There is a good chance that you have are some dietary supplements in your medicine cabinet, or somewhere in your kitchen cupboard. Some research even suggests that nearly 70% of those in the United States consume some type of vitamins or supplements, and this is helping drive the $19 billion market, and by 2024 the global supplement industry is expected to hit nearly $278 billion, and with recent events, some are saying this is a low evaluation. Wow.
But, dietary supplements are nothing new. Humans have been turning to dietary supplements in one form or another since the dawn of time. Five-thousand-years old Sumerian tablets have some of the first recordings of how ancient humans used herbs for many medicinal reasons. And, in Asian cultures, there is a long rich history of herbal remedies and use for more than 3,000 years!
If you are curious about dietary supplements, then you came to the right place. We’ll give you a quick need to know, 101 crash course, on all things supplements, but before making the decision about whether to take a supplement, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider. They can help you find the right supplements for you, and help you find a healthy balance between the foods and nutrients you personally need to reach your optimal state.
What are Dietary Supplements?
Dietary supplements are capsules, pills, tablets, powders, liquids, and more that contain vitamins and minerals, herbs, amino acids, enzymes, probiotics, or whatever else you are looking to add to your diet. People look to dietary supplements to help make up for areas in their diet that are lacking, to help them stay healthy, to avoid prescription drugs, or even to help enhance athletic performance and recovery. There is really a supplement for anything and everyone at this point.
What are the benefits of dietary supplements?
Simply put, the goal of dietary supplements is to “supplement” or make-up for areas of your diet that are lacking. Other supplements aim to help improve certain areas of a user’s health but are not full-fledged solutions to any specific problems.
The benefits of supplements really depend on the dietary supplement itself. Some can make sure you get the vitamins and minerals you need, while others help target a specific problem (i.e. joint pain, better digestion, etc.) But, supplements must never fully replace complete meals, fresh fruit, and vegetables all together. Supplementing something missing from your diet is great, but it should not replace it completely. For example, fish oil supplements are one of the most popular dietary supplements on the market. It is almost impossible to get the right amount of healthy fats like omega-3 from eating fish alone. So, a high-quality omega-3 supplement is a good way to give your body healthy fats and amino acids without dedicating every meal to eating fish.
Unlike drugs, supplements are not permitted to be marketed for the purpose of treating, diagnosing, preventing, or curing any diseases. That means supplements should not make disease claims, such as “lowers high cholesterol” or “treats heart disease”. Avoid products that make absolute claims, no supplement will cure you of a disease, although many may help you better your own condition.
What are some common Dietary Supplements?
- Fish Oil
- Powdered Greens
- Vitamin D
- Saw Palmetto
- Green Tea
Are there risks to taking supplements?
Yes and no. Many supplements do contain active ingredients that have strong biological effects in the body. As a result, in some specific events, taking supplements in combination with prescription drugs could cause complications. If you are taking any prescription drug, or have any allergies or medical conditions, always review the supplement label for the supplement facts, and speak to your doctor or health care provider to make sure the use of a specific supplement is good for you.
But, in general, supplements are safe if they are purchased from a reliable manufacturer. Always make sure your supplements are third-party lab tested and the brand follows good manufacturing practices (GMP) and is GMP certified.
Who is responsible for the safety of dietary supplements?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not authorized to review dietary supplements for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed.
The manufacturers and distributors of dietary supplements are responsible for making sure their products are safe BEFORE they go to market. This means third-party ingredient testing is crucial. If a brand does not use third-party testing, take that as a serious red flag.
If a brand is offering a dietary supplement with a new ingredient, manufacturers must notify the FDA about the ingredient before marketing. However, the notification will only be reviewed by the FDA (not approved) and only for the safety of the ingredient, not effectiveness. If a brand says their products are FDA approved, take that as another red flag.
If there are problems associated with a dietary supplement, manufacturers must report it to the FDA as an adverse event. The FDA can take a supplement off the market if they are found to be unsafe or if the claims are false, or misleading. Manufacturers are required to produce quality dietary supplements, and ensure that they do not contain contaminants or impurities and that the supplement facts and label are accurate.
How can I find out more about the Dietary Supplements I am taking?
Review a supplement companies website, or contact their customer support line/email to request more need to know information.
Dietary supplement labels must include the name and location information of the manufacturer and distributor. If you want to know more about the product, check that the manufacturer and distributor can support the claims of their products and that there is information on the safety and effectiveness of the ingredients within the formula.
How to be a smart Dietary Supplement shopper?
When searching for dietary supplements on the internet, don’t be afraid to cross-reference claims with scientific studies, and ask your doctor or health care provider for advice on brands, and the right dietary supplements for you.
Also, ask your doctor for advice on which dietary supplements would be most beneficial and safe for you.
Remember that if claims sound too good to be true, they probably are. If you see claims like, “works better than [prescription drug]”, “totally safe”, “results guaranteed”, or “no side effects”, you might want to consider finding another brand.
What do I do if a Dietary Supplement causes harm to me or someone in my family?
Call your doctor if the use of a dietary supplement has caused your or a family member serious side effects, or harm. Follow these steps:
- Stop using the product
- Contact your healthcare provider (they can help you find out how to resolve the issue)
- If your health care provider or doctor is certain the supplement caused you significant harm, contact the FDA, and report the product.
Food vs. Dietary Supplements
In general, it is best to get your vitamins and minerals s from fresh food, but many Americans are not eating enough fresh foods, rather they are eating more processed food, refined grains, and other low-quality food with little nutritional value. This issue only gets worse as people age, because aged bodies can’t absorb nutrients as easily as young ones can. Seniors also often eat less food overall due to lower appetites. In the end, this is why dietary supplements are so valuable.
But, they are not a total solution. To get the most out of your supplements, it is important to also eat well and live a healthy lifestyle with plenty of exercise.
If you want to consider adding a dietary supplement to your diet, we recommend taking our quiz here or reference our buying guides to help you find the right supplement for you. But, remember to always ask your health care provider for recommendations and advice.