Don’t Take These Supplements If You Are Over 50

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Don't Take These Supplements If You Are Over 50
Don’t Take These Supplements If You Are Over 50 Graphic © Background photo: Pixabay (PD)

It turns out that as we transition into our golden years, so should our supplements and medications. Nutrient gaps tend to widen as we age, making supplements a useful key to managing the risks of health issues and increasing longevity.

However, changes in our bodies as we cross over beyond the big 5-0 affect how we interact with supplements and medications. [1] While countless supplements can significantly benefit our well-being, not every bottle in the supplements aisle is good for you.

In fact, adverse events related to supplements account for over 23,000 E.R. visits every year in the U.S. [2] – though note that over 4,800 of these events related to unsupervised ingestion of dietary supplements by children. Over 90% of the total number of E.R. visits resulted in discharge and 9.4% required hospitalization.

Which Supplements Should You Avoid After 50?

“There are supplements you should take and others that you absolutely should not take. And that’s going to change depending on where you are in life,” says Thomas DeLauer, a nutrition and business performance coach. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all, set in stone for life thing. We need to constantly know what’s going to work and what’s not.”

So if you’re over 50, you may want to rethink the following supplements as they could be detrimental to your health.


Kava supplements are derived from a South Pacific plant that is believed to reduce anxiety. It’s even been touted as a possible alternative to General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) prescription medication. [3]

But additional research suggests that kava may increase your risk of liver problems or liver disease—with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) issuing warnings on its use. [4]

“If you’re over 50, your liver does not regenerate nearly as well as when you’re younger. So by taking kava—something to simply try to calm you down—you’re compromising your liver,” advises DeLauer.


According to the NIH, calcium is the most abundant mineral in our bodies. It plays a vital role in bone health, cardiovascular function, and muscle movement. [5]

The recommended daily calcium intake for older people is around 1000-1200 mg. But with the average calcium intake from food for this age group estimated to be 700-900 mg/day, many older adults may turn to supplements to meet dietary recommendations. [6]

However, this might not always be a good idea. Several studies suggest that taking calcium supplements—as opposed to getting calcium for your diet—may increase the risk of kidney stones and cardiovascular disease. [7][8][9]

Antioxidants – Beta Carotene, Vitamin A & E

For good reasons, the term ‘antioxidants’ tends to be thrown around in health and fitness circles. Antioxidants are vital compounds that fight free radicals to reduce oxidative stress. Why is this important?

Prolonged oxidative stress can damage your DNA and even lead to cell death. An excess accumulation of free radicals increases your risk of disease, inflammation, and infertility. [10]

But this is not the whole story. As much as free radicals have adverse health effects, they’re also beneficial to some degree. Research suggests that they may help with wound healing and immune function. [11][12]

Along the same lines, DeLauer references a study of over 232,600 participants in the Journal of the American Medical Association, whose findings showed that vitamin E, A, and beta carotene supplementation may increase mortality. [13]

So, what does this mean for antioxidant supplements such as vitamin E during old age? Moderation is key to maintaining a healthy balance of free radicals and antioxidants.


“The next thing we have to talk about is a huge one, especially in the Western world—and that is iron!” DeLauer emphasizes. “You do not need to be taking excess iron unless a medical professional has told you that you need that iron.”

Research suggests that our bodies become less effective at incorporating iron into our blood cells with age, which may explain why up to 47% of older people are affected by anemia. [14] And while supplementing with iron may appear as the next logical step, it’s not as simple.

You don’t want excess iron floating through your blood all the time, DeLauer notes. High blood iron levels have been linked to shorter lifespans. [15] Additionally, excessive accumulation of iron in the brain may contribute to neurodegenerative disorders. [16]

So go easy on iron supplementation and preferably eat iron-rich foods now and then. DeLauer also advises that you get adequate mineral balancing through magnesium, copper, etc.

Selenium (+Vitamin E)

Selenium is a trace mineral that plays essential roles in DNA synthesis, hormone metabolism, protection from oxidative damage, and reproduction. [17] The element has also been linked to anti-aging effects and prevention of age-related diseases. [18]

But as with most supplements and medications, selenium can turn from helpful to harmful when it’s overused, especially among older people. Exceeding the recommended dietary intake of 55 mcg/day regularly could cause selenium toxicity or even increase your risk of prostate cancer. [17][19]

Supplements Containing Soy Isoflavones

Soy is a unique food in that it’s rich in isoflavones, which are phytoestrogens that have some similarities to human estrogen. It’s also one of the most divisive foods—with some exalting its nutrient-dense profile and others shunning it for potential health risks. [20]

Regarding the adverse effects of supplements containing soy isoflavones among older people, DeLauer quotes a 2019 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. [21] The French research team monitored a cohort of over 76,000 women aged 50+. Their findings linked consuming soy supplements to an increased risk of the more dangerous ER- breast cancer.


