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Setting the Record Straight on Supplements

Setting the Record Straight on Supplements

So many people today are confused about supplements.  Even many doctors, nutritionists, and other health experts are uncertain.  Why?  Because there’s so much conflicting information in the media.

One day, we’re told that vitamin E is good for us; the next day, we hear it’s dangerous.  We’re told that folate is healthy; the next day, it’s deadly.   We hear that we should take a multivitamin and a week later…no, we shouldn’t.  It’s enough to make you want to throw up your hands in exasperation – but please don’t.

Supplements are vital to good health

Each of us is a physiological and biochemical organism that requires nutrients in order to function properly.  Vitamins and minerals are the essential elements that facilitate every chemical reaction in your body.  For example, magnesium and zinc each control over 200 enzymes.  Folate is critical for making neurotransmitters, for regulating your DNA, for determining which genes get turned on and off and plays a role in preventing cancer, heart disease, and dementia.  These nutrients are vital to good health and proper function.

As a physician, I’ve studied and measured nutrient levels of my patients for decades.  When Dr. Oz and I tested his studio audience, we weren’t surprised to find widespread nutritional deficiencies.  This fundamental lack of nutrition can create a multitude of symptoms that can often be easily relieved with the right nutrients.

One of the major problems we find is Omega-3 fat deficiency – an issue which affects about 98 percent of the population.  Omega 3 fats are critical for supporting brain function, mood, improving your metabolism, preventing diabetes, reducing inflammation, and more.   Because so many of us live and work inside, more than 80 percent of the population has insufficient levels of vitamin D.  Because our diet is very low in plant foods and greens, most of us also have low folate levels.  Many others are magnesium deficient.  Why?  Primarily because our diet lacks beans and greens.  We also engage in habits that deplete the magnesium in our bodies, like the overconsumption of coffee and alcohol, and living with chronic stress.  Low magnesium can lead to muscle cramps, headaches, constipation, palpitations, anxiety, and insomnia.  All of these individual deficiencies can create common symptoms that are easily relieved if you just get the right nutrients.

If you answer yes to any of these questions (and these are just a few common symptoms,) you may have a nutritional deficiency that should be investigated.

  • Is your skin or hair dry?
  • Do you have muscle cramps?
  • Do you get colds a lot?
  • Are you depressed?
  • Are you constipated?

Put in the good stuff

I’m often asked: “what supplements should we be taking?”  The answer is really quite simple. The average person should take the following:

Some individuals may have additional nutritional needs, but this regimen will provide most people with all the essential raw materials the body needs to function properly.  I put these three nutrients into a simple Supplement Starter Kit that helps keep it simple.

You wouldn’t put bad fuel in your car, and you don’t want to put bad stuff in your body either.   It’s important to use high quality supplements.  There is essentially no real regulation of purity, potency, and quality in the manufacture of supplements – making it hard to know whom to trust. I’ve visited and met with several manufactures and over the years have curated a list of the best products—the ones I recommend to my own patients—and made them available at

On, you can also find quizzes that will help you find out if you have nutritional deficiencies. You can also read my free guide ‘How To Work with Your Doctor To Get What You Need’ to learn what tests you should do to determine whether you have these deficiencies.  I encourage you to work with a Functional Medicine doctor who can help you find the right vitamins and supplements for you.

I always like to hear from you…please share your comments below!  Tell us what you’ve experienced by taking supplements, what has helped you, what hasn’t, and what you’ve learned. Share this House Call with your friends and family on Facebook and Twitter. Sign up to receive a new one each week, and submit your questions, so that, next week, I may make a House Call to you.

Learn more:

How Dietary Supplements Reduce Health Care Costs

Do You Need Nutritional Supplements?

Savvy Supplement Shopping

Why You Should Not Stop Taking Your Vitamins

Maximizing Methylation: The Key to Healthy Aging

Mark Hyman MD is the Medical Director at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, the Founder of The UltraWellness Center, and a ten-time #1 New York Times Bestselling author.

Comments (11)

  • I’ve eaten well … and taken supplements … since I was about 15 years old. For a period of about 2 years when I was in my late 30’s, I stopped taking supplements because a few people and some personal research convinced me that I didn’t need them ….

    Long story short, toward the end of that 2-year period I started noticing some health symptoms cropping up (female issues, anxiety/depression, sleeplessness, etc.) … and after a visit to my internist, a stress management professional (who provided the most profound, far-reaching and long-term help/solutions), and some personal work to change perspectives/beliefs through “re-wiring” and habit-shifting, I re-introduced supplements into my daily diet … and continue that habit to this day.

  • Summer of 2013, a study by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle found a strong correlation between the consumption of fish oil and prostate cancer. Fish oil is not the way. For omega 3 fatty acids one may still consider plant sources such as flax seed oil. It is wise to change from grain fed beef to grass fed beef for a better ratio of omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids, or better yet one may wish to forego beef altogether.

  • What about calcium supplements for post-menopausal woman? Since my doctor told me to stop my nails are thin, weak and peeling. I am also concerned with bone density.

    • Hi Barbara,

      While I cannot speak to your specific situation we do recommend calcium in the daily essentials kit for women which can be found If you are looking for more information on addressing your specific needs consider seeing a functional medicine doctor in your area.

  • Hi Dr. Hyman,

    I am interested in your take on the news report that came out yesterday (Dec. 16, 2013) on supplements and how they do not do benefit our health and may be even harmful. I’m wondering if you know how this study was done, and how we can interpret this information. Thanks.

  • Have you evaluated Nutrilite supplements? I noticed that my boyfriend has been having chronic headaches, backaches, and told me he has also had trouble sleeping. His diet is extremely poor-mostly meats/fried veggies only/white breads- and he also works inside on his feet all day. I know he doesn’t get nearly enough phytonutrients or minerals/vitamins. I recommended he take the “Daily Fruits & Veggies” and also the “Cal Mag D.” I heard that these are organic and have a very small “margin of error” and greater potency than what I was buying from Walmart. Is this credible???

  • Colin T Campbell and his son say there is no study indicating omega-3 supplementation is beneficial. Dr. Gregor ( and his group reads every English language study of nutrition in the world. He says that multivitamins just make for expensive pee.

    • Hello Morena,
      Thank you for your interest In Dr. Hyman’s work. Unfortunately he cannot provide you personalized medical advice in this forum, and your nutrition supplementation should be reviewed with your doctor to ensure that is safe and appropriate for your health status. In order to provide you the proper care you need we hope you will seek the attention of a local qualified Functional Med practitioner soon. To locate a doctor near you who practices functional medicine like Dr. Hyman, go to and scroll down to where it says “locate a practitioner” and enter your location. Progress accordingly from there.
      Wishing you the best of health,
      Dr. Hyman Staff

  • Also, would you recommend taking extra B12 for a vegetarian, or is the amount in the multivitamins you sell enough?