Self-Prescribing Supplements? Here's Why You Should Think Again

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Supplements are everywhere: in grocery stores, health food stores and online. Wellness influencers share their daily supplement regimens on social media, and followers clamor to follow suit. But while certain supplements may have benefits, too much of a good thing really might be bad for you.

Researchers have found that overuse of dietary supplements may increase your risk for cancer. In this study, they found that excessive use of beta carotene increased the risk of developing heart disease and lung cancer, while excessive use of selenium supplements increased the risk for developing skin cancer. Overuse of vitamin E led to an increase in developing prostate cancer, and overuse of folic acid was connected to an increased risk of colon cancer.

In fact, colorectal cancer rates are rising in young people—those born around 1990 are twice as likely to develop colon cancer and four times as likely to develop rectal cancer than those born in 1950, says the American Cancer Society—and excessive use of dietary vitamins and supplements is one theory as to why this is.

“If your doctor prescribes a certain supplement because of a nutritional deficiency, you should definitely take it,” says Marjan Moghaddam, D.O., a family medicine physician with Henry Ford Health System. “People who are iron or vitamin B12 deficient, for example, would likely benefit from taking these supplements. This warning only concerns those who are, on their own, ingesting excessive amounts of supplements, perhaps because they feel that it’s healthy to do so, or because it’s the health trend of the moment.”

Other things to keep in mind before continuing your daily supplement routine:

  • Unlike prescription medications, supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so you cannot always be sure that what is on the label is actually what is inside the bottle.
  • Overuse of certain supplements, like vitamin A, can be taxing on the liver and lead to liver damage.
  • Overloading on mineral supplements (such as magnesium and zinc) can cause gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

The biggest takeaway, here? It’s best to ingest supplements in moderation—as recommended by your doctor—and if you don’t need to take a supplement, try to get your nutrition from a well-rounded, healthy diet loaded with fresh fruits and vegetables.

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To find a doctor at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936). 

Marjan Moghaddam, D.O., is a family medicine physician who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center in Capitol Park and Harbortown.

Categories: FeelWell