“The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease with nutrition.”~ Thomas Edison
According to a 2010 Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) consumer survey,
More than two-thirds of U.S. adults use supplements
More than 75% of supplement users classify themselves as “regular” users
The most common reason to purchase supplements is to improve overall health and well-being
Supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbals, botanicals, amino acids, enzymes, and other food factors that support good health and prevent or treat illness. Years ago, when crop-growing soil was rich in nutrients, people widely believed that supplements were not necessary if they ate well-balanced meals. Nowadays, however, the soil is less nutrient-rich, many individuals do not eat a balanced diet, and foods contain many other toxins and additives.
Although the supplement industry is still in its infancy, it is growing exponentially because many people now believe they can make up for a poor diet by taking a multivitamin pill. Nutritional supplements have become a major business in the United States, where an estimated 80% of adults take them, many on a daily basis. Like other nutrients, supplements can be helpful or harmful.
Dietary supplements are not intended to be a food substitute because they cannot replicate the beneficial nutrients and health effects of whole foods such as fruits and vegetables. While eating a healthy, balanced, organic diet may provide most of what you need in terms of vitamins and minerals, some people still need to take dietary supplements.
According to the National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements, many supplements contain active ingredients that can have strong effects on the body, making it important for users to remain alert for unexpected side effects. This is especially true for those taking new products. Side effects most commonly occur when people take supplements instead of, or in combination with, their prescribed medicines. For example:
- Vitamin K reduces the ability of Coumadin to prevent blood from clotting.
- St. John’s wort can reduce the effectiveness of drugs (such as antidepressants and birth control pills) because it speeds their breakdown.
- Antioxidant supplements (like vitamins C and E) can reduce the effectiveness of certain chemotherapy drugs.
- Many supplements have not been tested on pregnant women, nursing mothers, or children and should be used with caution in these groups.
How, then, do you choose a supplement?
Check with a qualified health care provider about which supplements are right for you and your particular health status. Be sure you take your prescribed medications, and do not take a supplement in place of a medication without your health care provider’s approval.
Check labels carefully for the active ingredient(s) in the product, as well as fillers, colors, flavors, serving size, amount of nutrients in each serving, lot number, and company contact information. The manufacturer suggests a serving size, but you or your health care provider may decide that a different amount is best for you. By FDA regulations, all supplement labels should state the name of the product; the net quantity of contents; the name and place of business of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor; directions for use; list of ingredients; the presence of fillers, artificial colors, sweeteners, flavors, or binders; and (if the dietary ingredient is a botanical) the scientific name of the plant used.
Avoid “megadose” supplements by choosing a supplement that provides 100% of the daily value (DV) of what you need (versus, for example, 250% of one vitamin and only 30% of another).
Check for a quality product by looking for the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) mark on the label. This ensures the supplement has met specific standards for strength, purity, disintegration, and dissolution established by the USP. Dietary supplements are not required to be standardized in the United States and no legal or regulatory definition exists in the U.S. for dietary supplement standardization.
Check the expiration dates to be sure your supplement has not lost its potency over time. If the product does not have an expiration date, don’t purchase it. If your supplements have expired, discard them safely.
Check alerts and advisories. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) keeps a list of dietary supplements that are under review or have been reported to cause adverse effects.
Store all supplements safely away from children and pets. Avoid hot, humid storage locations since they can impact potency.
Beware of false claims such as those stating the product is “quick and effective” or a “cure-all” or suggesting that it can “cure or treat diseases” or is “totally safe,” “all natural,” or has “definitely no side effects.” Be wary of phrases that include promotional words like “scientific breakthrough,” “miraculous cure,” “exclusive product,” “secret ingredient,” or “ancient remedy.” Personal testimonials by consumers or doctors who claim amazing results, “limited availability,” “advance payment required,” or “no-risk, money-back guarantees” should also be viewed with caution.
Spend your money wisely. Some supplements are expensive and may not work.
Don’t think, “Even if a product may not help me, at least it can’t hurt me.” Some products can be toxic, based on their activity in your body. Some products can become harmful if consumed in high enough amounts, for a long enough time, or in combination with other substances.
Remember: Safety first! Ask for more information. Consult your doctor, nurse, dietitian, pharmacist, and/or caregiver about whether the product is right for you and safe to use.