5 Supplements You Should Take + 5 You Shouldn't Waste Your Money On
As a supplements editor, I understand the amount of research, time, and money it takes to figure out which dietary supplement is best for your unique health needs. The process can be overwhelming, to say the least.
Between endorsements from celebrities and influencers and impressive marketing campaigns, it’s tough to know which brands are actually offering high-quality products and which ones simply paid the right people. How can you decipher which supplements will work for you, and which ones won’t?
The truth is, some supplements can benefit just about anyone who takes them—others, not so much. Here, I’ve outlined which supplements I encourage people to consider taking, plus the ones you can definitely go without.
5 supplements that work
Vitamin D is vital for whole-body health; it supports skin, hair, immune, bone, muscle, reproductive, metabolic, and gut health in myriad ways.*
But despite its importance to human health, 29% of U.S. adults1 are deficient in vitamin D and another 41% are insufficient. That makes 70% of the American adult population that needs to consume more vitamin D.
Why is the nutrient gap of such a universally beneficial vitamin so vast, you may ask? For starters, food and sunlight aren’t very effective ways of getting adequate vitamin D. So, unless you’re supplementing with a high-quality vitamin D supplement every day, your status may be falling short.
To achieve truly optimal vitamin D levels (i.e., 50 ng/ml or higher), you’ll need a daily supplement that delivers 5,000 IU of D3 (not D2). Be sure to take your D3 with a meal (or even better—find a supplement with built-in healthy fats) to optimize absorption.
If you’re looking for help promoting cardiovascular function, cognitive health, vision, and even longevity, omega-3s (specifically, marine-derived EPA and DHA) are your new best friends.* Unfortunately, most Americans aren’t getting nearly enough of these critical fats—over 95% are missing the mark on sufficient EPA and DHA intake to reap their whole-body health benefits.
While adding at least two servings of fatty fish to your weekly meal plan is a (delicious) way to meet your omega-3 needs, a quality fish oil supplement can help you reach your fatty acid goals in a much easier way. If you do decide to go this route, look for a supplement that delivers at least 1 gram of EPA plus DHA from sustainably sourced, wild-caught fish (e.g., anchovies, salmon, sardines).
Almost one-third of Americans2 are at risk of being deficient in at least one nutrient. (Do you see a trend here?) The only way to get essential nutrients (think: vitamins and minerals) is from food and supplementation. And let’s be honest, our diets can change quite drastically from week to week (or even day to day), depending on what we have going on in our lives.
This is where a comprehensive, high-potency multivitamin comes in. Consider a daily multi your insurance policy that covers the nutritional ebbs and flow of everyday life. It can help bridge any nutrient gaps3 that exist in your diet and ensure your body is still getting all the vitamins and minerals it needs to function optimally.*
(To choose a multivitamin that’s right for you, start with this comprehensive guide.)
Let’s continue on with the theme of nutrient gaps, because boy, oh boy, do we Americans need more dietary fiber! The body needs dietary fiber to help promote healthy poops, support a healthy and abundant gut microbiome, balance blood sugar, and more.* Unfortunately, 95% of the U.S. population4 is failing to get enough (yikes).
Yes, you can get adequate fiber from your diet by adding plenty of plant foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds) to each of your meals. However, daily fiber recommendations are higher than you might think—women should be getting at least 25 grams of fiber per day while men should be getting at least 38 grams. Some days, those amounts can be tough to reach.
Adding one serving of a high-quality fiber supplement to your daily routine can increase your daily intake by 5 or 6 grams. To ensure you’re getting the full array of digestive and gut health benefits, we recommend a clean, plant-based powder with both insoluble and soluble fiber.*
Gut health is so critical for overall well-being, and one of the easiest ways to make sure your gut microbiome is filled with beneficial bugs is by adding them straight to your GI tract with a high-quality probiotic.*
Probiotics have been shown to help promote regularity, digestive health, abdominal comfort, a healthy mood, and more.*
(For help finding a premium probiotic that delivers comprehensive GI support, check out this article.)
5 supplements that don’t work
Sorry to disappoint, but there’s no such thing as vegan collagen. Collagen is an (almost complete) structural protein foundation5 found in animals’ connective tissues (i.e., tendons, bones, cartilage, skin, and scales) that’s absent from the plant kingdom.
Technically, you can get “vegan collagen” from genetically engineered6 (aka GMO) strains of bacteria and yeast engineered to produce collagen. However, it’s not something we recommend for regular collagen supplement consumption.
What we recommend instead:
If you’re a flexitarian or otherwise OK with consuming animal collagen, look for a high-quality collagen supplement that discloses:
- Which collagen peptides are included (types I, II, III, etc.)
- The source of their collagen peptides (animal species, country or region, etc.)
