You’ve heard about them, have probably used them, and have even recommended them to friends or family. But how much do you really know about dietary supplements? Yes, some can be beneficial to your health — but taking supplements can also involve health risks. Read on for important information for you and your family about dietary supplements. Our reference is the US Food and Drug Administration.
Q. What are dietary supplements?
A. Dietary supplements include vitamins, minerals, and other less familiar substances — such as herbals, botanicals, amino acids, and enzymes. Dietary supplements are also marketed in forms such as tablets, capsules, softgels, and gelcaps. While some dietary supplements are fairly well understood, others need further study.
Q. What are the benefits of dietary supplements?
A. Some supplements may help to assure that you get an adequate dietary intake of essential nutrients. However, supplements should not replace the variety of foods that are important to a healthful diet — so, be sure you eat a variety of foods as well. Unlike drugs, supplements are not intended to treat, diagnose, prevent, or cure diseases. That means supplements should not make claims, such as “reduces arthritic pain” or “treats heart disease.” Claims like these can only legitimately be made for drugs, not dietary supplements.
Q. Are there any risks in taking supplements?
A. Yes. Many supplements contain active ingredients that have strong biological effects in the body. This could make them unsafe in some situations and hurt or complicate your health. For example, the following actions could lead to harmful — even life-threatening — consequences.
– Using supplements with medications (whether prescription or over-the-counter)
– Substituting supplements for prescription medicines
– Taking too much of some supplements, such as vitamin A, vitamin D, and iron Some supplements can also have unwanted effects before, during, and after surgery. So, be sure to inform your health-care provider, including your pharmacist, about any supplements you are taking — especially before surgery.
Q. How can I be a smart supplement shopper?
A. Although the benefits of some dietary supplements have been documented, the claims of others may be unproven. If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Be a savvy supplement user.
Here’s how: Watch out for false statements like:
– A quick and effective “cure-all” – Can treat or cure diseases
– “Totally safe” or has “no side effects” Be aware that the term natural doesn’t always mean safe. Don’t assume that even if a product may not help you, at least it won’t hurt you. When searching for supplements on the Web, use the sites of respected organisations, rather than doing blind searches. Before making decisions about whether to take a supplement, see your health-care provider or a registered dietitian. They can help you achieve a balance between the foods and nutrients you personally need.