Do You Really Need to Take Supplements?

vitamin bottles

I’ll never forget my son’s last visit with the allergist. It was a new allergist as our old one had to retire. She came into the room, took one look at him, and commented that his feet were orange! A condition called carotenemia (and something we’re still working to eliminate several years later! Read about it here).

I guess I never really bothered to look at the bottom of his feet. But sure enough, they were yellow/orange.

Since we had to cut out a lot of foods from his diet due to allergies, I replaced so many things with orange vegetables. Apparently I went a little too far.

Can You Eat Too Much of Anything?

This may seem like a trivial thing – eating too many carrots and squash. But it’s actually not. It’s just one example of how easy it is to overdo on anything (check out this case of a man that died in TEN DAYS from drinking too much carrot juice!)

That tends to be the way things are in our culture. People grab on to the latest craze and take it to extremes.

Chia seeds are healthy? Better add them to every smoothie, salad, pudding, and baked good.

Avocados have heart-healthy fat? Try avocado on your toast, on your salad, in your chocolate milk, with your eggs.

Are supplements safe and effective?

Eat all of the latest super foods to be healthy. Then repeat daily…until you’ve accidentally overdone it.

Are We Over-supplementing?

But it doesn’t end with food. We now have a society that is obsessed with supplements. We all want a quick fix. Even though we have access to any food we want year round, we have been convinced that we are all deficient in everything and need to supplement. Or maybe we’re just too lazy to change our diet so we reach for a pill.

Think about that for a minute. We have such a diverse diet now…and yet we think we need significant amounts of supplements. If that is true I’m not sure how previous generations survived!

Salad

Our culture’s favorite supplements include multi-vitamins, Vitamin D, cod liver oil, calcium, fish oil, CBD oil, and fortified foods. The list goes on. Vitamins and minerals (usually synthetic ones) are added to our flour, our yogurt, our cereal, our milk and our orange juice. Without any consideration as to what we actually need (remember, bio-individuality is key to health). You don’t eat oranges to get calcium. So why should there be calcium added to your orange juice?

Believe me when I say I’ve done it all too. I used to pride myself on how many nutrients I could fit into my diet and my family’s diet on any given day. I’d make a salad for lunch with a rainbow of vegetables (literally every color), eggs fried in butter (with beautiful orange yolks), pastured chicken or grass-fed beef, seeds, maybe some lentils, extra spinach or beet greens, and top it all with a dressing of olive oil, honey and lots of desiccated liver! And that was just one meal.

It was almost like a game for me. But it didn’t end with food. I also took my supplements on top of a super nutrient-dense diet. As if I wasn’t getting enough. You know what they say, you don’t digest/absorb all of what you eat properly so you still need to supplement.

Yep. I’ve been there. I fell for it.

Can Healthy Foods Create an Imbalance?

You know where it led me? To a state of toxicity and severe imbalance.

I started to have a host of symptoms and just started to feel sicker and sicker, even though I was eating “healthier” than anyone I know. It didn’t make any sense. How could I have “deficiency symptoms” if I was bombarding my body with nutrients?

It made me start to question a lot of the commonly held beliefs about our nutrition and our dietary needs. I started to research like crazy. I started to experiment with my own diet.

But more importantly I actually did some testing to KNOW what my body needs instead of blindly supplementing.

I know the popular belief these days is that we are all vitamin and mineral deficient. But I believe the opposite is true. I think we have plenty of vitamins and minerals in our diets. The real issue is we are out of balance and toxic.

Kids eating parfaits

The solution is not more, more, more. The solution is figuring out individual needs.

How to Feed Your Kids Well

My passion is kids’ health. I have four kids of my own, and I’ve been helping parents work through feeding challenges with their kids for many years.

I see this over and over and over: people creating imbalances by blindly over-supplementing. Nobody is doing it on purpose. We are just trying to do our best to follow the latest health advice.

But it needs to stop. Our children don’t need to be bombarded with supplements. They don’t even need to be bombarded with super foods, honestly.

Think about how our ancestors ate. They didn’t take any supplements. In fact, they didn’t even eat a rainbow of vegetables. And they had less disease than we do.

