“Whether in tablet, powder, or liquid form, the purpose of dietary supplements is often the same: to supplement your diet so you get enough nutrition and improve your health,” says Jeffrey Milstein, Ph.D., a physician at Penn. Internal Medicine at Woodbury Heights.
They contain at least one nutritional component such as vitamins, minerals, herbs, plant products, amino acids or enzymes. Some of the most popular supplements are multivitamins (which can help you avoid a dozen daily pills), but they can also be purchased as a supplement on their own.
The simplest common denominator? They are labeled as dietary supplements. Some common supplements are:
Cod liver oil
Some supplements are effective and some are not.
There are several reasons why supplements are so popular: Sometimes they work.
“In addition to a healthy diet, there is evidence that some dietary supplements can benefit your general well-being with little or no risk,” says Dr. Milstein.
Common supplements that can benefit your health include:
Vitamin B12, which can help maintain healthy nerves and blood cells, make DNA, and prevent anemia
Folic acid, which can reduce birth defects in pregnant women
Vitamin D, which strengthens bones
Calcium, which can support bone health
Vitamins C and E which can prevent cell damage
Fish oil that can help maintain heart health
Vitamin A, which can delay vision loss in age-related macular degeneration
Zinc, which can improve skin health and slow vision loss in age-related macular degeneration
Melatonin, which can ward off jet lag
However, despite extensive research on dietary supplements (the National Institutes of Health has spent more than $2.4 billion on vitamins and minerals since 1999), the scientific evidence is not entirely clear. Remember: Most studies show that multivitamins won’t make you live longer, slow cognitive decline, or reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, or diabetes.
“It’s actually illegal for companies to claim that dietary supplements cure, diagnose, prevent, or cure disease,” says Dr. Milstein.
In addition, the products you buy in stores or online may differ from those used in the survey, so surveys can be misleading.
Dietary supplements are not always safe.
In most cases, multivitamins are unlikely to pose a health risk. However, it is important to be careful when putting anything into your body.
dr. Milstein explains, “Dietary supplements may interact with other medications you are taking or pose a risk if you have certain medical conditions such as liver disease or are about to have surgery. Also, some supplements have not been tested on pregnant women, nursing mothers, or children, and you may need to take extra precautions.
In addition, federal regulations on dietary supplements are not as stringent as prescription drugs. Some supplements may contain ingredients that are not listed on the label, and these ingredients can be harmful. Some products are sold as dietary supplements and actually contain prescription drugs – drugs that are not allowed in dietary supplements.
Some supplements that may pose risks include:
Vitamin K, which can make blood thinners less effective
Ginkgo, which can improve blood thinning
St. John’s wort, which can make some medications, such as antidepressants and contraceptives, less effective
Omani herbal supplements and cava that can damage your liver
Beta-carotene and vitamin A, which may increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers
Talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.
“The most important thing to remember is to be smart in choosing dietary supplements,” says Dr. Milstein.
Your first step is to discuss your options with your doctor, as the effectiveness and safety of supplements may depend on your individual health situation and condition.
Also keep these simple tips in mind when choosing a dietary supplement:
Take supplements according to the directions on the label and doctor’s instructions.
Read labels, including ingredients, drug interactions, and daily percentage (% DV).
Beware of extreme claims like “very safe” or “works better than (prescribing)”.
Keep in mind that the term “natural” does not necessarily mean “safe”.
Keep nutritional supplements safe and away from children.
Nothing can beat the nutritional power of a healthy diet.
Whatever your goals for taking nutritional supplements, one thing is certain: they are not a substitute for a nutritious and healthy diet.
“Dietary supplements are designed to complement each other – that is, they enhance the benefits already offered by a balanced diet,” explains Dr. Milstein.
Dietary supplements should not be used as a substitute for real food. Don’t underestimate what a nutritious salad can do compared to industrially made pills.
Vitamins and minerals are important in helping your body develop and function properly. While most people get everything they recommend by following a healthy diet, others need a little extra nutrition. This is where nutritional supplements come in, giving you the support your body needs to stay healthy.