Are supplements making you feel sick? We all take supplements for different reasons. In the 2017 CRN Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements, the top motivating factor for men and women supplement users was health and wellness. Following closely behind were the desires to close nutrition gaps, boost energy and target specific areas like the heart and bones.
But what if the supplements that you’re taking to enhance your life leave you feeling worse?
The U.S. Poison Control Centers gets a call about supplement reactions every 24 minutes. The supplement industry is notoriously unregulated, making it even more crucial to take a step back and assess your strategy if you start feeling undesirable changes in your body. But we know that prospect can be overwhelming, so we’ve compiled this list of common reasons why your supplements could be making you feel sick.
Check out this list, and then contact your doctor if the issue persists.
They’re past their expiration date.
When you buy something off a shelf, be it physical or digital, it’s tempting to assume it will stay good for a long period of time. This is generally true when compared to products that are fresh. Still, supplements don’t have an endless shelf-life, and when active ingredients get too old, it could trigger side effects and, at minimum, cause them to lose their potency. (But it’s rare to have super-serious health issues arise from taking vitamins after their “use by” date.)
The FDA doesn’t regulate supplements, so manufacturers aren’t obligated to include an expiration date on their products. But most reputable, recommended supplement brands indicate on their label when active ingredients will become less effective. And if they don’t, either ask them or consider a better product.
They’re reacting with something else you’re taking.
Something doesn’t have to be a pharmaceutical drug to trigger harmful reactions. Biotin, for instance, recently landed in the headlines for producing misleading test results when taken above recommended dosages. But biotin isn’t the only natural supplement that could interact with your other pills and powders. A number of Ayurvedic herbs, including bacopa, come with a high risk of drug interactions. Gingko biloba, which we recommend for a number of health benefits, does also have some documented interactions.
Your best bet? If you’re not feeling well after taking your supplements, it could be time to ask your doctor about potential interactions with other vitamins, supplements and prescription drugs you’re taking.
You’re not storing them correctly.
Storing supplements in your bathroom exposes them to more heat and humidity in a cramped space—the recipe for reducing their potency. Likewise, keeping them in the kitchen near the oven or microwave isn’t a good move. Unless your supplement specifically recommends being refrigerated, your best bet is to store it in a place that’s “high and dry,” as Reader’s Digest put it.
A few more pro tips: Store your protein powder in the pantry, not the fridge. Dark, dry and room temperature is the name of the game. Humidity above 10% can cause your aminos, protein and creatine to start degrading.
They’re hurting your liver.
Supplement-related liver woes have skyrocketed, now accounting for 20% of all drug-caused liver issues. Green tea extract is one ingredient to watch for, especially if you have a liver condition or a history of liver problems.
And while we’re on the topic of liver: Remember that liver supplements, products that promise to improve the liver’s health, have been shown to be very dangerous. If your liver is ailing, it’s best to seek a doctor, not supplements.
You’re taking too much.
Supplement overdoses are rare, but it’s still crucial to follow the daily recommended values and serving sizes listed on the label. It is possible to get too much of a good thing. And remember, with vitamins, your daily value includes your supplements and any food sources of that nutrient.
Some minerals, like iron, pose a more serious risk when taken in high doses. It’s best to run it by your doctor if you’re taking this mineral, or fat-soluble vitamins that hang around in your body and increase the likelihood of toxic buildup. Water-soluble vitamins like Vitamin C are eliminated via urine when you take more than you need, so those pose a lower risk of overdosing.
You’re not choosing a quality product.
In one shocking study, 80% of supplements tested from GNC, Walmart, Target and Walgreens didn’t include the ingredient they advertised. Another study that we wrote about recently found arsenic, mercury, lead and BPAs in a number of widely-sold protein powders.
Does that mean consumers should do away with supplements altogether? No. But it does mean that you should practice due diligence when selecting your supplements. The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention voluntary testing program will tell you what’s in a supplement versus what’s on its label, making it a good option if you don’t mind going the extra mile of submitting a product for analysis.
Whether or not you take the Pharmacopeial Convention up on its offer, it’s a good idea to read unbiased reviews—especially on protein powders, fat burners, nitric oxide supplements, nootropics and other popular nutritional supplements. After all, the point of taking supplements is to feel better, not worse. Choosing the best quality products helps ensure you reap the maximum benefits, no matter your reason for taking supplements.