Should We Take Dietary Supplements?

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More than half of all Americans admit to taking some kind (or kinds) of dietary supplements on a daily basis or on occasion. By listening to specialists, reading various blogs, articles and supplement reviews, you can get the impression that it’s something necessary that can only improve your health. It’s not that simple, though, because not all of us need supplements – some need more, some need less, and others do not need them at all. Most deficiencies can be reduced by the right diet, without any additional help. Supplements can be helpful, but they shouldn’t be taken recklessly, as some of them may have side effects, others don’t go well with various drugs, and the dosage is not always the same. They can fill dietary gaps, but you should always consult with a professional before introducing any kind of therapy. 

What are dietary supplements?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes supplements as food, not medicine. They may carry some benefits to your health, but they can’t cure or even prevent anything – they can only help – and therefore cannot be advertised this way. Dietary supplements include vitamins, amino acids, enzymes, nutrients, minerals, herbs, and other botanicals. 

Do dietary supplements actually help?

The FDA doesn’t check each supplement before it enters the market (they can ban or restrict it if it’s found unsafe after appearing on the market) so there isn’t one clear answer to that question. That’s why you shouldn’t believe the ads you see every day that promise you miracles and pie in the sky. What’s more, even if a supplement is legit and it can provide you with whatever you’re lacking, it can’t replace a rich, healthy diet. So don’t try to substitute food with pills, it won’t do you any good. 

However, from time to time, FDA checks facilities that produce supplements. Plus, they established some rules as to ingredients, identity, purity, strength, and more, when it comes to manufacturing these products. They prevent producers from adding the wrong ingredients or the wrong dosage of them. There are also organizations that test the quality of supplements so you can always look for those with a seal of quality assurance.

Remember that supplements can only be an addition that helps you with your problem or shortage. For example: 

  • with the help of calcium and vitamin D, you can keep your bones strong (calcium helps bones stay healthy and strong while vitamin D helps you to absorb calcium), 
  • iron and folic acid should be taken by pregnant women to reduce the risks of certain birth defects, 
  • omega-3 fatty acids from fish oils can be helpful in the case of heart diseases, 
  • vitamin B12 helps your nerves and blood cells,
  • vitamins C and E are antioxidants that prevent cell damage.

What are the risks of taking dietary supplements?

You should always be attentive and stay under the supervision of a specialist whenever you introduce a new drug, supplement or any different product – this is the rule that applies in each case. Consult the dosage and don’t add any new supplements on your own, because even if they can be beneficial separately, it may be a totally different thing if you combine them (e.g. St John’s wort can help to ease depression and anxiety, but it reduces the effectiveness of other drugs, like birth control pills). Some ingredients increase the risk of bleeding, others can influence your response to anesthesia so the circumstances and other health issues should always be considered. Apart from that, some supplements may interact with other drugs in an unforeseeable and unexpected (for someone who’s not a doctor) way. 

Also, it’s not unusual for the producers to add various vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and others to food products, so you may not be entirely aware of how much you’re absorbing daily. And yes, you can overdose these things, for example, too much of a vitamin A can lead to headaches, reduced bone strength, and liver damage; it can even cause some birth defects.

It’s probably already obvious to you that you should always consult with a doctor, especially if you’re pregnant of you want to give supplements to a child. Just because they are available without prescriptions and you can buy them basically everywhere, doesn’t mean they are safe. And whenever you experience or hear about any problem related to taking supplements, be sure to notify the FDA.

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Comments

  1. Dietary supplements can provide a wealth of benefits, especially for those that are physically active and require more nutrients than others. With that said, as you detailed in this piece, there are risks to consider. When shopping around, read labels and determine how safe they are, whether taken alone or combined with other supplements.

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