What You Need To Know About Dietary Supplements

The majority of adults in the United States take one or more dietary supplements either every day or occasionally.

Dietary Supplements

But are dietary supplements really necessary?

The best way to find out if you need to take a dietary supplement or a so-called super supplement, is to talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian. There are even some you will want to avoid, continue reading…

What Are Dietary Supplements?

Dietary supplements are substances you might use to add nutrients to your diet or to lower your risk of health problems such as osteoporosis or arthritis.

Today’s dietary supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbals and botanicals, amino acids, enzymes, and many other products. Dietary supplements come in a variety of forms: traditional tablets, capsules, and powders, as well as drinks and energy bars. Popular supplements include vitamins D and E; minerals like calcium and iron; herbs such as echinacea and garlic; and specialty products like glucosamine, probiotics, and fish oils.They might contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs or other plants, or  enzymes. Sometimes, the ingredients in dietary supplements are added to foods, including drinks.

You do not need a prescription to buy most dietary supplements.

Some ads for dietary supplements seem to promise that they will make you feel better, keep you from getting sick, or even help you live longer. Sometimes, there is little, if any, good scientific research to support these claims.

The Dietary Supplement Label

All products labeled as a dietary supplement carry a Supplement Facts panel that lists the contents, amount of active ingredients per serving, and other added ingredients (like fillers, binders, and flavorings). The manufacturer suggests the serving size, but you or your health care provider might decide that a different amount is more appropriate for you.

Are Dietary Supplements Safe?

Many supplements contain active ingredients that can have strong effects in the body. Always be alert to the possibility of unexpected side effects, especially when taking a new product. Although certain dietary supplements may help some people, sometimes supplements can be harmful. For example:

  • Taking a combination of supplements, using supplements together with prescription or over-the-counter medications, or using them in place of medicines prescribed by your doctor could lead to harmful, even life-threatening side effects. Be alert to any warnings about these products.
  • Some supplements can have unwanted or harmful effects before, during, or after surgery. For example, vitamin E and the herbal supplement ginkgo biloba can each thin the blood and increase the potential for bleeding. It’s important to let your doctor know about the vitamins, minerals, herbals, and any other supplements you are taking, especially before surgery.
  • Vitamin K can reduce the ability of the blood thinner Coumadin® to prevent
    blood from clotting.
  • St. John’s wort can speed the breakdown of many drugs (including antidepressants
    and birth control pills) and thereby reduce these drugs’ effectiveness.
  • Antioxidant supplements, like vitamins like C and E, might reduce the effectiveness of some types of cancer chemotherapy.

Keep in mind that some ingredients found in dietary supplements are added to a growing number of foods, including breakfast cereals and beverages. As a result, you may be getting more of these ingredients than you think, and more might not be better.

Do I Need a Supplement?

Fruits and VegetablesEating healthy foods is the best way to get the nutrients you need. For example, fruits and vegetables provide a variety of important nutrients, including fiber, folate, potassium, and vitamins A and C.

People who eat the recommended amount of a nutrient in food and who do not have problems absorbing that nutrient will not gain any additional health benefit by taking the nutrient as a supplement. For example, people who eat enough fruits and vegetables don’t need extra vitamin C.

Certain dietary supplements, however, can help some older adults with specific nutrient needs that cannot be met by their daily diet. For example, some older adults may not get enough calcium, vitamin D, or vitamin B12. Supplements containing these nutrients help them stay healthy.

The best way to find out if you need to take a supplement is to talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian. Together, you can review your diet, prescription medicines, health needs, and decide whether a supplement is right for you.

Thank you for spending time with us. We wish you the best of health!

Thanks to NIH – visit them for additional information about dietary
supplements at:  National Institutes of Health or find additional material on Amazon

The Supplement Handbook

Customer Review: “This book breaks the information down into various diseases/conditions and what works and what doesn’t work in terms of supplements.
Unfortunately there is no summary broken down… Additionally Mark Moyd correctly promotes healthy diet and lifestyle as first preference over supplementing.”

Learn more with the Nutrition Series

What Do You Know About Nutrition?

Creative Commons images by: Flickr.com

Author: Joan

We provide information and motivation focused on the importance of physical activity to our quality of life. It is our hope to help people invest in themselves by staying active throughout their lives. It's that important.

6 thoughts

    1. Thanks Eugenia! I had been finding myself buying more and more vitamins and was feeling tired all the time, now I’m starting to eliminate some to see if the combination of what I’m taking is causing the issue – especially because I already take a multi – so far, it’s working and I actually feel better. Thought it was a good topic to share. I’ve also ordered the Supplement Handbook so I’m not spending money on supplements that I don’t need.

      Thanks for visiting Eugenia!

  1. Excellent information. I know people who take lots of supplements and it’s kind of alarming. I don’t take any and focus instead on a healthy diet. It seems to work as I rarely get sick. :-D

    1. You can’t beat a healthy diet, that’s by far the best way to get the nutrition you need! Stay healthy and well D. Wallace – and thank you for visiting!

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