Supplements May Not Be What They Seem 

Shanthi Appelo
Shanthi Appelo

| 3 min read

Customer in pharmacy holding medicine bottle. Woman reading the label text about medical information or side effects in drug store. Patient shopping pills for migraine or flu.
Walk down the vitamin and supplement aisle of the local grocery store and there are likely thousands of bottles of pills, tablets, capsules and gel caps, all seeming to offer a quick way to boost health and improve how consumers feel. But even though supplements are marketed as being full of benefits, there is often no evidence to support manufacturers’ claims. In this way, supplements that promise to improve health are typically not what they seem.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said that while some dietary supplements – which include vitamins, minerals, herbal remedies or combinations of these – can sometimes be beneficial to a person’s health. There can also be serious health risks. Anyone thinking about taking a supplement should always talk to their health care provider first.
Here are some issues with the supplement industry that consumers should be aware of.

Beware of Advertising

Because they are not prescription drugs, dietary supplements are not supposed to be marketed in ways that suggest they can cure or treat disease or prevent someone from getting sick. Yet it’s common to hear people talking about advertisements they’ve seen for supplements that market them as cure-alls.

Health Risks

Federal regulators and health care providers have warned that some supplements can pose serious health risks. Here are some examples:
  • Combining supplements can be dangerous.
  • Never substitute supplements for prescription medication.
  • Some supplements may react with prescription medication in negative, harmful ways.
  • Taking too much of certain supplements, like vitamin A, vitamin D or iron, can cause side effects for people before or after surgery.


The supplement industry is not regulated in the same way as other items on store shelves. The FDA does not review dietary supplement products before they’re sold in stores. If there’s a new ingredient added to a supplement, the FDA reviews it for safety, not effectiveness. Additionally, the FDA will only act on a supplement product if there are problems reported after it has already been consumed and deemed unsafe, or if there are misleading and false marketing claims.
In the last 20 years, the National Institutes of Health has spent more than $2.4 billion studying the effectiveness of vitamins and mineral supplements. New red flags continue to be raised. Earlier this year, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued a recommendation advising against the use of vitamin E and beta-carotene supplements for the prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Additionally, researchers at Johns Hopkins University reviewed evidence on recent supplement studies and found multivitamins did not reduce risk for heart disease, cancer or mental declines, nor did they have any impact on the rate of heart attacks, heart surgery or death.
Supplements are not a replacement for healthy eating regardless of how many multivitamins someone takes each morning. The benefits of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, good fats and proteins remains unmatched. Certain foods, when eaten together, can maximize the absorption of nutrients into the body in a way that’s not possible when consuming a supplement.
Shanthi Appelö is a registered dietitian and health and wellness spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more health tips, visit
Photo credit: Getty Images

A Healthier Michigan is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.
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