Many adults in the United States take dietary supplements every day. These supplements include combinations of minerals, vitamins, amino acids, enzymes, and herbs. They can come as traditional tablets, powders, and syrup, or as drinks and energy bars.
Dietary supplements are not intended to replace healthy and balanced meals. They cannot be taken in place of prescribed medication. However, supplements can ensure an individual receives the necessary amount of vital substances and may even reduce the risk of developing a disease. For instance, supplements can improve spine health and boost overall physical performance with ingredients that have an anti-inflammatory effect.
While supplements can manage and mitigate risks, they are not advertised as products able to treat, diagnose, prevent, or cure diseases. Scientific evidence has demonstrated the benefits supplements can provide for managing certain health conditions and for improving general health. Calcium and vitamin D supplements, for example, can improve bone strength and reduce bone loss.
Managing Safety and Risk
Each product has a panel labeled Supplement Facts with information on the contents and amount of active ingredients per serving. Manufacturers also provide a suggested serving size.
Some supplements contain active ingredients with strong effects on the body. Users should ensure they read the label well and follow the instructions they are provided. There may be unexpected side effects for users who overlook them.
Risk increases if an individual takes supplements in place of prescribed medication for a disease. Complications can also arise if a user combines supplements or uses supplements along with medicines. Users should ensure they do not take too much of a supplement at a time, as an unintended supplement overdose can create unwanted side effects.
Individuals need to take extra care and precaution when giving supplements to children or taking them while pregnant or nursing, as this could create a whole host of other side effects.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a government agency that reviews the safety of ingredients used in the production of dietary supplements. The safety and effectiveness of a dietary supplement are part of the responsibility of manufacturers and distributors.
The FDA’s current good manufacturing practices (cGMP) and labeling regulations require manufacturers to produce supplements to a standard. These regulations can help ensure the identity, purity, strength, and composition of the products. They make sure the right ingredients are included, that there are no contaminants or impurities, and the product is properly and accurately packaged and labeled.
Users should consult with a healthcare provider or practitioner before taking dietary supplements. A healthcare provider can explain potential side effects to a user and determine how supplements will interact or affect the user’s current health condition.
In addition, users should keep an updated record of the supplements and medicines they take on a daily basis. This includes noting down the specific product name, dosage, and reason for taking each supplement. By doing so, healthcare providers can review the record and suggest solutions in case an unexpected side effect develops. Knowing the supplements a user is taking also allows the provider to determine the effect of the supplement on overall health.