A balanced diet with variety is a great place to start for adequate nutrition. But beyond that there are a few simple steps you can take to avoid over-supplementing and creating imbalance:

  1. Listen to your child. Believe it or not they know what they need. If your three-year old is asking for fruit at every meal, give her fruit! Maybe she’s in need of some extra Vitamin C. If your son is craving burgers constantly, let him eat lots of beef. Animal protein, specifically red meat, contains some essential nutrients like zinc and taurine. Sometimes even refusing certain foods is important. Maybe, like my son, your child has too much beta-carotene. I wish I had listened to his body years ago when he would cry at the sight of one piece of carrot on his plate! Instead I forced him to keep trying them until he started eating them too much. Your kids won’t know why they need a certain food. But their body does. Don’t let your brain/your ideas of nutrition try to outsmart their bodies.
  2. Go to your kitchen and look at the labels on everything you eat. Are any of them fortified? Niacin, riboflavin, iron, Vitamin A, Vitamin D, calcium, etc. Don’t eat it. This is a good reason to make your own food. You know exactly what’s in it. Your yogurt doesn’t need extra Vitamin A and Vitamin D (it’s only in there because the government mandates it…as if they know what your body needs). Those two supplements alone can cause some serious damage. Your baked goods don’t need iron and B vitamins added. Buy basic flour with nothing added to do your baking.
  3. Don’t guess. The best way to know what your child DOES need is by testing. Blindly supplementing almost always results in an imbalance, and imbalanced vitamins and minerals are at the root of so many health issues. I recommend Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA) for testing. Then you can add short-term (this is KEY) targeted (i.e. very specific to YOUR needs) supplements to get in balance.

Vitamins in spoonsAre Vitamin Supplements Dangerous?

There are two types of vitamins – fat-soluble and water-soluble. Although you shouldn’t overdo on either, it is most important to pay attention to fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K).

Excess water-soluble vitamins are just flushed out through urine, sweat, or the bowels, which is why it’s important not to over-hydrate. You can lose important vitamins and minerals! But you also generally don’t have to worry about getting too much of the water-soluble vitamins. Your body will get rid of any extra. To stay in balance you can spread out your intake of water-soluble vitamins throughout the day. Your body can only use so much at a time, so you can’t just load up for the day.

But excess fat-soluble vitamins are stored in fat. So anything you don’t need gets tucked away in your tissues. This is at the root of issues like arthritis, kidney stones, and even obesity to name a few. We don’t need all those extra vitamins! Our bodies then just have to figure out where to store them and how to try to resolve the ensuing imbalance created. It’s hard on your liver. It causes disease.

Of the fat-soluble vitamins, A and D are the two most commonly supplemented and used in fortification and the two that cause the most health problems. I personally don’t think you should ever supplement either (you can read more about that here and here). In fact, I don’t call either of them vitamins to begin with.

But if you are going to supplement, first be sure there is a reason/a deficiency. Nobody needs extra Vitamin A or D. Both hypervitaminosis A and hypervitaminosis D are very real conditions with serious consequences that we should all be paying more attention to.

If you think it’s rare to get too much Vitamin A, simply look at a common fast-food meal. If you eat a McDonald’s double cheeseburger, fries, and side salad you get 5,990 IU of Vitamin A. The RDA for Vitamin A (for a whole day) is 4,000/5,000 IU (female/male). That is just one meal of junk food and you are already over the limit of a fat-soluble vitamin. Now if you take a multi-vitamin on top of that “to be sure you’re getting enough” you might add another 2,500 IU. Plus whatever is in your other two meals and possibly snacks. It adds up quickly!

Yes, you can overdo on fat soluble vitamins from both supplements and food. So even a traditional, WAPF-style diet can put you over the limit quickly. And, yes, even beta-carotene from fruits and vegetables contribute to your intake of Vitamin A. They still turn into retinoic acid in your body.

Some would argue that Vitamin K and Vitamin E are the only true fat-soluble Vitamins.

To date there are no known cases of toxicity from naturally occurring Vitamin K. However, you can overdo on synthetic Vitamin K.

If you don’t tolerate any amount of Vitamin K, look into G6PD deficiency. Some people lack this critical enzyme and can’t break down Vitamin K.

Certain forms of Vitamin E (with acetate) deplete Vitamin K and interfere with blood clotting over time. Rice bran contains Vitamin E, but is loaded with arsenic. Sunflower seeds and high oleic sunflower oil are the best food sources of Vitamin E.

Vitamin A has been used in rats to induce a Vitamin K deficiency. [source] It actually depletes both Vitamin K and Vitamin E.

As you can see, blindly taking extra vitamins can have a significant impact on your health.

You may think, “But I take XYZ vitamins and feel better.” There is a thing called the duration paradox. If a supplement makes you feel better in the short term, it might make you feel worse in the long run. Short term it is halting your body’s drainage process or masking a symptom. But your body can’t maintain that long term. So eventually you will be worse off than when you started the supplement. You can learn more about the duration paradox here.

Kid in a gardenAre We Mineral Deficient?

Hasn’t our soil been depleted of so many critical minerals? Doesn’t everyone need to supplement?

