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Shocking Effects of Taking Supplements Every Day, Says Physician

“Natural" doesn’t always mean "safe."
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

With hundreds of supplements on the market promising to cure everything from bad skin to sexual dysfunction, it's no surprise there is confusion surrounding which supplements are actually safe, worth your money, and effective. "It's recommended to always talk with your doctor before taking any sort of supplement," says internal medicine specialist Ronan Factora, MD. "Unregulated supplements can pose a serious risk if taken with other medicine, in excessive amounts or taken for an unconfirmed medical problem." Here are five surprising (and sometimes alarming) side effects from taking supplements every day. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

Fulvic Acid

Fulvic acid is a naturally occurring compound found in soil and said to have significant health benefits—but experts are not convinced. "It has two sides of a coin. It can have antioxidant capabilities, but then it also has oxidant capabilities — so it can cause oxidative damage instead of preventing it," says Functional Medicine Medical Director Elizabeth Bradley, MD. "If you're ingesting this from a source that you don't know how pure it is, you could be ingesting heavy metals like mercury and arsenic. I personally would look at other products that would create similar outcomes instead of specifically going right to fulvic acid only because the studies have not been 100% conclusive in terms of knowing how much you should take."

2

'Herbal Weight Loss Supplements

Woman holding packs of pills and measuring tape in hands.
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Doctors warn that so-called "natural" weight loss supplements can have dangerous side effects and should be avoided. "HDS [herbal and dietary supplement]-induced liver injuries account for about 20% of the cases of liver damage in the U.S," says obesity medicine physician Shweta Diwakar, MD. "The major implicated ingredients for these cases include anabolic steroids and green tea extract. Many weight loss supplements that are considered unsafe can be found online. It's important to recognize that these products can come with associated risks."

3

Protein For Children

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Giving protein supplements to children is unnecessary and could be harmful, experts warn. "Consuming extra protein — particularly from protein supplements — isn't necessarily healthy or beneficial," says sports nutrition specialist Diana Schnee, MS, RD, CSP, LD. "And that's especially true for children. In fact, excessive protein intake doesn't lead to more muscle development, but instead can put stress on their liver and kidneys and increase the risk for dehydration. In most Western countries, children already get two to three times the protein they need daily. It's uncommon for a child to need extra."

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4

Sleep Aids

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If you're having trouble sleeping and take sleep aids regularly, be aware of the side effects, doctors say. "They're not meant for the long term, but it may be okay for an occasional night of problems with sleep," says sleep expert Dr. Lawrence Epstein, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School. "You tend to become tolerant of the effect relatively quickly, so they stop working for you. And we don't have a lot of long-term data about what happens if you use them for long periods of time. And there is the potential that antihistamines may cause side effects in older adults, such as confusion and falls. Most sleep problems can be corrected without medication. But it may take many approaches. Sleep problems are often caused by many things, not just one thing that can be fixed with a pill."

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5

Supplements For Prostate Health

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Despite widespread use, experts say there are almost no protective benefits from taking supplements for prostate health. "Vitamin E was also believed to hold benefits for prostate health," says urologist James Ulchaker, MD. "This has also been refuted. Also, we now know that vitamin E has negative cardiovascular effects, so we strongly advise against taking excess vitamin E. The bottom line: While some prostate supplements may show mild benefit, many men will see no benefit whatsoever from them."

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