Signs Your Supplements Aren't Actually Working

Dietary supplements were first designed and distributed in the 1940s to enhance physical health (via Penn Medicine). A 2019 study shows that nearly 80% of Americans take these additives to boost their overall well-being (per the Council for Responsible Nutrition). Consumed in various forms, these tablets, capsules, soft gels, gel caps, powders, bars, gummies, and liquids contain vitamins, minerals, herbs and other botanicals, amino acids, and probiotics, according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

The most commonly consumed type of supplement is the multivitamin — two thirds of Americans take one daily. In addition, nearly one third of those surveyed take individual vitamins D and C (via Council for Responsible Nutrition).

Supplements help provide the nutrients your body needs to function. However, since they are drugs, supplements can interact with each other, lab tests, prescription medications, and cause other health issues. Therefore, you must discuss your supplement decisions with your healthcare provider (via FDA). 

Furthermore, these additives are designed to complement, not replace, the consumption of well-balanced, nutrient-dense foods (per Penn Medicine).

Eye problems

While eating carrots contribute to good eyesight, the root vegetable isn't enough, even if you're Bugs Bunny. Carrots are an excellent source of vitamin A or beta-carotene. However, your eyes need a variety of vitamins and minerals to stay healthy (via University of Utah Health). Supplements help ensure your eyes get the nutrients they need. When your eyes don't get enough vitamin A, you risk developing dry eyes and night blindness. This occurs when your eyes can't make enough tears to remain properly hydrated. Night blindness makes it difficult to see in the dark (via the Optometrists Network).

Vitamins C and E work together to protect your retina and help ward off cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Cataracts occur when the lens of your eye becomes cloudy due to proteins coming together and losing transparency, according to the Optometrists Network. In addition, AMD causes central vision loss due to damage to the retina and macula (per Johns Hopkins Medicine). Lutein and zeaxanthin also help protect the eye from AMD and cataracts (via Healthline).

In addition to helping reduce your risk of AMD and cataracts, B complex vitamins also minimize eye inflammation, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy (per Deen-Gross Eye Centers). Also, Omega-3 fatty acids reduce eye inflammation and your chances of developing dry eyes and diabetic retinopathy, according to Healthline.

Regardless of whether you get these nutrients from food or supplements, if you notice a change in your eyes or sight, see a doctor (via the Optometrists Network).

Skin issues

Your skin lets you know that your supplements aren't working in various ways. Identifying and acknowledging these symptoms help you determine the right path to alleviate the problems (via Podiatry Today).

If you feel your sunscreen isn't working as well as it should, vitamin C or E supplements may not work to their full potential. Vitamin C helps your body produce collagen, which helps your body fend off the sun's rays and keeps your skin smooth. Vitamin E helps prevent skin damage from the sun and other environmental factors (per Healthline).

While you try and prevent the sun from damaging your skin with the use of sunscreen along with proper intake of vitamins C and E, you could unknowingly be preventing vitamin D from protecting your skin. Vitamin D helps your skin metabolize, repair, and grow (via Insider Inc).

If you notice more acne, develop a rash, or dry, flaky skin, your B Complex vitamin supplement may not be working. The B Complex includes B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin), B9 (folic acid), and B12 (cobalamin). Not consuming enough of these vitamins can cause your skin to react to products and be more sensitive to sunlight (per Tri-City Medical Center).

Only a medical professional can determine the cause of your skin issues (via Merck Manuals).


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five women between the ages of 15 and 49 have difficulty conceiving their first child within 12 months of regular unprotected sexual intercourse. One cause of infertility in women is limited nutrient intake (via Frontiers in Endocrinology). For men, the quality of their semen decreases more than 50% when a high fat diet is consumed (per the Journal of Clinical Medicine).

All women, whether trying to get pregnant or not, are advised to take a folic acid (folate) supplement daily because, without it, a fetus could develop brain and spine defects (via The Fertility Institute of New Orleans). Additionally, a study published by the Clinical Medicine Insights: Womens Health showed that adequate folate levels made the likelihood of pregnancy three times greater, especially in older women and those who smoke.

