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I'm a Doctor and Beg You Never Take These Vitamins

Avoid these five vitamins, experts warn.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Vitamins are a big business! While the billion dollar industry offers consumers a wide range of products promising a variety of things like weight loss, shiny hair, clear skin and overall good health, some vitamins aren't as safe as you think. Yes, there are benefits to taking vitamins, but there's also a lot of risk. "There are several vitamins that many people take without thinking twice, but that can be quite harmful," Dr. Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies tells us. Read on to see which ones to stay away from and why–and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

What To Know Before Taking Vitamins

Female doctor talking while explaining medical treatment to patient through a video call with laptop in the consultation.
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Dr. Mitchell says, "There are countless vitamin supplements on the market, and it can be hard to know which ones are worth taking and which ones are not. As a doctor, I often see patients with negative side effects from taking too many supplements or taking the wrong ones. Here are a few things that people should know before taking vitamin supplements. First of all, not all vitamins are created equal. Some vitamins, like vitamin C, are water soluble and will be excreted by the body if you take too much. I like to tell my patients that if they take too much Vitamin C, they might end up with "expensive urine." However, other vitamins, like vitamin A, are fat soluble and can build up in your body to toxic levels if you're not careful. It's essential to research each vitamin before you start taking it to know how much is safe for you to take. Secondly, even if you are taking the right vitamins in the right amounts, they may not have the intended effect. This is because many vitamins need to be taken with other nutrients to be properly absorbed by the body. For example, calcium needs magnesium to be absorbed properly. So, if you're only taking calcium supplements, you may not be getting all the benefits that you could be."

2

Adverse Side Effects Of Taking Vitamins

Portrait of smiling young woman with Omega 3 fish oil capsule
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Dr. Mitchell shares, "While supplements are often advertised as a quick and easy way to improve your health, they can have quite a few adverse side effects. They can interact with other medications you are taking, which can either make the medications less effective or cause dangerous side effects. Additionally, supplements can cause problems if you have any underlying medical conditions. For example, if you have high blood pressure, taking a caffeine supplement could cause your blood pressure to spike. And if you have kidney disease, taking a supplement that contains iron could lead to further damage to your kidneys. So before you start taking any supplements, it's essential to talk to your doctor to make sure they are safe."

3

Don't Replace A Healthy Diet With Vitamins

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"Though not a direct negative consequence of taking supplements, it is something worth mentioning," Dr. Mitchell states. "It's no secret that a balanced diet is key to maintaining good health. However, even with the best intentions, it can be challenging to get all the nutrients our bodies need from diet alone. This is where supplements can come in handy, providing an extra boost of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. However, it's important to remember that supplements are not meant to be used as a replacement for healthy eating. Taking supplements can lead to poor dietary choices. Some people mistakenly believe that if they take a multivitamin, they can afford to indulge in an unhealthy diet. However, this couldn't be further from the truth. Supplements are intended to supplement a healthy diet, not replace it. So, if you're considering taking supplements, make sure you're also eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. You will only be getting the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy and strong."

4

Ephedra

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Dr. Mitchell explains, "Ephedra is a plant, also known as ma huang, and is a stimulant that has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine. Its leaves and stems are typically dried and made into teas or powders, which are thought to help with a variety of ailments, including colds, flu, and weight loss. In recent years, ephedra has gained popularity as a dietary supplement, as it is believed to boost energy levels and promote weight loss. However, there is little scientific evidence to support these claims, and the plant has been linked to several serious side effects. Ephedra can cause high blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms, and seizure-like activity, and can interact with other medications, making them less effective. For these reasons, people should think twice before taking ephedra-containing supplements."

5

Vitamin A

young woman taking pill
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According to Dr. Mitchell, "Vitamin A is an essential vitamin that the body needs to stay healthy. It can be found in many foods, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and dark leafy greens. Vitamin A is essential for many things, such as vision, immune function, and skin health. However, too much vitamin A can be toxic. Symptoms of toxicity include liver damage, bone loss, and congenital disabilities. In severe cases, it can lead to coma and death. Therefore, it is essential to talk to a doctor before taking any supplement that contains vitamin A. Too much of a good thing can sometimes be harmful."

6

St. John's Wort

Fresh St. John's wort flowers in a bowl, top view
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"Saint John's Wort is a perennial herb with yellow flowers that bloom in the summertime," Dr. Mitchell says. "The plant is native to Europe and Asia but can now be found growing throughout the world. For centuries, Saint John's Wort has been used for its medicinal properties. It has become a popular herbal supplement taken by people hoping to improve their mood or relieve stress in recent years. However, Saint John's Wort can have serious side effects, and people should be cautious before taking it. The herb can interact with other medications, making them less effective. It can also cause photosensitivity, making the skin more sensitive to sunlight. Saint John's Wort can lead to mania or psychosis in rare cases. As a result, it is essential to speak with a healthcare provider before taking Saint John's wort or any other herbal supplement."

7

Kava Kava

kava kava supplement capsules on brown wooden plate
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Dr. Mitchell explains, "Kava Kava is a plant that is native to the Pacific Islands and has been used for centuries by islanders for its medicinal properties. The active ingredient in kava kava is kavalactones, which have sedative, anxiolytic, and muscle relaxant effects. In recent years, kava kava has become popular as a natural treatment for anxiety and stress. However, there are some potential risks associated with taking kava kava. Kava kava can cause liver damage and interact with prescription medications. There have also been reports of people experiencing psychotic symptoms after taking kava kava. As a result, it is essential to speak with a healthcare provider before taking this supplement. People with liver disease or taking medications should avoid kava kava entirely. For others, it may be best to moderate their intake or take it only occasionally. This herb can cause liver damage and should be avoided by people with liver conditions or taking medications that affect the liver."

8

Spirulina

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Dr. Mitchell says, "Though it might look like something out of a sci-fi movie, spirulina is a type of blue-green algae that humans have consumed for centuries. Recently, however, it has gained popularity as a "superfood" due to its high concentration of nutrients. Though spirulina does have some health benefits, there are also some potential risks associated with its consumption. Spirulina is a very efficient adsorbent of heavy metals (mercury and lead) and other toxins. If the algae are grown in water that contains high levels of these contaminants, they will be concentrated in the final product. Additionally, spirulina supplements have been linked to gastrointestinal problems such as nausea and diarrhea. As a result, people should think twice before adding spirulina to their diet. Though it might offer some health benefits, the potential risks may outweigh the rewards."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more