Dangers of Self-prescribed Supplements

December 22, 2021

Since we were kids, we have been told that we must eat nutritious foods for our bodies to receive essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and enzymes. Because of our modern lifestyle and due to poor quality of food, not everyone can consume a nutritious diet. According to a review of national surveys, certain age groups are more likely to have inadequate vitamin and mineral intake 1

What are Supplements?

Dietary supplements are products, formulated to meet nutrient requirements that are not met by the diet. They aren't drugs nor meant to treat or cure any illnesses. They include one or more nutrients that can be used to enhance a person's diet. Supplements are delivered in the form of pills, liquid, powder, tablets, etc. Supplements are not a replacement for a well-balanced, nutritious diet. All of the nutrients needed for maintaining a healthy lifestyle should be found mainly in fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and healthy fats. Most European countries aim that people should emphasize food-based nutrition advice. Certain populations, such as pregnant women, those taking specific medicines, those having medical conditions in which the body requires more nutrients may require supplements even if they consume a healthy diet.

Benefits of Supplements: 

Supplements can provide nutrients when your diet is lacking it or some medical conditions are causing deficiencies. 

  1. It can treat deficiencies of certain minerals or vitamins like Iron, Vitamin D, Vitamin A, etc. 
  2. They are also intended to reduce the risks of conditions such as hypertension, birth defects, diabetes, etc. 
  3. Some supplements are antioxidants that can reduce the toxic effects of chemotherapy drugs. 

Even if it claims to provide nutrients to your body, it should not be used as a replacement for your diet. It is sensible to consume supplements only after a certain deficiency is detected and should be recommended by a nutritionist/physician. 

Some studies showed that consuming supplements has led to increased intake of nutrients. Supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so they don’t need to contain all the ingredients as specified 2.  

What Are Self-Prescribed Supplements?

A certain group of people thinks it’s healthy to consume supplements as they are providing nutrients. Consuming supplements without a reason can hamper the normal functioning of the body. Self-prescription is a behaviour in which a person uses substances for treating health problems without consulting a doctor. Supplements are safe only if proper instructions are followed. Self-prescribed supplements can cause adverse effects on the body. 

Side-Effects of Self-Prescribed Supplements:

Our body needs certain amounts of substances. If the need for nutrients is getting fulfilled with diet there is no need to take supplements. 

A high intake of a particular substance can affect the normal metabolism of the body. For example, Vitamin B6 when used at high doses can cause nerve damage. Similarly, a high intake of Vitamin C can cause diarrhoea. 

Several elements such as selenium, boron, or iron can be toxic at high dosage. Some studies have shown that supplements can have harmful interactions with other medicines 3. For example, the efficiency of anti-seizure drugs decreases due to the consumption of Vitamin B6. 

“If your physician prescribes a certain supplement because of certain nutritional deficiency, you should definitely take it,” says Marjan Moghaddam, D. O., a family medicine nutritionist/physician with Henry Ford Health System 4

If you are asked to take a certain supplement, it is recommended that you should inform your nutritionist/physician about other medications you are consuming to avoid harmful interactions. If your surgery has been scheduled, it is necessary to inform the doctors about the supplements you take to avoid previous or post-surgery effects.

Supplements That Might Not Need a Prescription: 

It has always been said that it is harmful to take supplements without consulting a nutritionist/physician, which is true because most of the supplements have the potential to cause side effects when consumed in excess. Although when it comes to supplements, few of them are water-soluble. Such supplements are excreted out of the body easily when they are in excess. Oil-soluble supplements remain in the body which can accumulate and cause harmful effects.


The safety of a dietary supplement depends on its chemical composition, mode of action in the body, and dosage. The takeaway message from this is to consume supplements only if they are needed. They should be prescribed by your nutritionist/physician. 

And if not required, try to get all the nutrients from a well-balanced diet. It is always advisable to fulfil your nutrient requirement from a healthy diet. 


Sahara Sarang
Quality Analyst

Sahara has a Master's in Biotechnology. She is passionate about Molecular Biology and Biochemistry research. She aspires to grow every single day and contributes to iTHRIVE through her brainy research skills.

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