Supplements – do we really need so many?

Supplements - do we really need so many?

Does your typical day look like include a calcium tablet in the morning and some multivitamins with lunch?

Millions of people across the globe take supplements every day in an attempt to lead a healthy life. Data from a survey by Health of the nation, 2021 reports nearly 20 million supplement users a day in UK alone.[1]

Furthermore, the survey states that more than 70 % of adults take food supplements and interestingly 77% of 18-24 year old’s were also found to be consuming supplements, out of which a vast majority of them mentioned taking supplements for general health and wellness.

With a plethora of options to choose from market aisles or online shops, what constitutes a food supplement?

A food supplement is defined as ‘any food that has the purpose of supplementing the normal diet, and which is a concentrated source of a vitamin or mineral or other substance with a nutritional or physiological effect, alone or in combination and is sold in dose form’. It can include:

  • a vitamin
  • a mineral
  • an amino acid
  • essential fatty acids
  • fibre
  • various plants and herbal extracts

Supplements can come in handy when you experience nutrient deficiencies. In such conditions, your health care professional would prescribe you a supplement for a certain period of time. Taking it any longer than that is not actually going to help you.


Does taking supplements everyday provide any benefit or does it cause more harm than good?

Here’s what you should remember if you are taking a plethora of vitamins and supplements on a daily basis.

Taking more isn’t necessarily better:

Most vitamins will display a safe upper limit for daily intake. While the supplement packaging mentions the daily dosage that you should be ingesting, taking more than necessary can potentially harm your health.

For example, Calcium is important for bone health, but taking excess calcium supplements can increase the risk of buildup of plaque in your arteries. Let’s not forget that nowadays we have vitamin fortified foods like Vitamin D and folic acid fortified breakfast cereal. Due to this, many at times people inadvertently forget that upper limit for vitamins include intake from both food and supplements and you might end up taking much more than the safe upper level.


Fat and water-soluble vitamins:

Water soluble vitamins like B and C, have to be taken every day since they can’t be stored in your body, taking any higher than the recommended levels would be excreted in pee. On the other hand, excess fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K are stored in the liver. Self-medicating with vitamins can cause hypervitaminosis or toxicity, however it is quite rare. Some symptoms of hypervitaminosis include headache, dizziness, severe weakness, nausea, inability to perform daily activities or exercise, constipation or diarrhea.


Interference with medications:

When you take multivitamins, they can often minimise or enhance the effect of medications. For example, taking Vitamin K can interfere with warfarin, a blood thinning medication.

Minerals like calcium can inhibit iron absorption and should be taken with a gap of at least 2 hours.



Some supplements may not have been tested for usage by pregnant or lactating women and therefore you should exercise extra caution before taking them. Additionally, supplements at times may contain ingredients which are not mentioned in the label. Also, just because some supplements are marketed as natural, they may not be safe. Supplements are easily available without any prescription. Despite the fact that supplements can bridge the gap between your food intake and nutrient deficiencies, they can never substitute a well-balanced diet.

There is very little evidence available to support the notion that supplements can prevent or reverse any chronic health conditions. A recent randomised controlled trial conducted in 2019, assessed whether Vitamin D supplementation reduced the risk of cancer or cardiovascular diseases. The study concluded that in the 25,871 participants, Vitamin D supplementation did not lower the incidence of invasive cancer or cardiovascular events in comparison with placebo.[2]

Most of us can meet our daily nutrient requirements with a little planning for your daily meals. Whatever your health goal might be, popping too many supplements can never out do or match the nutrient density of a wholesome meal.

Food for thought: Before buying your next supplement, you might want to reconsider whether you really need supplements or is it just a superfluous expense?

Author Bio

Meenu holds a M.H.Sc in Food Science and Nutrition, University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad.She has 6 years of experience working as a Nutritionist. Her area of specialisation is Child and Sports Nutrition and she is also interested in the functional aspects of nutrition, applications of nutrigenomics and the importance of gut health.