Self Care Pharmacy Blog


Are Nutritional Supplements Necessary?

October 17th, 2013

By Cara Toms PharmD Student Cedarville University School of Pharmacy

Eating healthy foods and making sure we get the proper vitamins we need to live a long, rich life seems like a topic that will never go away. It is always an interest that makes people explore how to optimize our body’s function, and how the foods we eat can play a part in that, as well. Many people believe if they do not eat healthy or do not like to eat healthy, they can take vitamins and supplements to give them the nutrients they need. Others believe, that even though they do eat healthy, they still do not have enough of the good vitamins, and turn to supplement use to give them an extra boost of energy or protection from potential disease. So, what’s true? Are additional supplements necessary in keeping our body healthy, or is our diet enough?

There is an online article from the; Nutrients are better on a plate than a bottle that was recently written by Hope Warshaw.1 This article takes a stand on how the common thought that “more is better” is not always true, especially when it comes to the use of health supplements. They identified studies from Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, that showed that extra amounts of supplements did not improve one’s health to a greater extent, and often times, there were great side effects to over-using supplements. Offit stated, “when people take too many antioxidants, they can tip the balance to an unnatural state in which the immune system is less able to kill invaders”. The article goes on to say that people, who are healthy and eat a balanced diet, do not need supplements. If a person does suffer from a medical condition or for some reason cannot get a necessary nutrient, supplements can help. However, if one is healthy, the foods they choose to eat can make all the difference.

I would agree for the most part with this article. According to the Handbook of Nonprescription Drugs: 17th Edition, it says that a balanced diet is the best way to get the necessary nutrients you need. It goes on to say that, “vitamin and minerals are better absorbed from food rather than supplements”.2 If you are getting a balanced diet, you are adding to your body the right amount of nutrients that it needs to properly function. The book also addresses “extra” amounts of supplements (multivitamin, megavitamins) may not be beneficial, but more studies need to be done. If you are only taking these to give yourself “extra-protection” and are already getting a balanced diet, you should be cautioned that the high levels from these supplements might lead to a toxic amount. It is also known that there are some vitamins that cannot be made synthetically and that only your body can get through your diet2. Therefore, it is important to gain these strictly from the foods you eat.  There are many articles to support this claim. Many studies have found no benefit in taking supplements versus a balanced diet.3 Studies also have found that toxicity of supplements is common and real, and many people exceed the recommended doses.4 We can conclude that getting a balanced diet, high in fiber, vegetables, fruits, and meats, is the most important way we can protect our bodies from harm and sickness. If we are obtaining all of our vitamins through our meals, there is no need to take extra supplements. In fact, it might be dangerous to continue to take extra supplements when your diet already fulfills your nutrient needs.

Are you getting all your nutrients by the meals you eat? If not, how can you change your diet, so you can get adequate levels of all the necessary nutrients?


1 Warshaw, H. Nutrients are better on a plate than in a bottle. Washington Post. Updated August 13, 2013. Accessed  September 9, 2013.

2Huckleberry Y, Rollins C. Essential and Conditionally Essential Nutrients. In: Krinsky D, ed. Handbook of Nonprescription Drugs: An Interactive Approach to Self-Care. Washington DC: American Pharmacists Association; 2012:375-404.

3 Krauss RM, Deckelbaum RJ, Ernst N, et al. Dietary guidelines for healthy American adults: A statement for health professionals from the nutrition committee, American heart association. Circulation. 1996;94(7):1795-1800.

4Koul PA, Ahmad SH, Ahmad F, Jan RA, Shah SU, Khan UH. Vitamin D toxicity in adults: a case series from an area with endemic hypovitaminosis d. Oman Med J 2011. May;26(3):201-204.

6 Responses to “Are Nutritional Supplements Necessary?”

  1. Gina Mattes Says:

    I agree, too many people now a days are looking for nutrients in a bottle. What happened to being able to get what you need form the food we eat? Now a days it’s more convenient to pop a pill and go through the drive-thru. We need to get back to the basics of getting our nutrition from the food we eat and ditch the bottles. Vitamins are and over priced marketing tool for people to make money, but if we all took care of our bodies we would save money and be healthier.

  2. Aaron Le Poire Says:

    I don’t know if there’s enough evidence here to warrant a decision on whether to advise people not to take dietary supplements. The article was not very clear on what supplements were actually harmful to the body, or at what levels it could do harm. I would need to see more evidence-based research on whether or not people who eat a healthy diet and take a supplement are actually overdosing on those supplements. I agree that too much of one supplement can cause problems, but it’s hard to tell from this article how many people are actually over-dosing on a supplement. Also, with the need for some vitamins to come from our diet, what is the difference between getting those through food, or getting them from a supplement? Does it make a difference, or do they work the same way? I think more focus should be put on educating people about the recommended doses of supplements and which vitamins and minerals are needed from the diet that the body cannot synthesize. If people were more aware about how to care for their body through what they eat, they may be less inclined to take supplements that could be pushing them over the recommended doses.

  3. Caleb Lyman Says:

    What the article is talking about seems to make sense especially when it comes to vitamins that are stored in the body. However, I have never personally heard of anyone taking so much of a supplement that it hurts them. It would be great if everyone ate a balanced diet, but they don’t. So in a way supplements are necessary assuming that people are not willing to change their behaviors. If people are willing to change then they need to be better informed about what vitamins they need to intake and what dietary sources they can get those vitamins from. I think perhaps Pharmacists can encourage patients to avoid supplements but also should be informed so that they can give accurate information when patients insist on the use of supplements anyway.

  4. Chelsae Ward Says:

    This is great information to have, especially today; where I believe many people are using supplements for unnecessary reasons. I think we can use this information to educate patients on what and when it is appropriate to use supplements.
    I would like to know what is included in a balanced diet. If it is what is suggested by the USDA, I know that personally, I do not achieve that every day…if any day. Therefore, is that an acceptable time to use supplements?
    I think Aaron has some good points and questions about this topic and I would love to have some more information. I think this is certainly a topic that I will look into more closely.
    I think the bottom line though, regardless of any questions, remains the same. Educating patients on the importance of receiving nutrients from a well-balanced diet rather than from supplements will have better results in the end.

  5. Cara Toms Says:

    I agree with you Aaron, it would be interesting to see more studies on people eating a balanced diet and who are taking supplements. I think a balanced diet needs to be defined better. Some people might think that if they eat one serving of vegetable a day they are eating a balanced diet. Chelsea, I agree with your last sentence. Education is so important in this area for our patients. Even letting them know that vitamins and minerals are absorbed better in the body coming from food rather than pills, would make patients more aware of what is truth regarding this subject!

  6. Heather E. Says:

    I am currently doing a research project on access to healthy foods across the United States so I found this topic to be very interesting. I agree that teaching patients on the significance of obtaining essential nutrients from a well-balanced diet rather than from supplements will lead to better health. We should not end our discussion here. What if people do not have access to these healthy foods? Would you all recommend supplements if there is no access to a well-balance diet?

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