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Do Vitamin Supplements Actually Work — or Are They a Waste of Money? Doctors Say It Depends

Here's what to consider before purchasing certain vitamins and supplements.

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Taking nutritional supplements for a specific health issue is common, but conflicting reports on their benefits complicates things. Some studies and experts say supplementing is the key to sky-high energy, sunnier moods, and reduced risk of conditions ranging from diabetes to depression; others insist vitamins do little more than give us “expensive pee.” So, do supplements truly work? It depends.

“Vitamins and minerals are essential for our bodies to function optimally,” Dennis Goodman, MD, director of integrative medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, says. “But it’s important to make sure you’re taking the right form of high-quality nutrients — in conjunction with living a healthy lifestyle — or you could miss out on key health benefits, thereby wasting your money.” Below, Dr. Goodman and other doctors weigh in on the downsides of taking vitamin supplements that are commonly marketed to reduce fatigue, brain fog, and hot flashes. Plus, they reveal alternative supplements that are more effective at addressing your health concerns.

For Fatigue and Aging: NR Instead of Generic B3

Vitamin B3 is often recommended for boosting energy, but groundbreaking research reveals that a little-known form of B3, called nicotinamide riboside (NR), is the real superstar. Why? Once in the body, NR converts to NAD, a compound that revs metabolism and activates key anti-aging proteins, according to Christine Horner, MD, author of Radiant Health, Ageless Beauty. NAD also increases the production of hormones that may help ward off depression, and research suggests it may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

For Brain Fog and Hot Flashes: Mixed Tocopherols Instead of E

Vitamin E has been associated with playing a role in boosting cognition and lowering dementia risk. Plus, integrative cardiologist Patrick Fratellone, MD, says it eases hot flashes. But unless you’re taking mixed tocopherols (alpha and gamma), he notes you may not see benefits — and you could see downsides. “It’s the combination of alpha and gamma tocopherols that acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory — they complement each other for maximum benefits,” Dr. Fratellone says. He adds that much of the vitamin E on the market is synthetic, and the National Institutes of Health reveals that high doses of synthetic E could be harmful to your health. 

For Bone and Heart Health: Vitamin K2 Instead of K1

Many women take vitamin K to strengthen bones, as well as ease hot flashes and mood swings. If you’re taking vitamin K1, though, you’re likely missing out. Dr. Goodman says vitamin K2 (also called MK-7 or menaquinone-7) is the real hero. “Vitamin K2 activates substances that keep calcium in bone, where it should be,” he says, adding K1 doesn’t deliver this benefit. And if you’re also taking a calcium pill, it’s critical to take K2, he stresses. Otherwise, that calcium can build up in blood vessels to raise heart attack and stroke risk. Dr. Goodman suggests 45 micrograms of K2 daily.

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.

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