Supplements Everyone Should Take: Fact or Fiction?

You’ve surely seen “supplements everyone should take.” It’s difficult to ignore the hype around them: the infomercials, the smartphone ads, the signage at our local pharmacy.

But is the hype warranted? Are there actually supplements everyone should take?

Supplements and herbal treatments have been around for centuries. Here in the Information Age, most of us are aware of the latest “miracle products” and wonder if they’ll give us better control over our health.

A variety of individuals may be interested in supplementation. For example:

  • People who lead a “natural” lifestyle see supplements and herbs as healthy alternatives to pharmaceuticals.
  • People without access to good medical care often turn to supplements to “keep them well.”
  • Others may rely on supplements if they have a vitamin or mineral deficiency or take a medication that depletes certain nutrients.

Day by day, the average person doesn’t require supplements. But for most of us, adding the right supplement can help optimize our health.

It’s essential, though, to choose products that support your individual health and lifestyle. Research them well, choose them wisely, and use them properly.

Supplements and Healthy Living

A common question when I give presentations about supplements is, “What are supplements everyone should take?” I wish it was that easy to come up with a list that’s right for everyone.

We’re all unique. Our needs vary. And with a bewildering array of nearly 100,000 available vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies, how does one make an informed choice?

First, do your own research. The clerk at the health food store may not be informed on how vitamins, herbs, and supplements interact with conventional medicines. Bring your questions to a trusted pharmacist or integrative medicine doctor trained in the benefits of supplements and botanicals.

Many pharmacists offer 15- to 30-minute, one-on-one medication therapy management (MTM) sessions to assess how your prescriptions may interact with each other and with any supplements you’re taking.

They may ask questions about your dietary habits: Are you comfortable eating all types of food? Are you a vegetarian? Vegan? In each case, your supplemental needs vary. Are you being treated for any sort of medical issue? Recovering from surgery? These are all factors in considering what best benefits your system.

A knowledgeable professional can sort out what your body specifically needs and help you determine:

  • Products with the best potential to support your wellness
  • Products that are likely not worth your time and money
  • Products that are safest for your use

What’s Safe to Use?

When it comes to “supplements everyone should take,” particularly when there’s a surge of interest in a new one, our greatest concern is safety.

Just because a supplement is touted as “natural” doesn’t make it safe. And taking more than the recommended amount of any supplement doesn’t necessarily enhance its effectiveness. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets guidelines around how much vitamin intake prevents a state of deficiency.

When you consider using any supplement, look for verification of quality and safety from NSF International or the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP). I recommend my patients buy high-quality products directly from the manufacturer rather than through resellers like Amazon.

If you purchase several supplements a year, a membership with Consumer Lab can be a smart investment. They guide product quality and safety to help you avoid adulterated or contaminated products. They also publish helpful research reviews to inform your decision.

Infographic: Supplements Everyone Should Take: Fact or Fiction?

Popular Supplements

Let’s look at some popular supplements that often end up on lists of “supplements everyone should take”:

Vitamin D3

Critical to bone health, vitamin D3 aids calcium absorption. Preliminary data suggests it may also support immune, heart, and brain health as well.

For most people, we recommend 1000–2000 IU of vitamin D3 per day. Avoid very high levels (over 10,000 IU/day), which may be harmful to some people.


Magnesium, a mineral that occurs naturally in the body, helps maintain bone and heart health and supports healthy blood sugar regulation. Supplementation may benefit patients over the age of 45, particularly women, who tend to have lower levels than men. To aid sleep, we sometimes suggest taking 300–400 mg of magnesium an hour before bedtime.

Different forms of magnesium also help regulate the bowels. Magnesium citrate and magnesium oxide may help with constipation. Magnesium glycinate or magnesium chelate may be better choices for those with normal bowel movements.


Do most of us need a multivitamin? Maybe not, if you regularly consume a healthy, balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, and fish. But most people need a little more than the minimum USDA-recommended dose of vitamins and minerals.

Multivitamins can be good insurance against nutritional gaps in your regular diet, such as when you travel or are otherwise out of your usual dietary routine. But with so many manufacturers and varieties on health-food shelves, it can be hard to choose the optimal multi for your needs.

While there’s no FDA-written list of standard ingredients, most multis contain various forms of vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, and E, as well as calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, selenium, and zinc. Botanical additives aren’t necessary.

Again, do your research, then consult your doctor or pharmacist with your findings to determine which mix and quantities of vitamins are best for you. (For example, unless your doctor recommends iron to treat anemia, iron in your multi can cause constipation and other side effects.)

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

CoQ10, an antioxidant prevalent in our bodies, is generally safe to take as a supplement. But again, if you have any preexisting conditions, it’s important to check with your doctor.

While CoQ10 may help with certain maladies, like heart failure or muscle aches related to the use of statin medication, it may also impact blood sugar levels in those being treated for diabetes. It can interfere with long-established blood thinners like warfarin, though it’s generally compatible with newer anti-platelet agents.

Immunity Boosters

You may have heard about the immunity-building properties of certain mushroom extracts or the herb astragalus. Many people take the popular herb echinacea to make existing colds shorter and less intense.

Elderberry extract, taken for three to five days, is also thought to ward off or lessen cold and flu symptoms. Elderberry may increase the body’s levels of cytokines, immune compounds that help respond to viruses, perhaps even COVID-19. However, concerns persists that at very high levels, cytokines may create an exaggerated inflammatory response to infections with worsening symptoms.

More research is needed in the setting of COVID-19, but for other uncomplicated upper respiratory tract infections, elderberry extract should be fine to use for a few days.

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Are There Supplements Everyone Should Take?

So, are there supplements everyone should take? Not really.

The best way to obtain beneficial vitamins and minerals is to maintain a healthy diet. And frankly, most of us don’t need our immunity boosted, even during cold and flu season.

Be cautious when you’re considering an over-the-counter supplement or any other agent that may interact with your prescriptions or affect your body’s normal activities. Remember, just because they’re popular doesn’t mean they’re for everyone.

Do your homework on vitamins, supplements, and herbs that appeal to you, then work with your doctor or pharmacist to develop a safe regimen — one tailored to you. Your Signature Healthcare physicians are happy to participate in the conversation.

A headshot of Dr. Russ Greenfield, an Integrative Medicine physician in Charlotte, NC.

Dr. Russ Greenfield

Dr. Greenfield was among the first physicians to train under the direct guidance of Dr. Andrew Weil and has been practicing Integrative Medicine for over 25 years. He is Board Certified in Emergency Medicine and Lifestyle Medicine.

Disclaimer: The insights and articles provided on this site are for educational purposes only and are created with the utmost care by healthcare professionals. The content is not intended to be a substitute for personalized medical counsel, diagnosis, or treatment from your healthcare provider. We encourage you to consult a medical professional for any health-related questions or concerns.