm you, and what precautions should you take?

Now that you know all the benefits supplements can bring you and how to mix them, the next thing you may think of is how long supplements stay in your system. And that's an essential issue since some leave quickly while your body stores others for years.

How long do dietary supplements stay in your system?

The type of vitamins and minerals determines how long they will remain in your body. Water-soluble vitamins that include all B-group vitamins and vitamin C washes away from your body with urine. So it would help if you got a sufficient dose of them frequently to avoid deficiencies.

Overdosing on these vitamins isn't dangerous for you as they leave your body quickly. Although, there are some exceptions. Vitamin B12 can stay in your liver for up to five years, while vitamin C stays up to 4 months in your adrenal gland.

Fat-soluble vitamins are a bit more complicated to deal with because they require fat for absorption. This type includes A, D, K, and E vitamins. Your body stores them in cells for a long time and uses them only when needed. Thus, overdosing on this type of vitamin can lead to intoxication.

woman is taking a supplement

There are two groups of minerals, and your body stores them differently. Major minerals present in your body in massive amounts are calcium and magnesium. Each of them washes away on their terms — as for calcium, it acts as a fat-soluble vitamin, staying in your body for a longer time. In turn, magnesium washes away quicker — it entirely leaves your body in 24 hours.

Trace minerals, like iron or zinc, are in your body in smaller amounts. Still, don't underestimate their importance for your well-being as they perform many essential functions. Men's bodies can store iron for almost three years, while women store this mineral for only half a year. Meanwhile, your body doesn't have a particular mechanism for storing zinc, so you should take it frequently to avoid shortages.

Herbal and protein supplements have a short-term effect and are digested by your body the same way as food. Thus, if you want to experience their benefits, you should take them daily.

The harmful effect of overdosing on supplements

Micronutrient deficiency is undoubtedly a significant threat to your health, energy, and productivity. With all these trends in multivitamins and massive supplement doses, overdosing on them appears equally dangerous.

The critical fact about micronutrients is that your body needs them in tiny amounts. And when you consume more of them than needed, vitamins and minerals can become toxic to you. So what exactly should you know about the harmful effects of overdosing on micronutrients?

supplements on the table

There’s no overdosing from eating regular foods. Things work differently when supplements are fortified or with enriched foods that contain artificially added micronutrients. You can get as many healthy foods as you like without worrying about micronutrient overdosing.

Supplements come in various forms like pills, powders, gummies, or capsules. Manufacturers infuse them with tasty flavors for better taste and marketing purposes, so you imagine them more like a savory treat than a medication. Thus, it becomes easier for you to overdose on supplements without a second thought.

Next, you should know that you won't become overdosed on certain supplements too fast. For instance, excessive water-soluble vitamins are washed away with urine daily without harm. In turn, fat-soluble vitamins are stored by your body in tissues, liver, and muscles, so overdosing on them is way more destructive to your well-being.

Adjustments you should make to your supplementation

Your body changes as time flies, so its demands for micronutrients do. Children have different recommended intakes than young adults. Meanwhile, women need slightly different supplement types and doses than men, which's just the tip of the iceberg.

avocado on the table

1. Adjust based on age

Based on age, you need different doses and types of supplements to promote your well-being. When in your thirties, consider taking Omega-3 supplements as an anti-inflammatory and heart-supporting remedy. In your twenties, you need more calcium and Vitamin D to encourage your bones and muscles to develop healthily.

When you turn forty, it's time to take care of your brain health and take some zinc to boost your learning skills and enhance motivation. And for adults in their 50s, it's crucial to maintain a sufficient vitamin D level since its intake recommendation increases. The study also suggests they take more vitamin B12 due to the low gastric acidity levels.

2. Adjust based on gender

There are not so many differences between supplement recommendations for men and women. Still, it's worth knowing them to avoid certain deficiencies and overdosing. Women of reproductive age should take x3 larger iron doses than men due to the menstruations and blood losses they induce. In turn, men should receive more vitamin B, E, and K as they often have a larger body size and an increased need for them.

3. Adjust based on eating habits

Supplements are crucial if you have specific eating habits or are on a diet. With a thoughtful, balanced diet, you can manage to get most of the micronutrients just by eating regular meals. Still, it's common to miss some meals with a busy lifestyle or fail to eat balanced meals every time.

powders in spoons

Vegetarians need extra iron and vitamin B12 doses since they don't get this micronutrient with meat. Besides, vegans should consume more calcium as they don't eat dairy products. If your diet includes no animal meat, you can also take protein as a supplement to support your muscles and bones.

When should you be careful with taking supplements?

There are also cases when supplements can do more harm than good. In these cases, you should limit your intake or even stop taking supplements for some time to avoid negative consequences for your health.

Taking medications

Most people take medications along with certain supplements when having flu or cold. Studies show that almost 68% of older people take over-the-counter supplements and remedies. And that's not just about them since young adults also tend to consume supplements to speed up recovery.