- How that animal was raised (i.e., grass-fed and pasture-raised for cows, sustainably sourced and wild-caught for fish)
If you’re vegan, consider supplementing with collagen-boosting ingredients, such as:
- Amino acids (especially proline, lysine, and glycine)
- Vitamins C and E for collagen production and cross-linking*
- A B complex for cellular energy*
- Botanical antioxidants to protect collagen from oxidative damage
You’ve likely seen celebrities endorsing “detox” and “flat tummy teas” on social media as solutions to weight loss and beating bloat. Unfortunately, many women (and even more tragically, teenage girls) have bought these products hoping they can drop a few pounds, only to discover the “weight” that was being dropped came from—well, poop.
Most detox teas feature an herb called senna leaf that’s marketed to have weight management and detoxification benefits. In reality, the botanical actually promotes quick elimination. (In other words, it’s making you poop a lot—and quickly.)
Senna leaf stimulates the bowels, so if you’re struggling to get things going and need a short-term, one-time solution, it may be an herb that’s worth utilizing. But continued use of detox teas can confuse your bowels and lead to larger digestive issues over time.
If your goal is to actually support your body’s innate detoxification pathways (or your metabolic health, for that matter), avoid detox teas at all costs.
What we recommend instead:
A targeted detoxification supplement packed with antioxidant ingredients that are shown to promote the body’s natural detox pathways (think: “master antioxidant” glutathione, vitamin C, and milk thistle).
While it may be the most well-known sleep supplement ingredient, melatonin certainly isn’t the healthiest. In fact, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine started recommending against its use7 as a nightly sleep aid in 2017 due to its overall weak effectiveness and potential long-term effects to the body’s hormone health.
Melatonin is a hormone that your body naturally releases later in the day as a part of your circadian rhythm. This release initiates feelings of tiredness. Over time, nightly melatonin supplementation can negatively impact the body’s natural melatonin production. Some research points to its unwanted influence on other hormones, like estrogen and male growth hormone8, and many people (myself included) complain of undesirable side effects, like vivid nightmares and grogginess, when they take it.
What we recommend instead:
Choose a non-melatonin sleep supplement that includes research-backed ingredients with proven sleep benefits that won’t negatively impact your hormonal health. We love magnesium, jujube, lavender, lemon balm, and GABA to promote deep, restorative sleep.
Unactivated B vitamins
Supporting everything from brain function to healthy methylation, B vitamins (i.e., thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, B6, biotin, folate, and B12) are vital to whole-body health.* But did you know that approximately 50% of the U.S. population has a variant of the MTHFR gene that makes it more difficult for their bodies to use B vitamins?
You see, the MTHFR gene provides instructions for your body to convert folate (vitamin B9) to its active form (5-MTHF). This process is critical for cellular pathways involved in a whole-body biological process called methylation.*
Since MTHFR gene variations can only be detected via genetic testing, most people don’t know whether or not they have it. Choosing supplements that deliver B vitamins in their bioactive forms (and for folate and vitamin B12, that means their methylated forms), folks with an MTHFR gene variant are getting nutrients their bodies can readily use. And there’s no downside to getting bioactive Bs if you don’t have a variant (so, win-win!).
What we recommend instead:
Look for these forms of bioactive Bs in your chosen supplement.
- B1: thiamin mononitrate
- B2: riboflavin-5-phosphate
- B3: niacinamide
- B5: D-calcium pantothenate
- B6: pyridoxal-5-phosphate
- B7: D-biotin
- B9: (6S)-5-methyltetrahydrofolic acid (e.g., as Quatrefolic®)
- B12: methylcobalamin
Touted for its skin, gut, hair, and blood sugar benefits, apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a well-loved ingredient in the health world. Designed to give you “all of the benefits” without the harsh flavor, ACV gummies have tried to capitalize on the whole ingredient’s popularity, but the science behind ACV gummies is weak.
Across the market, gummies aren’t the cleanest supplement delivery format either—they often include added sugars, natural flavors, and a host of other excipients that, in our opinion, make them far less appealing than, say, capsules or powders. It’s also difficult to fit efficacious doses of certain nutrients into gummies (which is why multivitamin gummies are inherently incomplete).
What we recommend instead:
In general, it’s best to stay away from gummies when there’s another option available (in this case, good ‘ole apple cider vinegar). In unique circumstances, we understand that some supplements are better taken in gummy form than not at all (e.g., multi gummies for children or your health-avoidant husband)—this is not one of those situations.
The supplement world is…nuanced, to say the least. The truth is, some brands are in the game for profit, not formulating an incredible product that can help support their customers.
Be sure to do your own research before adding a dietary supplement to your well-being routine. And always look for high-quality products with clinically researched ingredients from trusted brands that value purity, transparency, and sustainability.
Morgan Chamberlain is a supplement editor at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science degree in magazine journalism and a minor in nutrition. Chamberlain believes in taking small steps to improve your well-being—whether that means eating more plant-based foods, checking in with a therapist weekly, or spending quality time with your closest friends. When she isn’t typing away furiously at her keyboard, you can find her cooking in the kitchen, hanging outside, or doing a vinyasa flow.