For men, the use of folate is less clear-cut. While one study shows that increasing folate intake boosts sperm count and quality, the Journal of the American Medical Association found that taking zinc/folic acid supplements did not increase the live birthrate.

Another supplement deficiency linked to infertility is vitamin D and its connection to a polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) diagnosis. According to Adnan Menderes University Faculty of Medicine, women who take vitamin D and have PCOS improved the regularity of their periods and lost weight, thus increasing pregnancy rates.

For men, taking a vitamin D supplement improves testosterone levels, sperm levels, and quality (via CNY Fertility). If you have difficulty conceiving after one year, contact your doctor (per the Cleveland Clinic).


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) defines irritability as "easily annoyed and provoked to anger" (via Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health). If this fits you, check your supplements. According to Dr. Jennifer Kraker, New York-based psychiatrist specializing in nutrition and mental health, vitamin D helps "regulates genes that make the feel-good brain chemicals serotonin and oxytocin." Vitamin D also affects the genes that regulate mood, sleep, motivation, memory, and pleasure while protecting your brain and nervous system neurons.

The vitamins included in the B complex help you become more alert and improve your memory. Specifically, B12 and folate help your body produce the neurotransmitters responsible for regulating your mood (per Sage Neuroscience Center).

Low levels of the minerals zinc and magnesium can also make you irritable. Not getting enough zinc affects brain function and how your body uses vitamin B6 to make the neurotransmitters responsible for your mood. Though rare, having low magnesium levels can make you cranky because this mineral is considered a natural mood stabilizer and helps regulate your response to stress (via the Huffington Post).


Studies suggest that up to half of the population feels tired to the point where they seek out medical attention (via Journal of Psychosomatic Research). If you're getting enough sleep, look to your supplements. One of the essential vitamins needed to produce healthy red blood cells that transport oxygen through your body is B12. B12 also helps regulate your nervous system. When B12 supplement fails, you feel tired (per NDTV).

In addition to vitamin B12, in order to maintain proper levels of red blood cells, your body also needs adequate levels of iron. Without the right amount of red blood cells, your body is deprived of oxygen which often results in a diagnosis of anemia. The top symptom of anemia is tiredness (via Harvard Health).

Vitamin C not only assists your body with immunity, it also helps with the production of red blood cells. Therefore, exhaustion is an early sign of vitamin C deficiency (via NDTV). Proper vitamin D levels enable you to maintain muscle and bone strength and feel less tired (per Harvard Health).

If you cannot determine the cause of your fatigue and it lasts longer than a week, contact your doctor (via the Mayo Clinic).

Abdominal issues

More than 22 million Americans report gastrointestinal issues, including six million-plus cases of indigestion, nausea, and vomiting. While there are numerous reasons these issues occur, dietary changes, including changing supplements, is one way to treat the problem (via The Endoscopy Center).

At the top of the list is insufficient vitamin D supplements. Not getting enough vitamin D contributes to the symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), including abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, and bloating. In addition, a study referenced in Prevention shows that the lower your vitamin D levels, the worse symptoms present.

Those with either Crohn's or celiac disease have difficulty absorbing dietary fat and trouble obtaining enough fat-soluble vitamin D. Further complicating matters is the fact that proper vitamin D intake could help prevent these diseases (per Gastrointestinal Society).

Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are signs that your B12 supplement isn't working. Vitamin B12 helps your body create hemoglobin, which your red blood cells need to carry oxygen (via Livestrong). When insufficient oxygen gets to your gut, you feel sick and don't eat as much, resulting in weight loss, according to Medical News Today.

Because there are so many reasons for you to experience stomach pain, it's best to see a medical professional for a proper diagnosis (per Livestrong).


Though not a medically recognized term, the phrase brain fog describes the inability to focus, being disorganized, and forgetful (via Synergy Health Associates). While there are no formal statistics, more than 600 million people are believed to experience confusion or "cognitive dysfunction" (per CNBC). This high number may be due, in part, to the fact that more than 1 billion people don't get enough vitamin D from supplements, food, and the sun.

