People need dietary supplements for a variety of reasons. Bodybuilders, for example, would need supplements to aid muscle buildup and strengthening of muscles such as concentrated protein, glutamine, creatine and weight gain powders. Athletes take in supplements to optimize or enhance their performance.
People with illnesses often require dietary supplements such as concentrated iron for anemia. And those on a diet also take supplements to ensure they get the required amount of minerals, vitamins, amino acids, herbs, enzymes and other nutrients. Most however take supplements for optimum overall health. A lot of people also take them to relieve stress and to boost their energy.
What are dietary supplements and how are they different from medicines and over-the-counter drugs?
The Congress in the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, which was enacted into law in 1994, defines dietary supplements or nutritional supplements as supplements to the diet. These supplements contain one or more ingredients or their constituents. These are taken orally in the form of liquid, capsule, pill or tablet and are labeled as dietary supplement in the packaging.
Dietary supplements come in different forms, thus the confusion with over-the-counter drugs. The market is flooded with different types and forms of supplements such as capsules, tablets, drinks, energy bars and powders. Most can be purchased even without a prescription. They are available in drug stores, supermarkets, grocery stores, natural food stores, merchandise retailers and in health stores. One can even buy supplements on line. In order to distinguish these supplements from over-the-counter drugs, always read the Supplement Facts label.
Unfortunately, most of these dietary supplements are not regulated. Unlike with drugs, the US Food and Drugs Administration does not check the safety and effectiveness of supplements before they are sold to the public. In fact, the FDA only has authority over supplements once they have already entered the market. Usually, actions are taken by the FDA once a complaint against a certain brand has been received.
Many dietary supplements are guilty of false claims. Testimonials and so-called proofs of the efficiency and effectiveness of supplements abound in print, broadcast and on line media.
Worse, some are even unsafe. And so, extra precaution must be taken when choosing which dietary supplement to take. Always check with the manufacturer for more information. With the tons of promotional materials that abound, always be wary of the information being presented.
Keen in mind that dietary supplements are not intended to cure or prevent illnesses. In addition, although some supplements have beneficial effects, a significant number of them have potential health risks. Some supplements contain active ingredients that can have negative effects on the body, specially when taken in large doses and with other supplements and medicines. Supplementslike calcium, for example, interact with heart medicines like Digoxin, vitamin K counteracts with blood thinners etc.. In addition, too much intake of certain vitamins and minerals such as oil-soluble vitamin E and A, can be toxic to the body.
Pregnant women, nursing moms, those undergoing surgery and people with chronic illnesses should take extra care in deciding whether to take dietary supplements or not.
And so, when choosing supplements, it is always best to consult with a health care provider to avoid serious side effects. Remember, safety first!
The very first step is to undergo a nutritional assessment or evaluation with a health care provider. This will find out what your nutritional needs are and what dietary supplement is best suited to your medical condition.
Dietary supplements are supplements and not are not meant to replace some of the food needed in a healthy daily diet. Thus, bear in mind that no supplement can ever replace a healthy diet.
Never assume that “natural” is always safe. Some natural ingredients, specially if taken in large doses, can interact with medicines and may even result to life-threatening situations.
In addition, there are certain considerations in purchasing dietary supplements such as the quality, availability, your nutritional needs and price.
On a final note, dietary supplements are meant to supplement the body’s nutritional needs. It can never replace the overall health benefits of regular exercise and a healthy diet. And in choosing supplementary diets, safety should always be the main consideration.