Yes, our soil has been depleted some. But we can’t blame our poor health on that. We can still get minerals from our food.

Again the important factor here is balance. If your minerals are balanced, even if they are low, you will be much healthier than if you have high levels of imbalanced minerals. So blindly supplementing random minerals to get your levels higher is not the solution.

HTMA can show you where you are truly deficient and what is out of balance.

In general most people need LESS calcium (even children). Dairy from cows has four times the amount of calcium that human milk has. That is what cows need, not humans. That excess calcium creates issues with Vitamin D (they have to be in a very specific balance in the blood), again causing health problems like osteoporosis, arthritis, and kidney stones as the body dumps it into tissues.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, most people need more magnesium. And wouldn’t you know it, calcium and magnesium are very closely related. If your body is dumping that excess calcium…it will also dump magnesium. And they both relate to potassium and sodium. It’s all connected! But by taking in large quantities of just one, the others get out of balance.

We live in a world where more is always viewed as better. But in the case of vitamin and mineral supplements that is not true. The body requires a delicate balance of vitamins and minerals, and it will do whatever it takes to maintain that balance. When you over-supplement, the body has to compensate to get in balance, either dumping essential nutrients or storing extra nutrients where they don’t belong.

dietary supplements

Can Supplements Make You Sick?

Believe it or not you can become toxic both from over-supplementing and overdoing on any given nutrient via food. There are also a lot of other sources of toxins in our world, like glyphosate, heavy metals, and chemicals in our food and health and beauty products.

All of this toxicity puts our bodies on the defense. Certain vitamins and minerals help combat the toxicity. But the less toxic you are the fewer vitamins and minerals you actually need.

So doing your best to eliminate your exposure to toxins of any kind will improve your health and decrease your nutritional needs. No wonder nobody needed loads of super foods and supplements hundreds of years ago. They didn’t live in such a toxic world!

Related: High Quality Fish Oil

The Dangers of Prescribed Diets

Everywhere you go these days you hear about the next cure-all diet. Keto, paleo, Whole30, GAPS, AIP, Atkins, etc. They all have value.

But they can also all be detrimental. The danger in a prescribed diet is focusing too much on particular foods and particular nutrients while excluding others. This is yet another instance of food potentially causing an imbalance.

What Supplements Should Kids Take?

If your child eats a balanced, whole-foods diet, he is likely getting enough vitamins and minerals. There just might be an imbalance, which can be fixed with simple adjustments.

If your child eats more processed food she is definitely getting an imbalanced mix of supplements. More is not the solution.

In either case testing is the best way to know.

Jar of magnesium lotion

My kids use magnesium lotion (get the super simple TWO ingredient recipe here or buy it here) and take a little Vitamin C (in the form of organic ascorbic acid) most days. Some days we use zinc and Vitamin K drops. That’s it. No other supplements. They have done hair tissue mineral analysis to see what is out of balance, and we take breaks periodically to assess. My children are some of the healthiest kids I know!

Should You Take Probiotics?

Supplementing doesn’t end with vitamins and minerals. There are all sorts of supplements encouraged these days from protein powders to algae to digestive enzymes to probiotics.

While none of these is inherently bad, it is again easy to overdo. You get used to popping a few pills every morning or adding protein powder to your coffee as part of your routine. Before you know it you’ve created an excess. Remember, supplements are very concentrated. That is not natural (quite an oxymoron really in a natural health world).

Probiotics are a good example of something that is beneficial to your health, but has been turned into a big business and pushed on everyone more than need be.

We are told to take probiotics daily for healthy gut bacteria.

But there are many strains of bacteria that have different functions. And everyone has different needs and different tolerances, just like we all have different needs for food. So taking the wrong probiotic can do more harm than good.

Getting both probiotics and prebiotics from a variety of foods is the best solution.

If you do take probitoics make sure you rotate them and take breaks from them.

Dr. Elisa Song, MD, has this to say about probiotics:

Even in the holistic world, people still kind of want a pill to solve everything, but we really want to do our best to focus on foods, not just supplements.

This was during her talk in the Global Stress Summit 2019, when she was talking about best ways to get probiotics. Her point was basically saying that if your kids don’t have a taste for fermented foods, keep trying, and use a probiotic supplement in the meantime but not as a permanent solution. She does advocate for regular sources of probiotics of course.

Food on platesWhat Vitamins Should I Be Taking?

Skip the multi-vitamins, take a step back from super-food pumping, and strive for balance. Our bodies don’t need excess. Sometimes less is more. Eating doesn’t have to be complicated. Keep meals simple, with variety.

