Are There Any Potential Risks of Taking Health Supplements with an Existing Medical Condition?

Learn about potential risks associated with taking health supplements if you have an existing medical condition or illness.

Are There Any Potential Risks of Taking Health Supplements with an Existing Medical Condition?

Even though health supplements can be beneficial, it's important to be cautious when introducing anything into the body.


can interact with other medications you're taking or pose risks if you have certain medical conditions, such as liver disease, or are going to have surgery. Unlike drugs, the U. S.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not authorized to review the safety and effectiveness of dietary supplements before they are marketed. It is up to manufacturers to ensure that their products do not contain contaminants or impurities, are properly labeled and contain what they claim. In other words, the regulation of dietary supplements is much less stringent than that of prescription or over-the-counter drugs. Recent research has linked daily doses of more than 1000 milligrams (mg) of calcium with a higher risk of death from cancer, although other studies suggest otherwise.

The data also showed that people who consumed adequate amounts of magnesium, zinc, and vitamins A and K had a lower risk of death, but only if they got those nutrients from food rather than supplements. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) fact sheets provide detailed information on the benefits and risks of individual vitamins and minerals, as well as herbal supplements. If you're managing an underlying health condition (especially if you're taking medications) or are pregnant or breastfeeding, it's best to talk to your health care team before adding any new supplement to your regimen.

7 Popular Supplements and Their Potential Risks

Vitamin D: Vitamin D promotes the absorption of calcium in the body, and having enough is critical to health and well-being, as it offers the promise of protecting bones and preventing bone diseases such as osteoporosis, according to the NIH. Vitamin D supplements are popular because it's difficult (if not impossible for some) to get enough from food. In addition, our bodies produce vitamin D when bare skin is exposed to direct sunlight, but the increase in time spent indoors and the widespread use of sunscreen have minimized the amount of vitamin D that many of us get from exposure to the sun. However, vitamin D supplements are a sensitive topic.

Sometimes guidelines and research may seem to contradict each other. The truth is that enthusiasm for vitamin D supplements is outpacing the evidence. And high doses aren't a good option. In healthy people, vitamin D blood levels greater than 100 nanograms per milliliter can cause additional calcium absorption and cause muscle pain, mood disorders, abdominal pain and kidney stones, notes the Cleveland Clinic.

It can also increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. That said, vitamin D supplements may benefit certain people, including those at risk of a deficiency, such as people with darker skin, certain health conditions and older adults, according to MedlinePlus. The most recent consensus statement from the American Geriatrics Society specifically suggests that people over 65 can help reduce the risk of fractures and falls if they supplement their diet with at least 1000 IU of vitamin D per day, in addition to taking calcium supplements and eating foods rich in vitamin D.

St. John's Wort

: St. John's Wort is a plant that is used as tea or in capsules, with supposed benefits for depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, menopausal symptoms, insomnia, kidney and lung problems, obsessive-compulsive disorder, wound healing and more, says the NIH.

St. John's Wort will be effective in treating mild depression. For example, a review of short-term studies analyzed 27 clinical trials with about 3800 patients and suggested that the herbal remedy worked as well as certain antidepressants in reducing the symptoms of mild to moderate depression. However, according to Dr. Denise Millstine, internist in the integrative medicine department at Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona “the biggest problem with St.

John's Wort is its interaction with medications”. John's Wort may also reduce the effectiveness of other medications such as birth control pills, chemotherapy drugs against HIV or AIDS and medications to prevent organ rejection after a transplant according to the NIH. If you're considering taking St. John's wort learn about possible drug interactions and consult your doctor about the risks and benefits of this supplement compared to other options.


Calcium is essential for a strong skeleton but as with all nutrients too much can be harmful. As noted by the NIH more than 2500 mg per day for adults ages 19 to 50 and more than 2000 mg per day for people age 51 and older can cause problems. Calcium supplements carry risks such as hardening of arteries or atherosclerosis and an increased risk of heart disease although research is conflicting according to the Cleveland Clinic. The NIH recommends 1000 mg of calcium a day for women ages 19 to 50 and 1200 mg a day for women age 51 and older.

The recommendation for men ages 19 to 70 is 1000 mg a day and 1200 mg a day for men age 71 and older according to Dietary Guidelines for Americans. There are several dietary sources of calcium such as plain low-fat yogurt tofu skim milk cheese fortified cereals and juices. Calcium deficiency or hypocalcemia can be detected by routine blood tests. If you have an existing medical condition or illness it's important to be aware of potential risks associated with taking certain types of health supplements.

Talk to your healthcare team before adding any new supplement to your regimen so you can make an informed decision about what's best for your health.