Are Supplements Really Necessary for Good Health?

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Every year, consumers spend over a billion dollars on vitamins and other dietary supplements in the hopes of restoring or preserving their health. Are all those supplements really necessary or is it just wasted money?

On one hand, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet should provide you with all of the individual nutrients you need. But, on the other hand, if your diet isn't so good, some of those nutrients might be deficient.

A supplement or multivitamin can help fill the nutrient gaps in your diet—but multivitamins won't fix an unhealthy diet. For example, a person who hates fruits and vegetables might not get enough vitamin C, and someone who can't eat dairy or chooses not to may need extra calcium. Taking a daily multivitamin/multimineral product is an inexpensive and easy way to ensure the recommended dietary intakes for most vitamins and minerals are met.

But what if you want to take dietary supplements to reduce your risk of a specific disease? In most cases, adding a supplement to your daily diet won't make much of a difference, if any.

Research doesn't indicate vitamins or other supplements will reduce heart disease or stroke risk, or improve lifespan. There's even evidence that taking large amounts of vitamin E and some antioxidants may be detrimental to your health.

Beneficial Dietary Supplements

While taking vitamins isn't going to fix all your diet and lifestyle issues, there are some individual vitamins and dietary supplements that do have some research evidence in their favor.

Calcium: The recommended amount of calcium for most adults is about 1,200 milligrams per, day and many health care providers urge older women to take calcium supplements to reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

Vitamin D: You need vitamin D to absorb and utilize calcium. Most of your vitamin D intake comes from exposure to sunlight. There are limited foods that include vitamin D. Some foods that do provide the nutrient include salmon, sardines, egg yolks and mushrooms. An average adult needs about 400 International Units of vitamin D, but many people are deficient, particularly in the winter months when exposure to sunlight is limited. Most calcium supplements include vitamin D.

Fish Oil:There is some evidence to suggest that adequate intake of omega 3 fatty acids can help protect against heart disease. Oily ocean fish are the best dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids though plants such as flax contain omega-3 fatty acids. Studies suggest that 0.5 to 1.8 grams of fish oil per day is an effective amount.

Folic Acid: Folate is found in green leafy vegetables, citrus fruit, and legumes. Folic acid supplements are recommended for any woman who may become pregnant. The recommended amount for adults is 400 micrograms per day.

Antioxidants and Zinc: The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) results showed that a combination of antioxidants and zinc taken as a dietary supplement reduced the risk of advanced age-related macular degeneration. As of 2020, there are two AREDS formulas provided by researchers. Experts advise that you discuss them with your healthcare provider to see which one is best for you.

AREDS Formula

  • 500 milligrams vitamin C
  • 400 International units vitamin E
  • 15 milligrams beta carotene
  • 80 milligrams zinc as zinc oxide
  • 2.0 milligrams copper as cupric oxide

It should be noted that this formula is not recommended for current or former smokers.

AREDS 2 Formula

  • 500 milligrams vitamin C
  • 400 International Units vitamin E
  • 80 milligrams zinc as zinc oxide
  • 2.0 milligrams copper as cupric oxide
  • 10 milligrams lutein
  • 2 milligrams zeaxanthin

In both formulas, copper is added to avoid zinc-related copper deficiency.

Probiotics: Foods like yogurt and fermented foods naturally contain bacteria called probiotics. These bacteria are similar to the friendly bacteria commonly found in your digestive system. Probiotics are also available as dietary supplements and may be beneficial for people with irritable bowel syndrome and diarrhea.

A Word From Verywell

Dietary supplements can play a role in good health. Your diet, your lifestyle, and your health history will help determine which (if any) supplements are best for you. Discuss the use of any supplements with your healthcare provider as some may interact with medications. Then when shopping for supplements, read labels carefully. Since they are not regulated by the FDA in the same way that medications are regulated, the bottle may contain ingredients that you don't want. Look for products that are tested by third-party organizations such as NSF, USP, LabDoor, or ConsumerLab.

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Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Skulas-Ray AC, Wilson PWF, Harris WS, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids for the management of hypertriglyceridemia: a science advisory from the American Heart AssociationCirculation. 2019;140(12)

  2. AREDS/AREDS2 Frequently Asked Questions. NIH National Eye Institute. Updated November 19, 2020

Additional Reading
  • American Heart Association. "Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids."

  • Huang HY, Caballero B, Chang S, Alberg A, Semba R, Schneyer C, Wilson RF, Cheng TY, Prokopowicz G, Barnes GJ 2nd, Vassy J, Bass EB. "Multivitamin/Mineral supplements and prevention of chronic disease: executive summary." Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Jan;85(1):265S-268S.

  • National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. "Probiotics."

  • National Institutes of Health National Eye Institute. "Age-Related Eye Disease Study-Results."