Are Dietary Supplements Good for You? Factors to Consider

The use of dietary supplements is quite common among adults in the U.S. Dietary supplements are widely used for various reasons of which the most common ones are to boost energy levels, strengthen the immune system, and relieve pain.  However, there are certain factors you should consider before you give them a try. In this article, we talk about what dietary supplements are, what to consider before taking them, and the risks that are often associated with their intake.

What are Dietary Supplements?

Dietary supplements are vitamins, herbs, minerals, enzymes, or amino acids in the form of tablets, soft gels, powders, capsules, gelcaps, and liquids. Dietary supplements aim to provide additional nutrients to avoid deficiency or lower the risk of certain health conditions. However, dietary supplements are not meant to replace nutrient-rich foods which are key to a healthful diet. Unlike nutrients derived from food, dietary supplements are artificial. 

Supplements cannot diagnose, treat, or cure diseases. Hence, they are not permitted to be marketed as such. That means supplement brands should not make claims such as “lowers high blood pressure” or “fights cancer”. Some dietary supplements can help manage conditions, enhance the immune system, or improve overall health. For example, calcium and Vitamin D supplements can help strengthen the bone and reduce bone loss. Folic acid is commonly prescribed to pregnant women to help decrease the risk of birth defects. Before you take any dietary supplements, you should consult your doctor.

Factors to Consider Before Taking Dietary Supplements

Taking dietary supplements without taking the right precautions may be unsafe for you. Before you use them, ensure to consider these factors. 

Check the Product Information

Dietary supplements labels should show a comprehensive list of their active ingredients, amount per serving, and other ingredients such as flavors and fillers. The manufacturer may suggest the dose, but consult your doctor to ensure the suggested dose is safe for you.

For safety, ensure to check the label of any supplement you plan to take for the name of the manufacturer or distributor and the manufacturing location of the product. Also, check the ingredients in the product to ensure it does not contain any ingredients you are allergic to. Take a step further to research the supplement. Look for information about the product on noncommercial sites such as the USDA, NIH, and FDA websites. Bear in mind that the term “natural” doesn’t always mean the product is safe to use.

Understand Your Dietary Needs

Since dietary supplements are meant to support your diet, you should consider your dietary needs before you start taking them. If you are already getting an adequate amount of a particular nutrient naturally from food sources, there might be no need to take a supplement for it. For example, if you eat grapes, citrus fruits, and broccoli regularly, you may not require Vitamin C supplements. However, if you observe that you may be lacking certain nutrients because you do not consume most of the food sources that contain them, then you may take supplements to prevent deficiency. For instance, Vitamin B12 and Omega-3 fatty acids deficiencies are most common among vegetarians. This is because these nutrients are mainly derived from animal products. 

Understand Your Health Needs

In addition to taking dietary supplements to prevent certain deficiencies, people also take supplements to boost their health or for wellness goals. In this case, you need to understand what your body needs and take the right supplements for it. For instance, if you aim to lower your LDL cholesterol levels, dietary supplements that contain ingredients such as Niacin, green tea extract, and garlic extract may be helpful. 

Look Out for Side Effects

When taking a supplement for the first time, be alert for any changes or reactions, and report any concerns to your health care provider. Dietary supplements can cause side effects if you take more than the recommended dose or use them with other supplements. They can also interfere with your medicine, which is why your doctor must be aware of any supplements you are taking. For example, Vitamin K can affect blood thinner warfarin’s ability to prevent blood clotting.

Pregnant women and nursing mothers should take extra precautions before using any supplements. Also, dietary supplements should not be given to children, unless recommended by their healthcare provider. Some supplements have not been tested on children, pregnant women, and nursing mothers. For future reference, keep a detailed record of any supplement you take. 

What are the Risks Associated with Dietary Supplements?

Because dietary supplements contain active ingredients that can cause strong biological effects in the body, they could pose certain risks. Taking too much of certain herbal substances such as Kava may be harmful to your liver, even though it may be effective in treating general anxiety disorder. 

Also, unlike drugs, dietary supplements are not reviewed for safety and effectiveness by the FDA (U.S Food and Drug Administration) before they are marketed. The safety, quality, and effectiveness of supplements are entrusted to the manufacturers. Hence, because they are less regulated compared to OTC drugs, some supplements may be effective, while others can be ineffective or harmful.

The Bottom Line

When used properly, dietary supplements may help improve overall health and reduce the risk of some diseases. You can use them safely as long as you adhere to the recommended dosage and consult your doctor before use. However, dietary supplements can pose certain risks that may be unforeseen. To prevent any severe or long-term health effects, be sure to do your research about the product, the ingredient it contains, and how they influence your health needs. Also, ensure to be vigilant in case of any unpleasant side effects.