A study published in Practical Neurology explains that the lower your vitamin D levels, the worse your executive functioning, which includes mental shifting, information updating, processing speed, reasoning, judgment, decision making, and immediate recall.

Confusion also results from a lack of vitamin B12 from food and poorly working supplements. Synergy Health Associates reports that up to 40% of the population is deficient in B12. In a study published in Cureus, 202 people who tested as moderately B12 deficient also showed signs of poor focus, gradual memory decline, or recent forgetfulness. However, after taking supplements for three months, nearly 85% displayed symptom improvement.

Nutrient deficiencies are just one factor to consider in determining the cause of your confusion. Speak with your doctor if you experience persistent brain fog (via Healthline).


According to the CDC, depression is indicated in more than 10% of doctor's visits. Depression includes symptoms of low mood, sadness, and irritability that occur nearly every day consecutively over a week (via PsychCentral).

The Indian Journal of Psychiatry points to the connection between nutrition and depression as one cause. Half of your brain matter is made up of fatty acids, of which one third belong to the omega-3 family, a popular dietary supplement. One of the nutritional associations discussed in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry study shows that a side effect of cholesterol-lowering medications is heightened depressive symptoms.

A review in The FASEB Journal showed a correlation between insufficient vitamin D supplementation and depression. In fact, the review "a vitamin D supplement that is 4000 IU may be able to eliminate vitamin D deficiency and help reduce psychiatric disease risk and improve brain function."

Inadequate levels of iron, specifically iron deficiency anemia (IDA), correlate with psychosocial consequences, including depression. Patients are diagnosed with IDA when their iron blood levels are low enough to negatively affect red blood cell production. Those with IDA who took an adequate iron supplement reported a significant decrease in psychiatric disorders, including depression, compared to those who didn't take an iron supplement (via BMC Psychiatry).

Also noted in PsychCentral is the possible correlation between deficiencies in vitamins B12 and B9 and depressive symptoms, with ongoing research needed.

See your doctor if your feelings of depression persist (per NHS).


According to Firstpost, more than half of the adults on this planet suffer from at least one headache annually. The World Health Organization characterizes headache disorders as recurrent headaches associated with personal and societal burdens of pain, disability, damaged quality of life, and financial cost.

Headache is the most common symptom of vitamin D deficiency (via the National Headache Institute) due, in part, to the fact that Vitamin D works to safeguard your body against inflammation. In addition, vitamin D also supports nerve health (per The Migraine Institute).

Your sleep could be affected if you don't get enough vitamin D through food, supplements, and the sun. Losing sleep makes headaches worse, according to the National Headache Institute. Vitamin D also helps your body absorb magnesium (via Medical News Today). Magnesium is considered a natural muscle relaxer and is another supplement that, if not working the way it should, could cause headaches. When your body doesn't get enough of this mineral, you could suffer muscle tension, cramps, insomnia, and prevalent pain, including headaches (per Advanced Headache Center).

Those that suffer from migraines often benefit from magnesium supplements as this mineral works to treat several related symptoms, including visual disturbances, nausea, and vomiting (per The Migraine Institute). If your headache lasts more than three days and is accompanied by vomiting, vision loss, or loss of consciousness, seek immediate medical attention.

Burning Sensation

The Cleveland Clinic estimates that at least one quarter of Americans have some degree of neuropathy or numbness, tingling, muscle weakness, and pain due to nerve damage. While most often associated with diabetes, neuropathy also results from high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and vitamin deficiencies.

Regardless of the cause, not getting enough vitamin B12 can lead to spinal cord and leg nerve damage that causes difficulty walking, weakness, numbness, and poor coordination (via the American Academy of Neurology).

Doctors recommend that elderly patients, vegans, and those diagnosed with anemia take a B12 supplement. If that supplement isn't up to par, you could end up with hands and feet that feel like they're on fire. If not appropriately treated (and promptly), the damage could become permanent (per The University of Chicago).

Being deficient in vitamin E is rare. However, if not addressed, it can impair your nervous system and cause you to feel a burning sensation in your extremities, explains the American Academy of Neurology. A study in DovePress (out of Istanbul, Turkey), found that treating neuropathic patients with increased vitamin D levels helped alleviate the disorder's pain.