Though undeniably useful sometimes, supplements may be a little overrated. In general, the best idea is to seek first to meet your nutrient needs through a healthy diet. But in cases where you need to fill some gaps using supplementation, approach the idea with caution – and use testing to gain insight into your actual levels rather than using guesswork.

Make efforts to understand how your body changes with age, read nutritional supplement labels, and consult your doctor for advice on potential interactions if you’re on any prescription medication.



[1] U.S. Drug and Food Administration:

[2] Geller, A. I., Shehab, N., Weidle, N. J., Lovegrove, M. C., Wolpert, B. J., Timbo, B. B., … & Budnitz, D. S. (2015). Emergency department visits for adverse events related to dietary supplements. New England Journal of Medicine, 373(16), 1531-1540:

[3] Savage, K. M., Stough, C. K., Byrne, G. J., Scholey, A., Bousman, C., Murphy, J., … & Sarris, J. (2015). Kava for the treatment of generalised anxiety disorder (K-GAD): study protocol for a randomised controlled trial. Trials, 16(1), 1-13:

[4] National Institutes of Health:

[5] National Institutes of Health:

[6] Bolland, M. J., Leung, W., Tai, V., Bastin, S., Gamble, G. D., Grey, A., & Reid, I. R. (2015). Calcium intake and risk of fracture: systematic review. Bmj, 351:

[7] Jackson, R. D., LaCroix, A. Z., Gass, M., Wallace, R. B., Robbins, J., Lewis, C. E., … & Barad, D. (2006). Calcium plus vitamin D supplementation and the risk of fractures. New England Journal of Medicine, 354(7), 669-683:

[8] American Society of Nephrology (ASN). (2015, October 13). Calcium supplements may increase the risk of kidney stone recurrence. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 25, 2022 from

[9] Anderson, J. J., Kruszka, B., Delaney, J. A., He, K., Burke, G. L., Alonso, A., … & Michos, E. D. (2016). Calcium intake from diet and supplements and the risk of coronary artery calcification and its progression among older adults: 10‐year follow‐up of the Multi‐Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Journal of the American Heart Association, 5(10), e003815:

[10] Bisht, S., Faiq, M., Tolahunase, M., & Dada, R. (2017). Oxidative stress and male infertility. Nature Reviews Urology, 14(8), 470-485:

[11] Xu, S., & Chisholm, A. D. (2014). C. elegans epidermal wounding induces a mitochondrial ROS burst that promotes wound repair. Developmental cell, 31(1), 48-60:

[12] Hampton, M. B., Kettle, A. J., & Winterbourn, C. C. (1998). Inside the neutrophil phagosome: oxidants, myeloperoxidase, and bacterial killing. Blood, The Journal of the American Society of Hematology, 92(9), 3007-3017:

[13] Bjelakovic, G., Nikolova, D., Gluud, L. L., Simonetti, R. G., & Gluud, C. (2007). Mortality in randomized trials of antioxidant supplements for primary and secondary prevention: systematic review and meta-analysis. Jama, 297(8), 842-857:

[14] Girelli, D., Marchi, G., & Camaschella, C. (2018). Anemia in the elderly. HemaSphere, 2(3):

[15] Ellervik, C., Marott, J. L., Tybjærg-Hansen, A., Schnohr, P., & Nordestgaard, B. G. (2014). Total and cause-specific mortality by moderately and markedly increased ferritin concentrations: general population study and metaanalysis. Clinical Chemistry, 60(11), 1419-1428:

[16] Ward, R. J., Zucca, F. A., Duyn, J. H., Crichton, R. R., & Zecca, L. (2014). The role of iron in brain ageing and neurodegenerative disorders. The Lancet Neurology, 13 (10), 1045-1060:

[17] National Institutes of Health:

[18] Cai, Z., Zhang, J., & Li, H. (2019). Selenium, aging and aging-related diseases. Aging clinical and experimental research, 31(8), 1035-1047:

[19] Kristal, A. R., Darke, A. K., Morris, J. S., Tangen, C. M., Goodman, P. J., Thompson, I. M., … & Klein, E. A. (2014). Baseline selenium status and effects of selenium and vitamin e supplementation on prostate cancer risk. Journal of the national cancer institute, 106(3), djt456:

[20] Harvard School of Public Health:

[21] Touillaud, M., Gelot, A., Mesrine, S., Bennetau-Pelissero, C., Clavel-Chapelon, F., Arveux, P., … & Fournier, A. (2019). Use of dietary supplements containing soy isoflavones and breast cancer risk among women aged> 50 y: a prospective study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 109 (3), 597-605:

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