8 Disadvantages of Dietary Supplements (Spoiler: They Don’t Work)

49. That’s how many pills, capsules, and tablets I took on a daily basis. Add powders to that, and I was in the supplement popping top one percent.

Other biohackers do the same. It’s hard to say no to promising new compounds. The issue is that most dietary supplements don’t work the way you expect them to.

Isolating just a few ingredients into a high-dose supplement is like selling a single guitar string. It sounds okay and may have an effect, but lacks the richness and powerful synergy of the full sound spectrum. Click To Tweet

I completely stopped taking most in the last few years, for good reason. Not only have I found supplementation less effective and a waste of money, but in certain cases downright dangerous:

supplement rack

A Boatload of Fillers, Binders, Inactive Ingredients

My astaxanthin supplement provided a 12 milligram dose.

The problem? The manufacturer put them in a capsule designed to hold 400mg. I know from comparing capsule sizes to my other supplements.

400mg – 12mg = 388 milligrams of filler.

Some highly rated supplements contain as much as 97 percent filler.

That’s a lot of quantity, but how about quality of the filler?

Don’t let the name fool you, magnesium stearate isn’t a useful form of magnesium. It’s used to prevent powders from sticking to machinery. Other common ingredients include:

  • Titanium dioxide
  • Talc
  • Starch
  • Gluten

Yes, some manufacturers add gluten to their products. There’s no biological need for these additives. One day I calculated how much I potentially ingested:

388mg of filler per pill x 49 pills = 19,012 milligrams, or ~19 grams of filler per day.

That might be an overestimate because not all supplements contain that much filler, but it’s eye-opening nonetheless.

Mega-Dosing Phytochemicals

Plants can’t move. So they produce chemical defense molecules.

The more environmental stress, the more they produce. Organic plants experience more stress, and therefore produce higher concentrations of these hormetic adaptation-boosting compounds.

They’re meant to protect the plants. To poison predators foolish enough to eat them.

Humans evolved to handle them in normal levels (found in organic plants).

Resveratrol and sulforophane, two examples of them, get a lot of attention. You’ll do fine with the amount you get in wine or broccoli respectively.

If “the dose makes the poison”, why concentrate dosages to far exceed anything humans encounter naturally?

Vanity Biometrics

Vitamin D pills don’t replace sunlight. Not even close.

Your body actually produces vitamin D in response to sunlight. Only sunlight can sulfate vitamin D into its active form. Vitamin D without sunlight doesn’t do much.

Unlike supplementation, excess vitamin D from sunlight gets converted into the inactive form of 24,25(OH)2-D3. Natural sunlight in reasonable “doses” does not become toxic like the supplemental form can.

Sunlight alone has plenty of other roles:

  • Stimulates mTOR
  • Causes systemic nitric oxide production
  • Creates endorphins
  • Upregulates melanocyte stimulating hormone (MSH), increasing sex drive, libido, beta-endorphins, substance p
  • Produces calcitonin, a gene-related peptide

Without vitamin K, vitamin D can lead to calcification of the arteries.

Vitamin D is but one example where a pill does not replace the natural (free) source.

Missing Other Compounds

Every day we discover new bioactive compounds in old foods.

I’m talking really old. Thousands of years old.

Until recently, scientists reviewed turmeric as a delivery mechanism for curcumin, its primary active ingredients.

Then they discovered other compounds in turmeric. Like turmerosaccharides.

Every time you take an extract you miss great ingredients that science has yet to recognize, test, and label. And any potential synergies they have with other naturally present compounds.


Some things work better together.

That’s why nature packages them together.

Our ancestors seem to have known as well. Ancient preparations and recipes take advantage of synergies to get more from their food.

Ayurveda advocates heavy use of turmeric and ghee. You can improve bioavailability by altering liver enzymes with experimental extracts, or you can drizzle some fat onto your turmeric-coated food.

Drawing on the phytochemical example, sulforaphane in broccoli only activates when glucoraphanin comes into contact with an enzyme called myrosinase. You cannot get too much from plants, but can from supplements.

There’s countless other examples of plants producing synergistic compounds. Extracts forego synergies.

Mystery in a Bottle

Supplement labels provide dosing information, but not always accurately.

Sites like Labdoor.com regularly review products. They uncover discrepancies in dosing, sometimes quite large.

Certain supplements might not be what they appear.

For example, I read about reservatrol in David Sinclair’s book Lifespan. I did my research and considered trying them. I wondered about the price disparity between big brand names and the cheaper generic brands. Their labels looked the same.

After extensive research, I uncovered that cheap brands create their products by extracting resveratrol from peanut skins rather than grapes. Inflammatory peanut skins surely offset the pros of resveratrol.

You could end up with overpriced sugar pills, or worse.

A Huge Red Flag For Supplement Lovers

Supplement manufacturers get away with murder.

Sometimes literally. Unlike foods and pharmaceuticals, there’s a serious lack of mandatory regulation and quality control for supplements.

New reports come out all the time showing:

  • Heavy metal toxicity
  • Undisclosed ingredients
  • Contamination with mold
  • Adulttration with hormones and banned substances

When profit proceeds safety, you’re headed for trouble.

It’s more important than ever to choose a reputable supplement brand.

Declared Useless By Manufacturer

I buy supplements in bulk.

If it’s something I’ll use, I probably will use it often.

Like their whole foods counterparts, supplements expire. Some faster than others.

Depending on where you buy them, they can expire before they get to you.

I’ve had this happen on a few supplement orders from Amazon. What happens when a supplement expires? Hopefully nothing. Maybe contamination. Who knows.

Smart Supplementation: The More Whole The Better

I cut back my collection, but I still supplement on a daily basis.

Get most of your nutrients from real foods. Then, fill any gaps with minimally processed supplements. Whole plants are leagues above synthetic formulations. Click To Tweet

I see too much downside in potential pharmacological interaction from taking dozens of extracts on a daily basis.

In a pinch, they help.

As their name suggest, I use them to supplement a nutritionally rich diet.

Remember, the more you take, the harder it is to determine the effects of other lifestyle changes.

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