Supplement advice comes from everywhere: Your doctor recommends calcium for your bones, your friends swear by iron, your spouse is religious about vitamin E. If your head is spinning when it comes to vitamin pills, here’s a way to simplify: You can probably drop any of the following pills from your regimen, says Lorraine Maita, MD, a physician in Summit, NJ, and diplomate of the American Academy of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine.
For years, women in particular have received the message that calcium supplements are crucial for healthy, strong bones. That message is flawed, says Maita. “The newest research indicates that calcium supplements may not actually get into the bone as desired, and instead can calcify arteries and soft tissues, increasing your risk of heart disease,” she says.
What’s more, calcium supplements can perpetuate kidney stones in those who are susceptible, says Andrea Cox, RD, a dietitian in Portland, OR. You can get all the calcium your body needs through nondairy foods, such as green leafy veggies, salmon, sardines, white beans, almonds, and broccoli, says Maita (here’s a list of the 20 highest calcium vegan foods).
Once thought to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, cataracts, and cancer, vitamin E may actually increase some cancer risks. One study found an increased risk of cancer in men taking 400 IU daily (the recommended intake is 22 IU).
Another study found the overall risk of death is higher in men and women who supplement with high doses of vitamin E than in those who don’t. If you’re worried about your daily multi with vitamin E, Cox says you’re OK: “The amount of vitamin E in most multivitamins isn’t enough to cause this effect.” (You can still use vitamin E on your skin to retain moisture; check it out.)
Although some natural healers recommend supplements, iodine should only be taken under a doctor’s supervision. The mineral is most often associated with the thyroid gland, as it is a key component of the hormones produced there, says Maita. “Too little or too much iodine can cause an underactive thyroid, known as hypothyroidism,” says Maita, so it’s particularly important to make sure you’re not supplementing when you don’t need to (here are 16 signs your thyroid’s out of whack). The best way to tell? Ask your doctor to measure the iodine levels in your urine, says Maitra, to determine if your levels are low before you take a supplement.
And keep in mind that the food in this country is already supplemented with iodine, says Khara Lucius, ND, a naturopathic oncologist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America, which means iodine deficiency is rare.
(Learn how bone broth can help you lose weight with Women’s Health’s Bone Broth Diet.)
This mineral helps form hemoglobin, a component of your blood that delivers oxygen from the lungs throughout the body. Iron is also necessary for normal cellular functioning and the synthesis of some hormones. However, you should take it as a supplement only when you have laboratory confirmation of a deficiency through your doctor, says Lucius.
“That’s because iron overload due to excessive supplementation or dietary intake can damage the liver and possibly other organs, such as the pancreas and heart.” Too much iron can also cause liver inflammation and can oxidize in the body, causing cellular damage, says Maitra. (Learn these iron deficiency symptoms to see if you should get checked.)
Watch a hot doc explain what you should do about an iron deficiency:
The eight B vitamins referred to as “B complex” are crucial for optimal health, helping our bodies convert our food into fuel and promoting healthy skin, memory, pregnancies, and more. Since B-complex vitamins are present in many foods—particularly those that are a part of a healthy diet, such as fruits, veggies, whole grains, poultry, and fish—most of us get enough. And research shows that taking B6 supplements over a long period of time can actually cause serious problems. “Even though vitamin B6 is water soluble and safe at the recommended levels, too much can be toxic,” says Maita. “High doses have been shown to cause abnormal sensations in nerves called neuropathy.” (You should know these 5 things about how your vitamin needs change as you age.)