The majority of adults in the United States take one or more dietary supplements either every day or occasionally. Continue reading to see if they are right for you or which ones you should avoid.
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?
Eating 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, and health needs, and decide whether a supplement is right for you.
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Thanks to NIH – visit them for additional information about dietary supplements at: National Institutes of Health.
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