Is There Such a Thing as Taking Too Many Supplements?

Getting too much of certain nutrients can put you at risk for side effects ranging from upset stomach to birth defects and stroke due to brain hemorrhage.
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Is There Such a Thing As Too Many Supplements?

Yes, says Howard Sesso, SCD, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “Many large-scale clinical trials show that high amounts of individual vitamins or minerals don’t translate into greater health benefits.” What’s worse, getting too much of certain nutrients can put you at risk for side effects ranging from an upset stomach to birth defects and stroke due to brain hemorrhage.

"And although there are well-established useage guidelines for most vitamins and minerals, scientific studies aren’t conclusive when it comes to the safe maximum daily dose for many herbal remedies and other supplements, which means it’s smart to err on the side of caution and take a less-is-more approach," says Sesso.

"To ensure you don’t overdo it on supplemental ingredients, be wary of those that provide more than 100 percent of a given daily value (so-called “megadose” products)," says Diane McKay, PhD, an assistant professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. “Your goal is to fill in gaps in your diet, not to indiscriminately dose yourself with vitamins, minerals, and herbs,” she says.

See also Do Yogis Really Need to Take a Daily Multivitamin?

Coming Soon: Updated Daily Values on Supplement Bottles

For many vitamins and minerals, the government’s recommended daily value information is outdated, says ConsumerLab’s Cooperman. “The current label is 20 years old, and the influx of targeted research means new daily values are overdue,” he says. In May of 2016, the Food and Drug Administration announced the implementation of new nutrition labels for packaged foods and supplements, which it says will reflect new scientific research and hopefully help consumers make better-informed food choices. Unfortunately, most companies aren’t required to update labels until July 2018 (those with less than $10 million in annual sales have until July 2019). 

The new nutrition labels aren’t radically different from the old ones, but experts agree the new daily value guidelines and easier-to-read labels are a step in the right direction.

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