woman looking at pill bottle

“Eating a well-balanced diet that gives your body the vitamins and minerals it needs is essential to staying healthy,” said Victoria D'Costa, DO, Catholic Health Primary Care Physician. “Research has shown that good nutrition can reduce your risk for health complications like cancer, diabetes and heart disease.”

The American diet, however, often consists of ultra-processed foods with added fat, sodium, and sugar and does not help to meet the recommended daily intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. To make up for any deficiencies, some people may take a supplement like a multivitamin or a specific vitamin like vitamin C.


What are the different types of supplements?

Supplements are available in several forms, including pills, powders, liquids, gummies and bars.

Common supplements include: 

  • Amino acids, such as leucine
  • Botanical compounds, such as caffeine
  • Botanical or herbs, such as echinacea
  • Minerals, such as calcium
  • Probiotics or live microbial
  • Vitamins, such as vitamin D or multivitamins

What are the benefits of taking a supplement? 

Dr. D’Costa explained that getting your recommended daily nutrition is an understandable challenge. “We have all been there—we become too busy or distracted with personal obligations and do not make the healthiest choices," she said. "Daily supplements can help offset those days when we lack balanced nutrition.”

The following are some ways that supplements can be helpful.

1. Certain health conditions. Examples include: 

  • An iron supplement if you are anemic.
  • Melatonin if you have insomnia.
  • A combined calcium and vitamin D supplement to help prevent bone loss and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. It can also help build stronger bones in women after menopause. 

2. Pregnancy. Pregnant women can benefit from supplements such as folic acid, a type of B vitamin that helps prevent conditions like spina bifida. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that women of reproductive age get 400 micrograms of folic acid daily.


3. Strengthening immunity. For example, zinc or vitamin C.


4. When food alone is not enough. Supplements can be helpful if you cannot get enough of a specific nutrient. Examples include:

  • Vitamin B12 if you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet.
  • A calcium supplement. The body cannot make calcium, so it must come from food or a supplement. 
  • Vitamin D. (The “sunshine vitamin.”) Only a few foods have this vitamin, and not everyone can get it from exposure to the sun. 

Do supplements have risks?

“Supplements are available without a prescription, so they are easily accessible,” said Dr. D’Costa. “Do not take supplements without first talking to your primary care physician.”

She noted that risks associated with supplements include:

  • The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve dietary supplements for safety and effectiveness or their labeling before a company sells them to the public. The company is responsible for product safety and accurate labeling.  
  • Supplements may interact with medications you currently take and cause side effects. 
  • You can take too much. For example, a recent research study showed that adults using melatonin to fall asleep is on the rise, and some may be taking dangerous levels.

What is the best balance between supplements and a healthy diet?

“There is no substitute for eating fresh, wholesome foods that are dense with nutrients,” said Dr. D’Costa. “Supplements are only meant to fill in gaps for a proper diet, not to replace eating healthy meals.”

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a healthy eating plan:

  • Incorporates fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Includes a variety of proteins, such as seafood, poultry and lean meats. (People with restricted diets, like vegans, need protein from other sources.) 
  • Limits added sodium, sugar and saturated and trans fats

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recognize that supplements can be helpful when meeting nutritional needs becomes challenging.

According to the CDC, a healthy diet can:

  • Boost your immunity 
  • Help you live longer
  • Keep your eyes, skin and teeth healthy 
  • Lower the risk of conditions like diabetes, heart disease and some cancers 
  • Strengthen your bones
  • Support your muscles

Research also suggests a relationship between diet and mood. 

“Schedule your annual exam with your primary care physician to evaluate your dietary needs based on age, gender and health conditions and concerns,” said Dr. D’Costa. “You and your doctor can discuss if supplements are right for you. Remember, getting nutrients from food sources is always preferred. If needed, your doctor will recommend you to a dietitian who can help you set healthy eating goals.”


Find Care at Catholic Health

Find a Catholic Health doctor near you. Or call 866-MY-LI-DOC (866-695-4362).

Join the In Good Health Newsletter

Get helpful health tips, read inspirational stories, and discover new recipes.

Explore More

three friends in a kitchen

Tips To Create Healthy Eating Goals

Why Your Body Needs Calcium

woman eating salad

Benefits of Plant-Based Eating

woman, girl, kitchen