Is it just us, or are supplements *everywhere* these days? There are magic pills to boost your brain power. You can find beauty-enhancing vitamins to make your skin glow, your hair grow, and your nails get strong. Or, if you鈥檙e feeling more high-tech, there鈥檚 even a fitness device that creates personalized health supplements based on your activity. But do we really need all of these boosters, or are we just paying for a quick infusion of hope? We checked with the pros to find out which vitamins and supplements are worth shelling out for 鈥 and when to save your money.

Vitamins in containers

Why Some Are Turning to Supplements

The current supplement craze might be an attempt to take control of our health concerns 鈥 maybe an extension of our worries about healthcare or perhaps, as Beverly Hills-based Dr. Nancy P. Rahnama MD, MS, suggests, as a more 鈥渘atural鈥 approach to symptoms that don鈥檛 immediately compel us to visit a doctor. 鈥淲ith the increase in depression, anxiety, fatigue, sleeplessness, and gastrointestinal issues鈥 many opt for natural or supplemental treatment for their concerns,鈥 she says.

And as it turns out, sometimes these home treatment options are the best course of action. 鈥淢any of these symptoms may actually be caused by a deficiency,鈥 says Rahnama. When that鈥檚 the case, upping your intake of the deficient vitamin or mineral may lead to some resolution of your symptoms.

But for the average person, the answer isn鈥檛 always so clear-cut. 鈥淢ost Americans get enough vitamins and minerals in their diet, that they don鈥檛 have any deficiencies and therefore don鈥檛 need a vitamin or supplement to be healthy,鈥 says Dr. Matthew Mintz, a primary care physician and former George Washington University School of Medicine faculty member with a practice in Bethesda, Maryland.

He points out that there are a few notable exceptions. 鈥淵ounger women with heavy periods can become iron deficient, which can lead to anemia or a low blood count,鈥 says Mintz. 鈥淎nemia makes you feel weak and tired.鈥 Vitamin D deficiency is also a subject of interest to the medical community, with the average rate estimated to be as high as 41.6 percent, and nearly double that among black Americans. 鈥淧eople who don鈥檛 get enough sunlight can also be vitamin D deficient,鈥 explains Mintz. 鈥淰itamin D is critical for strong bones.鈥

If you suspect that you may have a deficiency, check in with your doctor. A simple blood test can identify any issues, and your doc can help you figure out why they might be present.

Is There Any Risk In Taking Supplements Without Asking Your Doctor?

鈥淚t is not unreasonable to try a naturopathic approach of treating vague and non-threatening symptoms with vitamin supplementation at first, as some symptoms may be resolved more easily than others,鈥 says Rahnama.

But she advises that you check the ingredients carefully for any additional vitamins or minerals or inactive 鈥渇illers,鈥 especially if you have any allergies. 鈥淪ome supplements may contain gluten, dairy, or other ingredients that the consumer may not tolerate,鈥 she explains. Rahnama also suggests checking for the 鈥淕ood Manufacturing Practice鈥 (GMP) label 鈥 proof that the supplement was tested for purity and quality.

In most cases, no harm will come from taking 鈥渆xtra鈥 vitamins or supplements on top of your fave superfoods 鈥 although Mintz points out that there鈥檚 no research to prove that it鈥檒l help. He also notes that it may not be in your best financial interest to invest in supplements you don鈥檛 necessarily need (like a multivitamin, for example). 鈥淲hile it is unlikely that vitamins or supplements taken as recommended will be harmful, they do cost money,鈥 he says. 鈥淪o patients need to decide whether it is worth it to spend money on a vitamin that may not actually do anything.鈥

What happens if You Overdo It?

Mintz reassures that most vitamins are water-soluble. 鈥淭hat means your body just gets rid of what it doesn鈥檛 need,鈥 he explains. But both doctors flag vitamins A, D, E, and K as exceptions. Says Rahnama, 鈥淭hese vitamins are not water- soluble, but fat-soluble, which means that when taken in high amounts, they will not be excreted in the urine, but will be stored in fat.鈥 She therefore recommends monitoring with blood tests if you鈥檙e supplementing these vitamins, especially if you worry you might be exceeding recommended daily allowances.

Rahnama also cautions that iron supplements should only be taken by those with a confirmed deficiency. 鈥淚ron can be taken in excess and may lead to toxicity when taken unnecessarily,鈥 she says, noting potential harm to the liver and other organs.

When Might Supplements Be Necessary?

In addition to the nutrient deficiencies flagged by Mintz, there are a few common scenarios that might necessitate adding supplements to your diet.

鈥淲omen who are considering and/or likely to get pregnant should take a prenatal vitamin,鈥 says Mintz. 鈥淧renatal vitamins are high in folic acid, which is proven to reduce birth defects.鈥

And patients experiencing weight loss might also have specific needs. Says Rahnama, 鈥淚 frequently recommend certain supplementation to support the metabolism, immunity, and hair growth, as these may be compromised when losing weight.鈥

Do you have a fave supplement? Tell us about it @BritandCo!

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