But how can such a mix influence your health and the effect of drugs? Specific micronutrient intake can slow down your healing process, hinder digestion, and reduce the drug's effect.

As for calcium, iron, and magnesium limit medications' absorption and reduce antibiotics' effect on your body. Taking these minerals supplements may also lower infection treatment efficiency and increase your risk of complications. Thus, physicians suggest consuming them at least two hours after medications.

ginkgo biloba leave

Vitamin E or ginkgo Biloba supplements can increase the impact of the blood-thinning medication and cause uncontrolled bleeding. When taken with sedative medications, herbs like ashwagandha make you lethargic and dizzy. What's more, don't take vitamin B12 supplements when your stomach aches since it lowers the stomach-soothing drug effect.

Digestive disorders

You should also be careful with supplements when having specific digestive issues. Vitamins and minerals intake, in some cases, cause gastrointestinal disorders in healthy people. Diarrhea, nausea, and constipation are among the most common supplementation side effects. They increase your stomach acidity, which triggers stomach pain and ulcer symptoms. And if you have severe disorders like stomach ulcers, take vitamins and minerals carefully.

Liver disorders

More and more people come to their physicians with liver disorders caused by supplements. Study shows dietary supplements, including herbs, vitamins, and minerals, are the reason for 18% of liver injuries worldwide. Thus, if you have any liver issues, drink alcohol frequently, eat fatty foods, and take supplements carefully to avoid harming this essential organ.

Bodybuilders and people taking nutritional supplements to build muscle and improve physical performance are at high risk. Massive doses of protein, creatine, and collagen supplements (common among people who work out) are especially hard for the liver. Thus, limit your workout supplement doses and test your liver if you feel discomfort after taking it.

When is taking supplements more beneficial than eating the original source of nutrients?

Most articles you can find will tell you there's nothing more beneficial than original sources of vitamins and minerals. "Eat more veggies, and you won't need supplements," they say. In turn, we'd suggest you take such advice with a grain of salt. There are numerous exceptions and cases when you can't eat these original vitamins and minerals sources.


It's better to take supplements if:

  1. You have an allergy to a particular source of micronutrients. For instance, if you're allergic to wheat, you may lack vitamin D and calcium. You will develop a vitamin C deficiency if you have a citrus allergy. If you're allergic to fish, your body will lack Omega-3 fatty acids, leading to poor bone and tissue health, heart diseases, and other issues.
  2. You have dietary restrictions due to the health disorder. In some cases, nutritionists will restrict certain foods from your diet, or you'll need more micronutrients due to particular diseases. For example, people with diabetes 2 need more vitamin C and are more likely to get a B-group vitamin deficiency. Plus, people with diabetes can't eat certain fruits (bananas and pineapples) due to their high sugar content.
  3. You have a special diet. As we've mentioned before, vegetarians and vegans can lack iron and vitamin B12, which you can find in animal meats. Thus, supplement intake is the most approachable way to get a necessary micronutrient dose. Still, keto and paleo diets also fail to deliver all nutrients, so you may lack calcium and vitamin D.
  4. You are a picky eater. You know, not just toddlers refuse to eat broccoli. We all dislike certain foods. Yet, some of us can become too radical in refusing to eat wholesome meals. Picky eaters refuse to eat veggies and fruits, choosing more unhealthy foods like pizza or french fries. In such cases, you may have a particular micronutrient deficiency in no time. Therefore, consuming supplements may refill your vitamins and minerals stores.
  5. You are limited in time. Supplements can become your savior if you're in a constant rush and it's hard to get a few more minutes for a decent lunch. Although, never take them as a meal replacement if you don't want to end up with some digestive disorder.

plate next to the cimputer

Harmful substances you should avoid when choosing supplements

Many think supplements are a net benefit that only boosts your health and consist of organic chemicals. Unfortunately, this works not for every supplement you can find. Some contain artificial colors, GMO ingredients, and even industrial waste. Here are the most harmful ingredients present in supplements:

1. Artificial flavors. When you avoid artificial flavors in your diet and refuse to drink soft drinks, sugary snacks, and refined foods, some supplements can still contain them. Flavor enhancers, sugary corn syrups, and sweeteners are the most common ones you can find in supplements. Manufacturers add them to make you addicted and buy more. Still, such ingredients increase your risk of getting diabetes and obesity.
2. Hydrogenated vegetable oil. Hydrogenated vegetable oil contains trans fats that increase your "bad cholesterol" blood level and your risk of stroke or diabetes. Using these oils helps manufacturers save money and delay the supplements' expiration date. Though, they're not so wholesome for your health.
3. Heavy metals and PCBs. Fish oil — the main component of any Omega-3 supplement — may contain heavy metals and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) that pollute oceans, seas, and rivers. These chemicals neutralize all health benefits of Omega-3, inducing dangerous diseases like atherosclerosis, hepatic disorders, and other issues.
4.Titanium dioxide. Although it brings no nutrient value, this ingredient is common in supplements and cosmetics — manufacturers use it to whiten products. Still, it's a dangerous chemical that can increase your risk of stomach cancer and cause inflammation.

plate with a salad and bottle with oil
5. Magnesium silicate. This white powder, widely known as a talk, covers supplement pills and tablets to prevent them from clumping in the bottle. A study suggests magnesium silicate intake can weaken immunity, cause inflammation, and slow digestion.