Our current view on nutrition has been skewed by clever marketing and catchy slogans (even in the realm of real food!). Making people believe they are all malnourished has created a huge supplement industry. Even food bloggers and social media have contributed to the idea that we are all starving for nutrition, when we have access to so much food!

Americans tend to take something “good for you,” take large amounts of it and turn it into extracts/concentrated forms. This means you are getting abnormally large doses (think supplements, essential oils, green powders, desiccated liver, fish oil, etc.). This is neither natural nor traditional.

Calcium, iron, Vitamin D3, fish oil, Vitamin B, and Vitamin A are the most popular supplements and they are causing the most harm. This is not accidental. They are linked back to Big Pharma. We’ve all been tricked.

A few years back there was a movie called “Supersize Me,” portraying our ever-expanding portion sizes and fast-food consumption. I think we are now switching over to super-supplement me.

When it comes to vitamins and minerals the solution isn’t always more. The solution is balance. Sometimes taking a step back from all of the nutrition madness and going back to simple foods is the best thing for your body.

If we can reduce toxins, avoid extremes, and get back in balance we will all achieve better health.

Do you take supplements? Do your kids?

16 thoughts on “Do You Really Need to Take Supplements?”

  1. Brandy R Sexton

    I gleaned a lot from this post. What about when you get older? A relative was recently sharing that he is 60 and feels that he would like to take some whole food supplements because of his age. Does there come a point where a person could benefit from supplements because of age? Thanks!

    1. Good question, Brandy. There is always a time and a place for targeted supplementation. But it should be under the guidance of a practitioner to know what he specifically needs. Broad spectrum supplementing will get one’s body out of balance, no matter what age.

  2. Hey,thank you for such excellent info.The HTMA company I have just tested with also sell a ton of supplements to correct levels,is it possible to rebalance naturally?

    1. Rebalancing is very individual. Some people can rebalance without many supplements. Some need more. Some it’s very short-term. Some have a long road. If you are interested in talking more feel free to reach out! https://justtakeabite.com/nutritional-therapy/

  3. Grammyprepper

    Excellent post, Mary! I especially like that you addressed water soluble vs fat soluble vitamins, as well how vitamins and minerals interact. This is a topic near and dear to me. So many ppl get ‘scammed’ these days. I personally chose to supplement with a multivitamin, because I know I don’t eat as well as i should. I also supplement as need with Vitamin C, during times of illness (bacause I am a smoker, I know I am low in C, plus I am aware of all the ‘good things’ about it) I also know I will pee out what my body doesn’t need of it. I have looked at length at supplementing D because I live in a Northern climate. I know I don’t need it during the summer, I get all the sunshine I can. I have a serious concern about supplementing fat soluble vitamins, water soluble not so much. I could probably do without the multivitamin in the summer, as we eat much healthier with fresh foods grown at home or purchased locally. But I will keep taking it. Beyond that, I agree that testing to see what your deficiencies may be is a good idea. Listening to your body is the other good way to see what you need. If you are craving beef, you might just need the extra iron. If you are experiencing muscle cramps or restless legs, you might need to up your hydration, or you might need an epsom salt bath or a magnesium lotion.

  4. How do you go about getting Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis? I’ve googled and found some online companies that do it, but I’m not sure if there are some better than others or if a family physician could do it or what. Thanks! Great article.

    1. Good question, Romie! I would always recommend working with a practicioner trained in HTMA to interpret the results. This is who I work with: https://nutritionrestored.com/

      This is another great practicioner that I worked with in the past: https://lydiajoy.mykajabi.com/

      By this time next year I hope to be able to offer HTMA in my own practice!

  5. Do you have recommendations on HTMA testing? It seems very expensive, and I would want to use a reputable company if I were going to spend that kind of money. And do you have suggestions on an economic, budget-friendly testing company/kit?

    1. I always recommend working with a practicioner trained in HTMA to interpret the results. This is who I work with: https://nutritionrestored.com/

      This is another great practicioner that I worked with in the past: https://lydiajoy.mykajabi.com/

      By this time next year I hope to be able to offer HTMA in my own practice!

      I know that cost can be a hurdle. I’ve struggled with that myself. But the results are so worth it. I wish I could afford to do it more often.

  6. Thoughts on Plexus? I have not looked into it but know many who use it and while it does seem amazing it just reminds me of the dangerous supplement game. Your article is really good btw!! Always enjoy what you have to say!!

    1. Thank you, Kayla! I personally have never used Plexus, so I can’t speak from first-hand experience. But I have not heard good things about it from a natural perspective. Multiple people have tried to sell it to me in the past, but I’ve always found too many questionable ingredients to even consider it. Not to mention I’m not a fan of blindly supplementing broad vitamins and minerals 🙂

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