Best Supplements to Take: the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Last updated November 26, 2023

Nutrition is the primary method for supplementing the body with vitamins and minerals for daily functions. However, you may not always get enough of the good stuff from food, so taking pills becomes an alternative for nourishment. 

The world of supplements can be overwhelming. With abundant choices from vitamins, herbs, minerals and protein powders, picking the best supplements to take is a hard decision. Discover why people take them and what options you can consider for daily intake.

Reasons People Take Supplements

Roughly 86% of Americans take supplements, but only 24% do so because they received results indicating their nutritional deficiency. While taking a few vitamins or minerals has little side effects, a doctor’s checkup is necessary to prevent medication interactions. People take supplements for three main reasons. 

1. They Want to Obtain Antioxidant Benefits

Supplements with antioxidant benefits, like vitamins C and E, can help fight free radicals that harm healthy cells and cause chronic diseases like cancer and dementia. Such vitamins often don’t require a prescription.

2. They Don’t Eat Well

Older adults and people with existing illnesses may have declining appetites. That means their bodies may not get proper food nutrients, so they have lower-than-normal levels of vitamins and minerals. They can take supplements to maintain their health and avoid deficiency. 

3. They Have a Deficiency

A blood test can identify whether you lack fundamental vitamins. If you do, your doctor will recommend a supplement you must take regularly. 

Vitamins are classified as either fat-soluble or water-soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins like A, E and D dissolve in fat and are absorbed and stored in the body for future use. Meanwhile, water-soluble vitamins like C and B break down in water and any extra quantity exits the body through urine. 

Excessive fat-soluble vitamins in the body, like vitamin A, accumulated through taking supplements may cause severe headaches, nausea, vision problems and even death. Avoid self-medicating to prevent adverse reactions.

Six Best Supplements to Take Daily

Here are a few supplements you can integrate into your diet for optimal health. Certain medications may interact adversely with supplements, so always check with your doctor before adding them to your routine.

1. Vitamin A

Vitamin A is one of those generic supplements you can find in pharmacies. It supports metabolism, vision and cell development. It also maintains immunity and the reproductive system. Adult women only need 700 mcg, while men need 900 mcg of vitamin A. Insufficiency can cause blindness, skin issues, infertility and growth problems. 

Supplements may help replenish the needed amount. Talk to your doctor about the proper dosage. 

2. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B has eight types, each with a different function. The most important is vitamin B12, which regulates the nervous system. It also helps make DNA and supports the growth and development of red blood cells. 

Vitamin B12 deficiency affects 3%-43% of older adults despite needing only around 2.4 mcg daily. At least 3% of people aged 20-39 and 4% of 40-59 are deficient. Symptoms include numbness or tingly sensations in the hands and feet, problems with balance and poor memory. 

Vitamin B is one of the best supplements to take daily as it has no side effects, even at high doses. However, they may interact with specific medications, so get a doctor’s advice. 

3. Vitamin C

Vitamin C bottles are a mainstay in vitamin shops. It supports protein metabolism and immune function and has antioxidant benefits. The recommended dietary allowance of vitamin C for women is 75 mg and 90 mg for men. An inadequate amount in the body has several consequences, including scurvy, fatigue and tooth loss. 

Vitamin C deficiency affects 7.1% of Americans, with some contributing factors pointing to alcohol and tobacco use and poor nutrition. Vitamin C is a water-soluble type, so it’s universally safe and one of the best supplements to take since the body gets rid of the surplus quantity through urine. Still, talk to your doctor about potential side effects or drug interactions. 

4. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is crucial in absorbing calcium and phosphorus for bone health. The body needs 15 mcg or 600 IU and can synthesize a certain amount when exposed to sunlight. However, the current lifestyle prohibits people from going outdoors often, resulting in deficiency that affects as many as 35% of adults in the U.S.

Inadequate vitamin D can lead to symptoms like cramps, bone pain, joint deformities and muscle weakness. It’s rare for vitamin D to reach a toxic level if you take supplements excessively. Still, it can happen and lead to a condition called hypercalcemia, wherein the body has too much calcium. Talk to your doctor about the right dose if you have insufficient vitamin D. 

5. Calcium

Calcium and vitamin D work in tandem to promote healthy bones. About 98% of calcium in the body is stored in them. Women and men aged 19-50 should get 1,000 mg of this mineral from dairy products like milk and cheese. However, people who are vegan, have lactose intolerance and low magnesium and vitamin D may not meet their daily calcium intake.

A blood test will determine if you have enough calcium in the blood. More than 40% of Americans do not reach their daily calcium from food alone, so taking pills is an alternative solution. Doctors may prescribe vitamin D or calcium supplements for minor deficiencies and intravenous infusions may be necessary for severe cases. 

6. Iron

Insufficient iron is a prevalent mineral deficiency, affecting 30% of the world’s population. As many as 5% of women and 2% of men in the U.S. have an iron deficit. 

The body uses iron to make hemoglobin — a type of protein present in red blood cells — that carries oxygen from the lungs throughout the other body parts. Women are at a higher risk of deficiency than men due to menstruation and pregnancy. 

Severe cases of iron deficit can lead to depression, heart disease and cognitive issues. Doctors prescribe iron pills to treat iron scarcity in the body. 

Supplements Can Improve Vitamin & Mineral Deficiencies

Pharmacies are full of supplement bottles promising better health if you take them — and it’s tempting to grab all of them. But while they can help, you must take only what’s necessary. If you don’t have any deficiency and you ingest them, it may have side effects and make you sick instead. 

Always consult your doctor before buying the best supplements to take, whether it’s vitamins C or A. Avoid self-diagnosing or self-medicating and get a professional’s advice to stay safe.

Mia Barnes from Body+Mind magazine

About the author: Mia Barnes is a freelance writer and researcher with a passion for healthy travel and wellness. Mia is the founder and editor-in-chief of Body+Mind magazine. Follow Mia and Body+Mind on X and Instagram @bodymindmag! 

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