Not all OTC supplements are safe – including very common ones

It’s a scary reality that supplements aren’t well regulated. No one is checking to make sure your supplements are actually formulated with what they say they are – unless there is a lawsuit, illness, or something of the like. It’s imperative to shop carefully. Assuming you’re looking at reputable supplements there’s a high chance that taking them is nothing more than, as my doctor says, “making your urine expensive.” Unfortunately, there’s also a chance that the supplements might be doing harm. Many people are scrambling to add supplements to their daily regimen in light of COVID-19 (there was an interesting article in the NYTimes), so I wanted to turn to an expert to find out more about the potential dangers. Melissa Rifkin is a New York City dietitian with 10 years clinical nutrition experience. See below for her insight and remember to always speak with your doctor before taking any supplement – even if it seems innocuous.

A lot of people are loading up on supplements while in quarantine. Is that actually necessary if you have a balanced diet? 
“A diet that includes adequate amounts of vitamins, minerals and macronutrients is an extremely important piece in developing a healthy immune system. The best use for supplements is to fill in gaps in nutrition rather than using them to make up for consistently poor food choices. While supplements can compliment a balanced diet, in most cases they are not required to support your immune system. Adequate exercise, proper hydration and good sleep habits are other lifestyle factors that can support your immune system.”

Is there any harm in most people taking a multivitamin?
“In most cases there is likely no harm in taking a multivitamin. The majority of the micronutrients found in a general multivitamin are water soluble which means your body uses what it needs and excretes any excess.

However, fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K, have the ability to build up within your body can lead to toxicity if consumed in too high amounts. While multivitamins often contain these fat-soluble vitamins, they are typically in relatively small amounts and unlikely to lead to excessive intake. Toxicity is more likely to come from taking these vitamins as a more concentrated individual supplement in combination with a multivitamins and adequate food intake. You should always check with your physician before taking a supplement as they can also interact with medications. There is not a one-size-fits -all recommendation for supplements either, rather they should be taken at amounts and frequency based blood work, health status, disease state and in consideration with prescriptions, over the counter medications and other supplements you may already be taking.”

Some supplements can be dangerous – for example to the liver – if you take too many. Can you highlight additional ones that you think are particularly imperative to check with your doctor first?
“Yohimbe is marketed to aid in weight loss and can also help with erectile dysfunction, however, potential risks include high blood pressure, increased heart rate, anxiety, tremors and insomnia. Ephedra was used to promote weight loss, and while many people were successful with it, it was eventual banned in the U.S. due to its side effects, including high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, heart attack, stroke and possibly death. Kava may have a small effect on reducing anxiety, however the FDA warns against the risk of liver damage associated with taking this supplement.”

Image: Vogue

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