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5 Supplements That Are a "Total Waste of Time"

Not all supplements are created equal, doctors say.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

According to the FDA, three out of four American consumers regularly take a dietary supplement, and four out of five older Americans do. But how do you know if a supplement is even worth the money? "Pills are not a shortcut to better health and the prevention of chronic diseases," says Larry Appel, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology and Clinical Research. "Other nutrition recommendations have much stronger evidence of benefits—eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and reducing the amount of saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and sugar you eat." Here are five supplements you should never waste your money on. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Omega-3 Fatty Acids

woman holding omega-3 capsules

Long term studies of omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA—or a fish oil pill—have not shown increased efficacy when compared to a placebo, says Harvard Health: "There are no convincing data to suggest that omega-3 supplements can prevent a first heart attack in at-risk people," says Dr. Pieter Cohen, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, who also warns that the supplements are not FDA-regulated and could contain pollutants and mercury.



woman taking a multivitamin

According to an editorial in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine called "Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements," the authors insist that "we believe that the case is closed—supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults with (most) mineral or vitamin supplements has no clear benefit and might even be harmful." It should be pointed out that the authors are specifically talking about "well-nourished" adults—if you are suffering any kind of malnutrition, speak to a medical professional for guidance.

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collagen supplements

Can collagen supplements really help with your joints and cartilage? "Many types of supplements that claim to promote cartilage restoration and healthy joints have been tested extensively. There is no evidence, that we can measure, that they do anything," says orthopedic surgeon Beau Konigsberg, MD. "Unfortunately, they are often expensive and without benefit. Someday there will be a breakthrough in cartilage restoration and growth but at this point there is nothing reputable on the market. I don't recommend collagen supplements for joint pain, but it's harmless if someone chooses to use it."

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There is increasing evidence that beta-carotene supplements can cause serious harm to your health: Certain compounds found in beta-carotene could possibly interfere with vitamin A, which is crucial for bone and skin health, vision, and immune function. "We determined that these compounds are in foods, they're present under normal circumstances, and they're pretty routinely found in blood in humans, and therefore they may represent a dark side of beta-carotene," says Earl Harrison, Dean's Distinguished Professor of Human Nutrition at Ohio State. "These materials definitely have anti-vitamin-A properties, and they could basically disrupt or at least affect the whole body metabolism and action of vitamin A. But we have to study them further to know for sure."

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selenium supplement tablets

While selenium is necessary for human health, taking too much (for example, from ingesting too many Brazil nuts) can lead to severe health issues, including kidney and heart failure, and heart attacks. This danger may be exacerbated through taking unregulated selenium supplements. "Selenium is an element necessary for normal cellular function, but it can have toxic effects at high doses," according to a paper published in JAMA Internal Medicine investigating selenium poisoning. "Toxic concentrations of selenium in a liquid dietary supplement resulted in a widespread outbreak. Had the manufacturers been held to standards used in the pharmaceutical industry, it may have been prevented." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan