How Many Supplements Is Too Many?
What to do if your version of the alphabet is ashwagandha-to-zinc
Photo courtesy of @moyo.studio/Twenty20
By Rebecca Davis
writer for The Natural
From breakouts to a bloated belly, there are many things that supplements can help you get a handle on. But with more wellness brands than ever proffering pills, powders, and potions that promise an instant healthy boost, is it possible that we’ve reached peak supplement? Or put another way: is there such a thing as taking too many supplements?
As someone with an admittedly complicated regimen and an overflowing vitamin shelf, I took the question to certified nutritional practitioner Kelly Maia Agnew (Opens in a new window) to find out how to maximize my supplements without maxing out their usefulness.
Be a Pill
To start with, supplements are clutch if you’re not getting the exact right range of vitamins and minerals your body needs through your diet. “I always advocate getting as much as you can from whole, natural foods over supplements, but sometimes we might be in a jam where those foods aren’t as readily available — or simply we need additional support because our bodies are in a compromised state,” says Agnew.
The key term here is supplement—as in, there’s a reason why they’re not called crutches. “I caution relying on supplements because they’re never going to be as effective or easily absorbed as whole foods,” she adds. “They’re simply great to supplement — not entirely replace the food in our diet.”
Photo courtesy of @LinaVeresk/Twenty20
Less is More
Although there isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, if you’re loading up on a veritable A‑to‑Z of vitamins, Agnew says your body will send you signs to ease up a bit. “If we take too many supplements, we may notice them becoming less effective,” she notes. “Too many water-soluble supplements, like B‑vitamins and vitamin C, might be less of a concern. But too many of other nutrients can create imbalances in the body, which can be serious if the doses are too high.”
There’s also a possibility that the benefits of two separate pills will, well, cancel each other out. “When we’re talking about simply vitamin and mineral supplementation, sometimes there’s a synergistic effect…and other times too many supplements can reduce the absorption levels,” Agnew explains.
Ever notice the labels on your vitamin bottles warning you to consult with a doctor? There’s a reason for that. “Any supplementation has the potential to interact with medication,” notes Agnew. “When we get into the world of supplementing with herbs especially, we definitely have to be careful.” The buzzword here is contraindications—so before you start investing in bottles and bottles of vitamins, check with your MD to make sure there are no major red flags. (Got your nutritionist on speed dial? They may be able to help you navigate a smart supplement lineup, too.)
Although Agnew doesn’t think supplements should replace a healthy, whole foods approach to eating, there are times when incorporating them into your routine is a smart idea. Think: a spring break trip when you know you won’t have regular access to fresh produce, or mid-winter when your cubicle-mate won’t stop sneezing. “Perhaps we’re fighting a cold or virus, and we want to support our bodies through it,” she says. “Other times it’s a disease or illness that we’re attempting to manage or recover from.”
And then, of course, there are those times when you’re just feeling… off. “It might simply be that our bodies are in a depleted state because we’re asking a lot of ourselves — for example, during pregnancy or even during long-term chronic stress,” she adds. Just as long as you remember that your supplements aren’t actually removing the source of stress — and in the long term, dealing with an underlying cause might be a lot more effective (and affordable) than loading up on vitamins.
Articles from The Natural should not be considered medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please consult a medical professional.