Whether it’s a TikToker touting bee pollen for its ability to increase breast size, Jennifer Aniston extolling collagen for its skin benefits, or your bestie swearing by butyrate for gut health, we’re inundated with countless supplements promising health perks. From vitamins to probiotics to herbs, the bevy of pills and powders can make even the most discerning wellness girlie’s head spin. So rather than adding to the noise of another supplement you “have to” try, we wanted to bust some myths and identify supplements that are not worth the hype. I asked Dr. Steven Gundry, MD, a heart surgeon, New York Times Bestseller, and host of The Dr. Gundry Podcast, to decode the bullsh*t and identify which supplements aren’t actually necessary. Keep reading to find out which supplements Dr. Gundry recommends to not spend money on and why.
Before we dive in, a brief disclosure: As with every supplement recommendation, always talk to your doctor before starting or stopping any supplement. While these tips are general advice from a renowned doctor, the best advice comes from your doctor, who can give you the right personalized recommendations based on your individual goals, health history, and needs.
It’s been ingrained in our minds since childhood that we need calcium to build strong bones (see: “Got Milk?” commercials), but Dr. Gundry explained that there is no available evidence that supports calcium in supplement form actually benefits the bones. Calcium in supplement form may actually cause negative effects. “There is some evidence to suggest that calcium from supplements flows to your blood vessels, which you don’t want to happen,” he explained. When calcium deposits build up in your blood vessels, they can cause the arteries to stiffen, which increases your risk for cardiovascular system problems. Don’t get us wrong: Calcium (in natural form, not a supplement) is an essential nutrient for the health of the body, but Dr. Gundry suggested consuming more calcium-rich foods such as vegetables, leafy greens, animal protein, and fish, and ditching the supplements.
Half of all American adults take a multivitamin or another vitamin or mineral supplement regularly when nutrition experts say nutrient-packed food sources like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are the better option. Despite claims about the health benefits of multivitamins, researchers found that they don’t reduce the risk of the most common health concerns. Dr. Gundry cited that the recommended minimum dosage is far below what’s necessary for good health. While certain multivitamins may be beneficial (again talk to your doctor!), a typical serving can contain more than what your body needs, and a healthier way to consume your vitamins is by filling your plate with two or more servings of fruits or vegetables at every meal, whole grains, and protein. If your doctor does recommend a multivitamin, talk to them about taking half the dosage to avoid overexposure.
3. Vitamin C
This one may be shocking because we’ve been taking vitamin C packets in bulk since we were getting colds as kids, but Dr. Gundry suggests that while getting in vitamin C is essential to the body, certain forms of supplementation are actually not doing anything for you. “The human body does not produce vitamin C and needs a continuous source to maintain adequate levels,” Dr. Gundry explained. “But as vitamin C tablets are water soluble, they will dissolve and leave the body within 2-4 hours, making them an ineffective source.”
As an alternative, he recommended consuming vitamin C-dense foods such as citrus fruits and vegetables. There is a caveat to this one: While many forms of vitamin C supplements are ineffective if you do want to supplement, Dr. Gundry recommends timed-release and chewable forms of vitamin C so they will stay in your body for longer periods. As for the ideal dosage of vitamin C, the current recommended daily intake is at least 75 mg a day for adult women (for reference, a half-cup of cooked broccoli provides 51 mg of vitamin C and one medium kiwi packs 56 mg of vitamin C, so most people can get the recommended dosage as long as you’re eating fruits and veggies).
4. Ketone drinks
When our bodies break down fat for energy, in the case of fasting, long periods of exercise, or when your body lacks carbohydrates (read: ketogenic diet), the liver produces acids called ketones. The idea behind taking ketones as a supplement is to replicate ketosis, a process that occurs when your body uses fat instead of blood sugar (AKA glucose) as its main fuel source, without going on a ketogenic diet. Ketones’ claim to fame? Supposedly healthy brain aging improved athletic performance, and increases the feeling of fullness. Dr. Gundry voiced that ketone drinks are often expensive and don’t taste great, plus there are cheaper ways for your body to acquire ketone. Instead of ketone drinks, he advocated using an MCT oil or product, which will naturally produce ketones in the body.
5. Low-quality probiotics
Probiotics have become synonymous with balancing the gut microbiome and boosting gut health, but Dr. Gundry warned that not all probiotics are created equal. “Most low-quality probiotics won’t make it past your stomach acid, rendering them ineffective and a drain on your wallet,” he said. So what should you look for in a probiotic? “Opt for spore-forming or enteric-coated probiotics that will resist gastric digestion,” Dr. Gundry advised. “To ensure a healthy gut, continuous use of a high-quality probiotic or a probiotic-rich diet is needed.” If you prefer sticking to foods to load up on the beneficial bacteria and keep your gut happy, reach for eats like kefir, sauerkraut, and miso.
6. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a nutrient that’s essential for vision, reproduction, and the health of your blood, brain, and skin (talk about a tall order!). Once the “it” supplement to take in the 1990s, more recent studies have shown that vitamin E supplements don’t live up to the hype of prevention of prostate cancer or preservation of cognitive function. “The vitamin E used in supplements is the wrong form for your health,” Dr. Gundry said. “Furthermore, there are two classes of vitamin E, tocopherol and tocotrienol. A broad-spectrum supplement utilizing both will cancel out the benefits of each form of the vitamin.” Enter: food sources of vitamin E (think: sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, avocados, and spinach).
Iron supplementation is not necessary for the average person because we can get plenty of iron from food sources such as meat, seafood, beans, and dark leafy vegetables. However, iron deficiency is common, and iron supplementation may be a good idea if you don’t get enough from your diet (especially for vegans and vegetarians). “Iron supplements are great when necessary, but are not needed in regular supplementation,” Dr. Gundry stated. When iron levels are low, symptoms like tiredness, poor concentration, and frequent bouts of illness can manifest. If diet alone doesn’t reverse iron deficiency, iron supplements can help fill in the gap. Dr. Gundry suggested regularly getting your iron levels checked and supplementing only as needed. In other words, no need to supplement, unless your bloodwork suggests you’re low in iron.