Vitamin supplements are marketed as easy ways to provide your body with the nutrients it needs without the hassle of eating the perfect diet—but did you know some are the unhealthiest supplements you shouldn’t take? If you’re on a daily vitamin supplement regimen, you may assume you’re doing something healthy for your body. But in some cases, you’re doing the exact opposite.
“Numerous investigations show the alleged benefits are unproven and in the worst cases, vitamins and supplements can be harmful,” says Dr. Mike Varshavski, DO. Want to make sure you’re not putting yourself at risk with your “healthy” supplements? Here are seven of the unhealthiest supplements you shouldn’t take. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You Have “Long” COVID and May Not Even Know It.
Calcium helps keep your bones strong and your heart pumping. But to be absorbed properly, calcium must be accompanied by the right amount of Vitamin D. And if it’s not? The extra calcium may settle in your arteries instead of helping your bones.
A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association analyzed 2,700 people who took calcium supplements over 10 years and concluded that excess calcium caused buildup in the aorta and other arteries. Calcium is essential, but it’s healthier to get it directly from your diet.
Kava is a natural supplement used to treat anxiety and insomnia. “Kava supplements may have a small effect on reducing anxiety, but they have been linked to a risk of severe liver injury,” according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). While it may reduce anxiety, too much kava can lead to liver damage or failure.
The supplement also may cause “digestive upset, headache, dizziness, and other side effects,” states the NCCIH. If you choose to take kava for anxiety, be careful about your dosage and how long you regularly take the supplement to prevent permanent damage.
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“Soy products are used for menopausal symptoms, bone health, improving memory, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels,” according to the NCCIH. Women who are menopausal or perimenopausal may take soy isolate supplements to ward off the symptoms, such as hot flashes.
But be wary of the long-term effects of these supplements. “Long-term use of soy isoflavone supplements might increase the risk of endometrial hyperplasia (a thickening of the lining of the uterus that may lead to cancer),” the NCCIH states.
“It’s okay to eat whole soy foods — like soy milk, edamame, and tofu — in moderation, several times per week,” says Katherine D. McManus, MS, RD, LDN from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. However, she warns to stay away from soy isolate supplements or foods made from textured vegetable protein or soy protein isolate due to their negative health effects.
Red yeast rice claims to help lower LDL cholesterol levels (the “bad” cholesterol) and prevent heart disease, similar to statins. However, these supplements are associated with a host of potential side effects. “Like statins, red yeast rice can cause exactly the same side effects as statins, and that includes muscle, liver, and kidney problems,” says Dr. Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., FACP, FACE from Scarsdale Medical Group.
A study published in Pharmacy and Therapeutics analyzed the benefits and risks of red yeast rice. It concluded the supplement is “not recommended for patients with hypercholesterolemia” and “has not been shown to be a safe alternative to statins for patients with hyperlipidemia.” If you’re concerned about your cholesterol, eat healthy, exercise, and consult your doctor before taking any supplements.
Ginkgo is an herbal supplement used as a natural treatment for anxiety, dementia, glaucoma, and macular degeneration. It’s also been associated with increased memory function. However, if you’re taking other supplements or medications, the side effects of ginkgo can quickly outweigh the benefits.
“Ginkgo may lower blood pressure, so taking it with blood pressure medications may cause blood pressure to drop too low,” according to experts at the PennState Hershey Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. The supplement may also “raise the risk of bleeding, especially if you take blood-thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), and aspirin.”
Ginkgo also raises and lowers blood sugar levels so stay away from it if you have diabetes. Consult your doctor if you’re on any medications or other supplements before taking ginkgo.
Beta carotene is a popular supplement because it works as “an antioxidant and an immune system booster,” according to Kaiser Permanente. But if you’re a smoker or have an increased risk for lung cancer, you’re advised to stay away from synthetic beta carotene supplements at all costs.
“Use of beta-carotene has been associated with an increased risk of lung cancer in people who smoke or who have been exposed to asbestos,” warns the Mayo Clinic.
A study published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research analyzed male smokers who took beta carotene supplements. The study concluded that the “supplementation group had significantly higher risk of developing lung cancer in all categories of tar content.”
If you use tobacco products or are at high risk for lung cancer, don’t include beta carotene with your daily supplements.
St. John’s wort is an herbal supplement that helps with sleep disorders and may curb mild anxiety or depression. However, if you’re already on medication for depression or anxiety, it’s best to stay away.
“St. John’s wort has been associated with very serious and potentially dangerous interactions with many common drugs,” according to the Cleveland Clinic. “St. John’s wort can weaken how well other drugs work, including antidepressants, birth control pills, cyclosporine (an anti-rejection drug), digoxin (a heart drug), HIV drugs, cancer medications, and blood thinners such as Coumadin.”
If you mix St. John’s wort with anti-depression medications, you may experience a dangerous increase in serotonin levels, called serotonin syndrome. Consult your doctor before you take St. John’s wort or any other supplement. And to get through life at your healthiest, don’t miss these 7 Signs You’ve Got a “Deadly” Blood Clot Inside You.