Can too many supplements be harmful?

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People who love wellness often immerse themselves in finding the best way to optimize their health. Their health journey invariably can lead to what we affectionately refer to as “the supplement graveyard.” You know, that cabinet filled with all the vitamins, powders, and potions that accumulate, leaving many to wonder what the heck to even take.

So is there such a thing as too many supplements and vitamins? Let me go over exactly what you need to know when deciding which supplements to take. There are so many to choose from, and constructing an effective—yet manageable—supplement routine is more of an art than a science. Here’s how to hit that sweet spot:

1. Know your goals.

Do you want to bring down inflammation and heal your gut? Increase your energy levels, balance your hormones, optimize your nutrient levels—or all of the above? The first question you should ask yourself is what you are trying to achieve with your supplement regimen. This way you can fine-tune and focus your efforts.

2. Get a baseline.

If you want to make sure you’re not spinning your wheels and taking unnecessary supplements, go see a functional medicine practitioner and get some lab work done. Tests for vitamin D, B vitamins, iron, selenium, and magnesium are very simple and can all be done through basic conventional blood tests. We can also run more comprehensive labs that test for underlying factors such as microbiome health, hormonal imbalances, or toxicity; these can provide a lot of direction when it comes to your health and what supplements would be a wise addition to your routine.

3. Track your food intake.

For at least one week, log your typical food intake in a food tracking app like MyFitnessPal. In these programs you can see what you’re lacking as far as micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and even macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates). Based on this information, you can optimize the foods you eat and decide whether or not you need a supplement to target what you are not getting through food alone.

Many functional medicine doctors, with the best of intentions, will recommend a number of supplements depending on your case. Personally I always use food as medicine primarily for a strong foundation and use supplements based on labs to keep it targeted and organized. Some people do well with phasing in their supplements every few days to see how they respond while others are perfectly suited to start them all at once. Depending on what you are taking, sometimes it is appropriate to spread supplements out over the day to maximize nutrient absorption.

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