Healthy Diet Advice: Are Dietary Supplements Worth It?

You could be unsure about the effectiveness and safety of the vitamin and mineral supplements as you reach for the bottle. The first question you should ask yourself is whether you actually need them.

More than half of all Americans regularly or occasionally take one or more dietary supplements. Supplements can be purchased over-the-counter and often come in pill, powder, or liquid form. Vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements, usually referred to as botanicals, are typical dietary supplements.


Who Needs Dietary Supplements?

People use these supplements in order to maintain or improve their health and to make sure they are getting enough critical nutrients. However, not everyone needs dietary supplements.

Carol Haggans, a Registered Dietitian, and consultant to the NIH explain that you don't need to take a supplement since you may obtain all the nutrients you require by eating a range of healthful meals. However, dietary supplements might be helpful for completing nutritional gaps.

When taken in conjunction with other medications or before surgery, some supplements can have unwanted consequences. Taking supplements when suffering from specific medical issues might potentially be problematic. Additionally, many supplements' impacts on kids, pregnant women, and other populations haven't been studied. As a result, if you're considering using dietary supplements, consult your doctor.


Can Dietary Supplements Cure?

Dr. Craig Hopp, a specialist in botanical research at NIH, urges patients to communicate any supplements they are taking with their doctors so that their care can be coordinated and controlled.

The United States FDA regulates dietary supplements and classifies them as food rather than as medications. There may be health benefits listed on the label. But unlike medications, supplements cannot make a disease-curing, -treating, or -prevention promise.

According to Hopp, "there’s little evidence that any supplement can reverse the course of any chronic disease." Don't expect that from your supplement use.


Pros of Taking Dietary Supplenents

There is evidence that some supplements may improve health in various ways. The most often used dietary supplements for nutrients are calcium, multivitamins, and vitamins B, C, and D. Calcium promotes strong bones, and vitamin D facilitates calcium absorption in the body. Antioxidants—molecules that stop cell deterioration and support health—include vitamins C and E.

Pregnant women require iron, and breastfed children require vitamin D. All women of reproductive age need 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, whether through supplements or food that has been fortified.

Blood and nerve cells are kept healthy by vitamin B12. In order to ensure that they are getting adequate vitamin B12, Haggans advises vegans to think about taking a supplement.

According to research, fish oil may improve heart health. According to Hopp, "fish oil certainly offers the greatest scientific evidence to support its usage" among dietary supplements not derived from vitamins and minerals.

More research is required on the health impacts of certain additional popular supplements. Glucosamine (for joint discomfort) and herbal medicines like echinacea (for immunological health) and flaxseed oil are some of these (digestion).


Cons of Taking Dietary Supplements

There are few hazards and several supplements with mild effects. Be cautious though. For instance, vitamin K will hinder the effectiveness of blood thinners. The ginkgo leaf can make blood thinner. Although St. John's wort is occasionally used to treat melancholy, anxiety, and nerve pain, it can also hasten the breakdown of many medications, including birth control pills and antidepressants, which reduce their effectiveness.

A supplement is not always safe just because it is advertised as "natural." The liver can suffer severe harm from plants like kava and comfrey.

Haggans thinks it's crucial to understand the chemical composition, preparation method, and physiological effects of a substance—particularly for nutrients but also for herbs. For guidance on whether you even need a supplement in the first place, the dosage, and potential drug interactions, consult a healthcare professional.

 To ensure you aren't consuming too much of a nutrient, look up the percent Daily Value (DV) for each vitamin and mineral. The DV and upper limit should be taken into account, according to Haggans. Certain supplements should not be taken in excess.

Even concerning basic vitamins, researchers still have a lot to discover. A recent investigation uncovered surprising vitamin E findings. Men who take vitamin E supplements may have a lower risk of acquiring prostate cancer, according to earlier research. “But much to our surprise, a large NIH-funded clinical trial of more than 29,000 men found that taking supplements of vitamin E actually raised—not reduced—their risk of this disease,” says Dr. Paul M. Coates, director of NIH’s Office of Dietary Supplements. That’s why it’s important to conduct clinical studies of supplements to confirm their effects.


FDA on Dietary Supplements

Because supplements are regulated as foods, not as drugs, the FDA doesn’t evaluate the quality of supplements or assess their effects on the body. If a product is found to be unsafe after it reaches the market, the FDA can restrict or ban its use.

Manufacturers are also responsible for the product’s purity, and they must accurately list ingredients and their amounts. However, there is no oversight body that guarantees that the contents of the bottles match the labeling. You run the possibility of receiving fewer or, on sometimes, more of the indicated substances. It's possible that not all of the ingredients are listed.

A small number of impartial bodies carry out quality assessments of supplements and grant seals of approval. This only ensures that the product was prepared correctly and has the contents specified; it does not guarantee that the product works or is safe.

According to Coates, "Products offered nationwide in the stores and online where you typically purchase should be acceptable." The FDA states that herbal treatments marketed for weight loss and to improve sexual or athletic performance are the supplements most likely to include prescription components.


How to Find Reliable Sources for Dietary Supplements' Studies

The NIH maintains fact sheets on dietary supplements at to make it simple to locate trustworthy information. Additionally, the NIH just debuted the Dietary Supplement Label Database online at You may find the components of countless dietary supplements using this free database. It contains details on a dose, health claims, and warnings taken directly from the label.

Check out the free updated My Dietary Supplements app for your smartphone or tablet to get more individualized, on-the-go information about dietary supplements (MyDS).

You can keep track of the vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other goods you take with the help of the MyDS app, which also offers the most recent information on supplements. You may even keep track of the supplements your spouse, kids, or parents take.



Making the choice of which dietary supplements to take is an important decision, according to Coates. Find out first about any risks they might present as well as potential benefits. Consult with your medical professionals about any products you are considering using, and determine jointly what would be best for your general health.

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