Vitamins and supplements, which some 50 percent of Americans take regularly, might optimize your health—if you’re smart about how you use them. Here’s what to know about popping those pills safely.
You pop a multivitamin
Unless your doctor recommends one for a specific reason, this daily habit may be worth skipping. “For the most part, multivitamins are a poor investment, says Les Emhof, MD, an MDVIP-affiliated physician in Tallahassee, Florida. “They just give you expensive urine.” In an editorial published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2013, Johns Hopkins University researchers concluded that popping a multi does not lower disease or mortality risk. Experts agree that your best bet is to get vitamins and minerals from whole foods. Don’t miss these other 8 vitamins that are useless or even dangerous.
You’re take a random assortment
Every body is different, so choosing vitamins and supplements willy nilly—or trying brands your friends have recommended—isn’t necessarily what’s best for your individual needs. Dr. Emhof gives his patients a blood test to suss out common deficiencies such as vitamin D and B12, and then doles out recommendations based on the results. For other issues, your doctor may suggest supplements based on medical history. For example, if you are grappling with nighttime leg cramps, you might have a magnesium deficiency (here are more signs you’re low in magnesium)—not a potassium deficiency, he says. Find out how to spot other signs you need more potassium.
You live in a sunny climate, so you skip vitamin D
If you’re living in the northern part of the country during a snowy winter, you’re probably short on vitamin D—but it’s also likely true for people living in the sunny south, says Dr. Emhof. “I live in Florida, and 90 percent of my patients are vitamin D deficient,” he says. (Here’s how to know if you need more vitamin D.) While the Institute of Medicine recommends that adults 70 and younger need 600 international units (IUs) of vitamin D per day, Dr. Emhof says some people may need at least 5,000 IU. “You need a blood test to determine the right amount for you,” he advises. Before you head to the pharmacy, here’s what you need to know before taking D supplements.
You assume you need calcium supplemnents
This mineral, along with vitamin D, is key for skeletal strength, but too much calcium might be a bad thing. Research in the Journal of the American Heart Association recently showed that taking a calcium supplement was associated with 22 percent higher odds of atherosclerosis, or clogged arteries. (Check out the silent signs you could have clogged arteries.) Eating calcium-rich foods, on the other hand, was found to be protective for your ticker—so continue to bone up on yogurt, cottage cheese, and leafy greens. Don’t miss these other 8 vitamins women should stop wasting money on.