Is a Nutritional Supplement Really Good for You?

Most noteworthy, over half the people in the U.S. take nutritional supplements on a regular basis. And the main reason for taking a nutritional supplement is their belief that a nutritional supplement may help improve and/or maintain their health.

Nutritional Supplement Types

Meanwhile, the National Health and Nutrition surveyed 37,958 U.S. adults in 2012. And, the survey showed that:

  • 52 percent of the survey population were taking a nutritional supplement
  • 31 percent taking multivitamins
  • 19 percent taking vitamin D
  • 14 percent taking calcium
  • 12 percent taking vitamin C

Nutritional Supplement Quality

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported that 776 dietary supplements sold over the counter from 2007 through 2016 contained unapproved pharmaceutical ingredients. Consequently, it is important to buy supplements from reputable sources.

Nutritional Supplement Impacts

Vitamin E

In a large clinical test, those who took 40 international units (IU) of vitamin E were more likely to have heart problems compared to those who didn’t. ln addition, a National Institutes of Health study of 20,000 men found that men who took the vitamin E supplement everyday were at a greater risk of prostate cancer.


A study published in June 2018 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology reported that multivitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, and selenium had no effect on preventing cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke, or premature death. Furthermore, the study reported that niacin (vitamin B3) with a statin had increased risk of all-cause mortality. On the other hand, the study reported that folic acid alone and B-vitamins with folic acid may reduce risk of stroke.

Next, another study in July 2018 showed that people who take vitamin and mineral supplements did not see any reduction in risk of heart disease. This study, published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, was based on data from 2 million people who were followed for 18 years on average.

Finally, a study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, reported that vitamins B6 and B12 from individual nutritional supplement sources (as opposed to from multivitamins) were associated with a 30 percent to 40 percent increase in lung cancer among men. On the other hand, use of vitamins B6, folate, and B12 supplements showed no effect on lung cancer among women.

Study in Annals of Internal Medicine

Survey Description

Next, yet another survey was conducted to study the use of dietary supplements. Moreover, this survey collected data from 27,000 U.S. adults over the age of 20. In fact, these adults were found to be generally healthy. In the survey, these participants answered questions about their use of a nutritional supplement and their diets. And, the results of the study were recently (April 2019) published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Indeed, the study reported that over 50 percent of the survey participants used at least one nutritional supplement, while more than 33 percent used multivitamins. Especially, relevant, those who took dietary supplements were more likely to be female, white, have high levels of education, and high income. Furthermore, they were also more likely to eat a healthy diet and lead a physically active lifestyle.

Commonly Used Dietary Supplements

Especially relevant, vitamin C was the most commonly used nutritional supplement, followed by vitamin E, calcium, and vitamin D.

Meanwhile, the study also found that vitamins A and K, along with magnesium, zinc, and copper were associated with lower risk of death from heart disease or stroke. In addition, these vitamins and minerals were linked to overall lower risk of dying in the average six years of follow-up after the survey. Paradoxically, this linkage to lower risk of death was only true when the vitamins and minerals were ingested from foods and not from taking nutritional supplements.


In addition, the study found that taking a thousand milligrams of calcium supplements, daily, increased risk of death. On the other hand, ingesting calcium directly from foods had no effect on risk of death.

In summary, taking dietary supplements provided no benefits to the generally healthy survey population. In fact, there is no need to take a nutritional  supplement when eating a healthy balanced diet.

On the other hand, dietary supplements are not a substitute for not eating a healthy balanced diet. Most of all, avoid highly processed foods because the processing strips many foods of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Most noteworthy, it’s not clear why nutrients from supplements don’t provide the same benefits as the nutrients found in food. It may be that while the body can regulate and limit absorption of nutrients found in food, the body can’t do the same with the concentrated nutrients found in supplements.

When to Take a Nutritional Supplement

So, if you are healthy there is no need to take dietary supplements. On the other hand, if your medical provider reports deficiency in certain nutrients, then taking supplements, recommended by the medical provider, is the right thing to do.

In addition, there are times when vitamin and mineral supplements are necessary and important. For instance, anyone following a vegan diet may not get enough omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, and vitamin D. Also, you may need to take a nutritional supplement to help your skin.

Nutritional Supplement Guidelines

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans have published the following recommendations:

  • Anyone over 50 years old. They should consume vitamin B12 in its crystalline form from fortified breakfast cereals or as a supplement
  • Women of childbearing age who may become pregnant and adolescent females. They should eat foods like meats that contains iron or iron-rich plant foods like cooked dry beans or spinach, or iron-fortified cereals, along with vitamin C.
  • Women of childbearing age who may become pregnant and those who are pregnant. They should eat adequate synthetic folic acid daily from fortified foods or supplements in addition to the food forms of folate.
  • Older adults, people with dark skin should take extra vitamin D from fortified foods or supplements. Also, the trend to protect yourself from the sun’s rays and staying out of the sun for extended periods of time results in not getting enough vitamin D naturally. Consequently, vitamin D from fortified foods or supplements may help fill the void.

Finally, pregnant women need prenatal vitamins. Also, nursing mothers, people with food allergies, certain people with vitamin deficiencies, people with cancer, kidney, bone or cardiovascular diseases. They all need prescription supplements.


In summary, it is best to get your vitamins and minerals from your diet. However, if that is not possible, taking dietary supplements is the next best thing. And just to be safe, discuss it with your medical provider before you actually start taking them.