Such unpleasant ingredients are widespread among cheap supplements and new brand products. Thus, choose only organic-certified ones with verified ingredients to avoid possible health risks.

Tips on how to get the most out of taking supplements when you're busy

Now, when you're already a pro in supplements, it's time to start the action and choose the supplements to improve your health and energy level. But every time you visit an online shop or store in your neighborhood, you become puzzled among tons of different brands. We've prepared some practical advice to help you select the right supplements.

Tip 1. Choose only vitamins and minerals your body lacks

Since multivitamins are not the best option for supporting your health, adjust your supplementation to your body's needs. But most people don't even know they have deficiencies! And we agree that it's hard to notice nutrient deficiency without doing special tests or consulting your physician. However, now you know which nutrients are the most beneficial for you, so if you take them in moderate doses, they won't harm you.

green vegetable on brown table

Tip 2. Select the right dosage

Numerous indicators are affecting the dosage of supplements you need. Women need larger doses of calcium and iron due to the menstrual cycle. In contrast, men need more vitamins because of their more significant body mass. That's why manufacturers create separate supplement mixes for men and women.

Another significant indicator is your weight. Vitamins and minerals come in standard dosing, so you should choose how many of each element you need. And scientists claim the higher your body weight, the more micronutrients you need.

One study says overweight people tend to have a more significant vitamin D deficiency than people with average weight. So before taking supplements, it's worth correlating their dosage with your weight to avoid deficiencies. Meanwhile, another research suggests that higher-weight people should get more vitamin E to reduce oxidative stress.

Tip 3. Choose supplements with natural ingredients

Mainly, supplements divide into synthetic and natural ones. Synthetic nutrients are an industrial product - they mimic the natural nutrients so your body can digest them. In turn, natural nutrients come from organic sources like veggies, fruits, mushrooms, and berries. Manufacturers dry them and concentrate them in tiny portions to create a supplement. Then is there a difference between them for your well-being?

person taking a pill

Your body may react differently to synthetic supplements. Research shows it may recognize such nutrients as waste and excrete them, which can be frustrating if they cost you too much. In turn, natural supplements are a real treat for your body since they have a higher bioavailability and absorb quicker. For instance, a natural vitamin E has a twice higher absorbance than a synthetic one.

Tip 4. Consult your physician

Although you don't need a prescription to purchase dietary supplements, let your physician know about the additional nutrients you're taking. It will help you avoid possible health risks in the future that link to the medication and supplement mixes, overdosing, or side effects. Plus, your physician will help you select the proper dosage.

Tip 5. Get your 7-day pillbox

You'll skip the regular supplement intake when you forget to eat breakfast in the morning or drink a cup of water. That's why you need a 7-day pillbox to have all your daily supplements at hand anytime. It will help you divide nutrients by days to avoid unpleasant mixes and side effects. Besides, such a pillbox will remind you to take your vitamins not to have any gaps.

Tip 6. Mix fat-soluble vitamins with foods

You've heard about the "rule" to take supplements with foods. And that makes sense since most fat-soluble vitamins have better absorption when taken with fatty food. Your metabolism is active when eating a meal, which will help your body take more helpful nutrients from the supplement. Besides, you'll develop a habit of reminding yourself to take supplements with foods (for example, fat-soluble vitamins with dinner).

tablets in the hand

Tip 7. Take water-soluble vitamins and herbal supplements on an empty stomach

Herbal supplement absorption can also be lower when taken with food. Water-soluble vitamins, when taken on an empty stomach, dissolve quicker. That's why you should take them in the morning before the meal. Another option is to take them two hours after the banquet when your body has digested the food. Consume them between meals to get the most potent effect.

Tip 8. Consume supplements with plain water

This suggestion usually refers to medication but works as well with supplements. Doubtless, taking a supplement pill with a sip of cold coffee or juice left from lunch is convenient. Though, such drinks may lower the effectiveness of your supplements. Study shows that caffeine may decrease vitamin D absorption, while grapefruit may inactivate specific vitamins by its acid. So plain water is your optimal choice when taking supplements.

Tip 9. Store supplements properly

Manufacturers suggest storing supplements in a dry, cold place to prolong their shelf life. A bedside table, a kitchen drawer away from the stove (remember, a cold place), or a container in a closet are great places to store supplements. Still, you should store liquid supplements and particular probiotics in the fridge to keep them fresh.