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Should You Take Dietary Supplements?

Should You Take Dietary Supplements?

The truth about vitamin D, fish oil, magnesium and more.

In Rachel Khong’s 2017 novel Goodbye, Vitamin, the protagonist, Ruth, records what her aging father does: “Today you held your open hand out and I shook out the pills into it, same as every day. Fish oil. Magnesium. Vitamins D and C and A. Gingko Biloba. ‘Hello, water,’ you said, holding the glass against the moonlight and shaking the pills like they were dice you were ready to roll into your other hand. ‘Goodbye, vitamin.’”

We all know that you don’t want to roll the dice with supplementation. A new review of studies from 2012 to 2017 found multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium and vitamin C don’t magically lower your risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke or premature death for a five-year period.

However, other data show major cardiovascular benefits if you take them for 20 years. The other good news? They have substantial benefits—decreasing cancer risk, improving gut health and aiding immune system functioning—if you use them wisely in combination with lifestyle upgrades. So…

  1. Identify your nutritional deficiencies through blood tests at your doctor.
  2. Recognize your nutritional gaps and fill them with foods when possible, with supplements if necessary. If you never eat fish, you’re a candidate for 900mg of fish oil/omega-3 daily, as well as a multivitamin with doses of calcium and C close to their RDA.
  3. If you spend hours indoors, increase intake of mushrooms (packed with D) and consider taking supplements if your tests show deficiency.
  4. Take supplements certified by USP, NSF, U.S. Pharmacopeia  or ConsumerLab.com.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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