Doctors at the Mayo Clinic recommend you get medical help right away — the sooner you're diagnosed and treated, the more likely the treatment is to be successful.


Up to 95% of people will experience a cramp at some point, with chances increasing as you age (via Dallah Hospital). Cramps result from your muscles tightening without warning, causing a sudden, sharp pain that usually goes away on its own (per the Mayo Clinic).

While most other symptoms related to supplements not working refer to a lack of specific vitamins, cramps are often associated with low levels of calcium and magnesium. They are most prevalent in the elderly and during pregnancy. Health problems that require you to take a diuretic or cause your parathyroid glands not to function properly can also cause these minerals to deplete, leading to cramps. Stomach issues resulting in vomiting can also exacerbate the situation, according to Dallah Hospital.

A decrease in potassium levels has also been associated with muscle cramps. However, not getting enough potassium is more likely to lead to muscle weakness (via Medicine Net). The belief that cramps come from a lack of potassium stems from the fact that this mineral helps keep your muscles, nerves, and heart working well (per the Cleveland Clinic).

According to Vijay Jotwani, sports medicine primary care physician at Houston Methodist, eating a banana won't rid you of sudden pain. Still, it can help stave off future cramps and the uncomfortableness that comes with them. Schedule an office visit with your doctor if cramps disrupt your life, urges the Mayo Clinic.

Weight problems

Approximately 40% of adults in the United States are considered overweight (via Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion). Doctors aren't sure what causes obesity but believe that genetics and habits, including supplements you consume, play a role (per Indian Journal of Medical Research).

When it comes to vitamin A, the lack of supplementation isn't the issue. Instead, obesity interferes with how your body uses the micronutrient. The result is increased infections, possible infertility, and delayed bone development and growth (via Weill Cornell Medicine). Your body requires vitamin B12 to metabolize protein and fat, according to the Times of India. Frontiers in Endocrinology published a study that shows a correlation between high levels of B12 and a lower risk of obesity. However, additional investigation is needed to understand the relationship.

Vitamin D is also connected to obesity. Studies show that while overweight people need more vitamin D, taking additional doses of the supplement doesn't result in weight loss. More research is required to determine vitamin D's actual role in obesity (per Medicina). 

Bone issues

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) defines osteoporosis as "a condition in which the bones become thinner, weaker, and more likely to break." According to the most recent statistics from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, it is the most common bone disease.

Osteoporosis stems from a slowdown in the bone renewal process that occurs as you age. Your lifestyle choices, including intake of certain supplements, influence the speed at which the disease develops (via the Mayo Clinic).

The human body doesn't make its own calcium, but needs it to clot blood, contract muscles, and keep bones healthy. So if your supplements aren't working and you don't get enough calcium through what you eat, your body will take it from your bones, resulting in weak bones that break easily, according to the Bone Health & Osteoporosis Foundation.

However, getting enough calcium isn't enough to keep your bones healthy. Your vitamin D supplements have to be up to par, as well. That is because vitamin D aids the body in absorbing the calcium you consume (per AAOS). Contact your doctor about your bone health concerns and to help determine the risk for developing osteoporosis (via the Mayo Clinic).

Chest pain

According to the American Heart Association, roughly half of all American adults have cardiovascular disease. On average, your heart pumps around 100 times a minute to maintain blood flow throughout your body. To do so, it needs proper nutrients and working supplements (via Balchem Human Nutrition & Health).

One such nutrient is magnesium. Those who don't take enough magnesium are at an increased risk of suffering a cardiovascular event or cardiovascular death (per Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics). This is because magnesium helps coordinate the activities of the cardiac muscles. When magnesium levels aren't high enough, you could have a cardiac arrhythmia like atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter, according to Balchem Human Nutrition & Health.

Potassium helps muscles, including your heart, contract (via Healthline). Potassium also helps the body regulate electrical signals that pass through your nervous system and heart. So ingesting the right amount of this mineral protects you from developing an irregular heartbeat, explains Harvard Health

If you feel as if your heart isn't working correctly, see a medical professional for a proper diagnosis.