Many people regularly take supplements in the hopes that they will give a much-needed boost to their health, but are vitamins actually an effective dietary supplement or just the product of wishful thinking? A recent New York Times article by medical journalist Jane E. Brody suggests that many supplements may in fact be providing a placebo effect at best — and, at worst, may be causing damage.
Brody covers several of the most common supplements in her article, explaining the potential benefits and risks of each one. She has bad news for those who take the popular daily multivitamin: There is nothing these can do to prevent chronic disease that a balanced diet can't do better. So if you're taking a multivitamin, you're probably wasting your money.
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Other supplements that Brody says are pointless or even damaging are: calcium (it can cause constipation or even heart attacks and kidney stones), fish oil (it may increase the risk of prostate cancer), and magnesium (which can cause diarrhea and interfere with some medications).
The problem is that the average layman doesn't have enough medical knowledge at their disposal to be able to determine which, if any, supplement is right for them. That's why it's important to see your doctor to discuss the idea of taking supplements. Brody said that some supplements can be useful if your doctor discovers a deficiency. For example, your doctor can prescribe vitamin D to support bone health and B12 to support brain and muscle health — but only if your test results say that you're deficient in these vitamins first.
The bottom line: Taking supplements that you may not even need can harm your wallet and, worse, your health. So consider putting down the multivitamins and going to the doctor to get their professional advice on what vitamins, if any, you need.