Do Vitamins and Supplements Help Reduce Health Bills?

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Half of American adults regularly take a multivitamin, and 70% of seniors age 65 and older, take at least one type of supplement or other.[1] However, it’s illegal for manufacturers of vitamins and dietary supplements to claim to prevent, treat or cure any health-related conditions, including age-related decline. This is because there is no clear evidence yet that dietary supplements work, but there are modest findings of lower cancer rates in men who take multivitamins daily.

Despite the modest health returns on expensive supplements, $12 billion are spent each year on vitamins and minerals.[1] Doctors prescribe supplements regularly, too, even though most agree that better food is more effective in saving money in health care costs.

If you’re trying to decide whether or not to spend money on supplements, know that the answers depend on whom you ask. Check out our findings, and decide for yourself if taking supplements is worth it or if you should simply pour that vitamin budget into buying healthier food to reduce your health bills.

It’s important to speak with your doctor before making changes to your diet and exercise routine. The tips offered in this article are intended solely for educational purposes and cannot substitute professional medical advice.

Key Takeaways

  • Most health professionals recommend spending more money on a healthier diet over buying dietary supplements.
  • In several studies, dietary supplements showed no effect in preventing or treating medical conditions and mental decline.
  • According to one study, 8% more male participants who took multivitamins saw fewer cancer events than those who did not.
  • Health insurance does not cover dietary supplements but an HSA or FSA will.
  • Always speak with a physician before starting a supplement regimen because they can be dangerous or have adverse effects with current medications.

Do Dietary Supplements Work?

Let’s focus on four different authoritative sources with different findings, so you can decide if vitamins and supplements may help reduce your health bills in the future:

1. Johns Hopkins

According to Johns Hopkins nutritional experts, the money spent on supplements would be better spent on good food, low on saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and sugar. According to one of their studies, multivitamins do not reduce the risk for heart disease or cancer.[1] Also, multivitamins do not reduce the risk of mental decline with age.[1]

In another study of heart attack survivors, there was virtually no difference in the progress of those who took multivitamins and those who did not. Rates of surgeries and deaths were similar.

The only exception to Johns Hopkins’ findings were that folic acid is important for women during the child-bearing years, to prevent birth defects.

2. Penn Medicine

Penn Medicine says that dietary supplements sometimes work and promotes the following supplements for prevention of illness, adding the caveat that there is no clear scientific evidence that supplements work.


Dietary Supplement

AnemiaGeneral Blood Cell Health



Folic Acid

Bone Health

Vitamin DCalcium

Cell Damage

Vitamin CVitamin E

Heart Health


Eye Health (macular degeneration)

Vitamin A

Eye HealthSkin Health


Jet Lag


Partial list from Penn Health.[3]

On the Penn Health website, they also explicitly state that “most studies suggest that multivitamins won’t make you live longer, slow cognitive decline or lower your chances of disease, such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes.”

3. Harvard Health

Harvard Health, which cites the Physicians’ Health Study II, has a somewhat more positive opinion on the efficacy of vitamins for a daily diet, championing the aforementioned study as having the most important findings on supplements, because it is focused solely on widely used multivitamins in low dosages.

The Physicians’ Health Study II study found that participants who regularly took multivitamins saw some positive results, with some reductions in cancer (8% more men) and cataracts rates, but no effect in preventing, treating or reversing cardiovascular disease or age-related decline of mental functions.[4]

4. The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN)

The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) Foundation commissioned a report on a study about the efficacy of vitamins and supplements and had very different findings than Johns Hopkins, Harvard and Penn Health.

CRN found health care cost savings using supplements, mainly for U.S. adults age 55 and older. Their report claims that certain supplements can help prevent certain health events.[2] With that said, CRN boasts “science behind supplements” and is a leading trade association of the dietary supplement industry.

Condition or Event



Calcium plus Vitamin DMagnesium

Age-related Eye Disease


Heart Disease



Chromium Picolinate

General Risk Reduction

B Vitamins (folic acid, B6, B12

General Risk Reduction

Psyllium Dietary Fiber

General Risk Reduction


General Risk Reduction

Vitamin K

Based on CRN Supplements to Savings Report

In one study, 8% more men who regularly took multivitamins did not get cancer and cataracts.

Do I Need To Take Vitamins?

Everyone’s body is different so it’s best to speak with your physician if you have any deficiencies that show up in a blood test. Ask for a full metabolic blood draw each year and review it with your doctor.

Most Americans who take supplements do not have a deficiency, but of the people who do require supplements, these are the most commonly needed vitamins and minerals:

  • Vitamin D
  • Calcium
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Iron

The Dangers of Taking Dietary Supplements

Supplements can be dangerous, especially in how they may counteract or intensify existing medications. It’s never a good idea to begin a dietary supplement regimen without speaking with a doctor who is familiar with all the medications that are taken daily.

It’s important to know the dangers supplements can pose, especially for people with existing medical conditions or medications that may interact negatively with the supplement.[3] The following is a partial list of the dangers some supplements pose:



Vitamin K

Makes blood thinners ineffective.


Thins the blood.

St. John’s Word

Makes antidepressants and birth control less effective.


May cause liver damage.


Increases the chances of lung cancer in smokers.

Partial list from Penn Medicine.[3]

It’s also important to note that Vitamin E and beta-carotenes are very dangerous for everyone at high doses.[1]

Are Vitamins and Supplements Covered By Health Insurance

If a doctor prescribes a dietary supplement for you, you will only have to pay a copay. Otherwise, vitamins and dietary supplements are not covered by health insurance. You are able to use an FSA or HSA to pay for them, just as you can with any over-the-counter medication.

Will Vitamins and Supplements Lower My Health Care Costs?

Most health care professionals agree that the money spent on supplements would be better off going towards eating a healthier diet, unless a doctor prescribes dietary supplements for a deficiency, based on blood tests.

One study (The Physicians’ Health Study II study) found that 8% of male participants who took multivitamins on a daily basis saw less cancer events than those who did not take supplements. In 2018 cancer patients in the U.S. paid $5.6 billion out of pocket for cancer treatments.[5] If a multivitamin can prevent cancer, it can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars per person each year.

Otherwise there is no clear FDA evidence that vitamins and other dietary supplements are effective in preventing or treating chronic conditions or slowing the progression of age-related decline.[3] However, the dietary supplement industry claims the opposite.[2]

What To Spend Your Money on Instead of Supplements

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Low-fat dairy products, like yogurt and milk
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Vitamins and Supplements FAQs

Are there risks associated with taking too many supplements?

Excessive intake of certain vitamins and minerals can have adverse effects and lead to toxicity, even death. It's important to only take the recommended dosage and consult with your physician before starting supplements. Your doctor should be aware of all the medications you take so there are no adverse effects.

Are there government programs that cover the cost of supplements?

Government programs, such as Medicaid and Medicare, do not cover the cost of over-the-counter vitamins and supplements but may cover it if it is prescribed by a physician for an existing condition or deficiency.

Can an HSA or FSA be used for vitamins and supplements?

If you have a health savings account (HSA) or flexible spending account (FSA), your HSAs or FSAs will cover over-the-counter medications as well as vitamins and supplements.

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