Skip to content

I'm a Pharmacist and These Supplements are a "Waste of Money"

Be aware of what you are putting into your body.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

I have spent over 13 years working as a pharmacist in the hospital setting. Dietary supplements are a multi-billion dollar market in the United States and they are taken by many Americans who believe they have beneficial effects.  Not all supplements are bad, but you should do your research and read ingredient labels. Some supplement manufacturers are more reliable than others in regards to the quantity of active ingredients in each capsule, but they are still not regulated, nor are they required to perform quality assurance on their products. Some supplements that may have certain beneficial health effects include folic acid, vitamin B12, and calcium for bone health. If you are unable to get the nutrients you need from your diet, then a multivitamin can certainly help you get your daily value of essential vitamins and minerals. However, a healthy diet and exercise are still the most studied and proven ways to improve your health. Beware of supplements that make outlandish claims. It is probably too good to be true. Many supplements can also interact with doctor prescribed medications you are taking. Speak with your physician prior to adding any supplements to your daily regimen. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

**Disclaimer – nothing in this article should be used as a substitute for direct medical advice.


Red Yeast Rice

Red Yeast Rice

Red Yeast Rice is a supplement that is made by steaming white rice with a particular kind of yeast. The compound extracted from this process is monaclonin K, which is an active ingredient in a cholesterol lowering drug. There are have actually been clinical trials conducted that have demonstrated that supplements containing 4-10mg of monaclonin K can lower cholesterol. This was found in a review conducted by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. The problem is that we do not know the amount of monaclonin K that exists in a capsule of red yeast rice. Furthermore, there have been studies showing that the amount of monaclonin K in more than 20 different supplement brands is highly variable. It would be better to consult your physician if you have high cholesterol and be prescribed an FDA-approved cholesterol lowering agent, like a statin. In this case, you will know the exact amount of drug you are putting in your body and it will be proven to lower your cholesterol by a certain percentage depending on the dosage.


Fat Burning Supplements

Smiling young lady looking at her vitamins

You are better off trying a better diet and exercise than taking a fat burning supplement. Most of these supplements lack the necessary data to support their use. Some have even been removed from the market due to reports of causing liver or kidney damage and other adverse effects. These supplements have a slew of ingredients on the label. Some products used to contain an ingredient called ephedrine alkaloids, which are compounds derived from the Ephedra sinica and other plants. The FDA has banned the sale of products with ephedrine alkaloids in the United States. I believe this is a perfect example of how we don't always know what, or how much of a substance exists in these supplements. Additionally, things that claim to have certain benefits can also have serious side effects.


Apple Cider Vinegar Gummies

gummy prenatals

Simply put, there is no evidence to support the claims regarding the benefits of apple cider vinegar gummies. The claim is that they reduce appetite, improve gut health, and bolster immunity. There are a limited number of studies involving apple cider vinegar, and these companies are claiming their product can do the same thing found in those studies…without doing randomized controlled trials of their own on the actual product they are selling.

RELATED: Doing This After Age 60 is "Unhealthy," Say Physicians




There have actually been many studies involving the health benefits of cinnamon. However, these studies have not clearly proven cinnamon to have any beneficial effects on any health condition. The results of these studies have been difficult to interpret because it is not clear what type of cinnamon or what part of the plant was used during some studies. Other studies were found to be of low quality. Since there is no statistically significant data to support the use of cinnamon or determine how much cinnamon is needed to be beneficial, there aren't any recommendations on how much should be taken…only suggestions. Claims for cinnamon include that it can lower blood sugar, improve gastrointestinal problems, reduce risk factors for heart disease, and many more. Do you want to know what is actually scientifically proven to do both of these things? That's right…healthy diet and exercise. Are we seeing theme?

RELATED: How an "Unhealthy" Gut Impacts Your Health, According to Experts



kava kava supplement capsules on brown wooden plate
Shutterstock / Iryna Imago

Kava comes from the South Pacific and is a beverage or extract made from the Piper methysticum plant. Pacific Islanders have used it for thousands of years for medicine and rituals. Kava can have calming effects on those who consume it. There is some data to show that kava may help reduce anxiety, and there have been some studies that may support such a claim. So if it has beneficial effects, then why is it not worth your money? The answer is because kava has been linked to liver injury that can sometimes be serious or even fatal. It can also cause upset stomach, dizziness, headache, and other side effects. It should not be taken if pregnant or breastfeeding as it may pose harm to the baby. So it may reduce my anxiety a bit, but it sounds like it would cause even more anxiety than it would relieve. It is up to you to decide if it is worth it.

RELATED: Signs You Have Parkinson's Disease, According to Experts


What Else You Should Be Aware Of


Our goal should be to obtain vitamins and minerals from the food we eat. Dietary supplements certainly have their place in the prevention or treatment of certain diseases or illnesses. However, the effects of many of the supplements available to us have not been properly evaluated by Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The definition of a "drug" is something that is "intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease." Additionally, the FDA defines an "article" as something "(other than food) intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man or other animals." 

The gold standard for clinical drug trials is a randomly controlled trial. These involve participants to be randomly assigned to one, two, or more clinical interventions. This type of trial has not been extensively studied for the vast majority of supplements on the market. Many randomly controlled trials that have been conducted on supplements have not had a large enough sample population to make statistically significant claims for one agent over another, or for an agent to be proven to diagnose, cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent a disease. There have been a large number of studies that have looked back at a conglomerate of other clinical trials, and even randomized clinical trials, involving supplements. This type of study is called a meta-analysis, and is not considered the gold standard for determining the effectiveness of a product. We may be able to compare or combine data and draw some conclusions from these studies, but the outcome is typically not definitive. In summary, when you see or hear "these statements have not been evaluated by the FDA" on a label or commercial, it means that the product has not been scientifically proven to diagnose, cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent a disease on which it may be claiming to have an effect. In fact, you may see this statement on the product labeling of many dietary supplements on the market.

Another important thing to consider about supplements involves the actual contents of the dietary supplements on the market. Since most are not approved as drugs by the FDA, they do not list the amount of each active ingredient on the label. By law, if a manufacturer lists the amount of active ingredient on the label, the product can't be marketed as a supplement, but instead must be sold as a drug. Therefore, if a clinical trial was conducted to prove the effect of X milligrams on the outcome of a disease, there is no way of knowing whether the supplement you purchased contains that amount. The manufacturing of these supplements is not regulated, and the amount of active ingredient can even vary between different brands. Simply put, when buying a supplement, it is difficult to know exactly what you are putting in your body, and how much.

There are plenty of other supplements that claim to have beneficial effects, have research that may show some benefit, but still haven't been scientifically proven to have said benefits. There is a lot of information out there regarding dietary supplements. It is important to know what you are putting in your body, and when it comes to supplements, it can be very difficult to know this. The FDA is working to put more stringent regulations on dietary supplements, but there is still limited oversight on the manufacturing process. As long as they put on their label that "These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA" they can continue to make claims that the products have beneficial effects without randomized controlled clinical trials. You may hear it over and over again, but health diet and exercise are the best ways to improve your health and help with prevention of a number of diseases. However, the reason you hear this repeatedly is because there are many studies and a lot of data to support this fact, which is why doctors tell you this all the time. Stay healthy, stay safe, and pay attention to what you are putting into your body. 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.

Ryan Majchrzak PharmD, MBA, CSA, CDC
Ryan Majchrzak PharmD, MBA, CSA, CDC is the owner of Assisted Living Locators Bel Air. Read more about Ryan