Thursday, November 20, 2014

Dietary Supplements: Necessity or Waste?

    In our nutrition class, we have been learning about the advantages and disadvantages of adding supplements to our diet.  Whether it has been advertised to boost metabolism, build muscle or to combat disease; adding supplements have become a normal part of most Americans diets.  Most of us take supplements in order to consume our daily adequate nutrients; and we believe taking these pills, capsules, powders or liquids will make up for anything we are lacking in the foods we eat.
     While studying our textbook, Nutrition An Applied Approach, I have been surprised by some of the myths and facts in regards to supplementation and how it can either help or harm our bodies. Yes, some supplements can be toxic if we ingest too much. They can also negatively interact with prescription medicines and cause serious side affects to those suffering from certain ailments or disease. The following information is important for everyone using supplements or considering adding them to their diet.
      In the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994, “Dietary supplements are categorized within the general group of foods not drugs.” In other words the regulation of supplements is not as strict as the regulation on drugs. So as a consumer, we should all understand the facts about supplement regulation.
  • Dietary supplements do not need approval from the FDA before they are marketed.
  • The company that manufactures a supplement is responsible for determining that the supplement is safe; the FDA does not test any supplement for safety prior to marketing.
  • Supplement companies do not have to provide the FDA with any evidence that their supplements are safe unless the company is marketing a new dietary ingredient that was not sold in the U.S. Prior to 1994.
  • There are at present no federal guidelines on practices to ensure the purity, quality, safety, and composition of dietary supplements.
  • There are no rules to limit the serving size or amount of a nutrient in any dietary supplement.
  • Once a supplement is marketed, the FDA must prove it is unsafe before the product will be removed from the market.
     So how can we ensure that the supplements we are consuming are safe. The FDA suggests that consumers should practice the following tips. If you follow these guidelines, it may prevent purchasing supplements from fraudulent sources which could be detrimental to your health.
  • Look for the U.S. Pharmacopoeia (U.S.P.) symbol or notation on the label. This symbol indicates that the manufacturer followed the standards that the U.S.P. Has established for features such as purity, strength, quality, packaging, labeling, and acceptable length of storage.
  • Consider buying recognized brands of supplements. Although not guaranteed, products made by nationally recognized companies more likely have well-established manufacturing standards.
  • Do not assume that the word natural on the label means that the product is safe. Arsenic, lead, and mercury are all natural substance that can kill you if consumed in large enough quantities.
  • Do not hesitate to question a company about how it makes its products. Reputable companies have nothing to hide and are more than happy to inform their customers about the safety and quality of their products.
If you are going to order supplements over the internet, our textbook, Nutrition An Applied Approach, gives some great criteria to go through before you purchase.
  1. What is the purpose of the website? Is it trying to sell a product or educate the consumer? Look for websites that provide educational information about a specific nutrient or product and doesn't focus on just making money.
  2. Does the site contain accurate information? Remember testimonials are NOT reliable and accurate. Scientific research is the most desirable.
  3. Does the site contain reputable references? Reputable references come from published scientific journals and should contain detailed information such as; names, journal title, date, volume, page numbers, etc.
  4. Who owns or sponsors the site? Full disclosure should be made in the “About Us” or “About Me” section of the website.
  5. Who wrote the information? Once again, full disclosure should be made.
  6. Is the information current and up-dated regularly? You don't want to be following advice from an article that was written several years ago. Supplements and health information change so rapidly that most statistics from a few years ago are no longer relevant today.
 One thing that I have come to recognize is that supplements are not a replacement for food. There are many nutrients, vitamins and minerals in vegetables and fruits that you cannot get in supplements and many that most likely haven't even been discovered yet. But there are some people who can benefit from supplements such as vegans who do not consume adequate vitamins in their diets. A supplement providing riboflavin, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, iron and zinc can be beneficial to those who fall within this group. Also, people with lactose intolerance can benefit from calcium supplements and the elderly can benefit from a multi-mineral supplement with vitamin B12. There are many others who can indeed benefit from supplements.
It is crucial for your health to not take supplements for any of the following reasons:
  • Adding fluoride supplements for children who already drink fluoridated water.
  • Taking supplements with certain medications that can have a negative interaction. One example is people who take Coumadin should not take vitamin E or K because it can cause excessive bleeding.
  • Taking non-prescribed supplements if you have liver or kidney disease.
  • Taking beta-carotene supplements if you are a smoker as it can increase the risk for lung and other cancers.
  • Taking supplements to increase your energy level. Vitamins and minerals do not contain fat, carbohydrates or protein which is our major source of energy.     
Personally, I have found the best way to purchase supplements is through the recommendation of my Naturopathic Doctors (N.P.). Even though I trust them, I still did my own research and compared the supplements they endorsed to other brands. My findings gave me peace of mind that they were indeed safe and a good addition for my dietary needs. Always seek advise from your doctor, registered dietitian or health care professional in regards to taking supplements, especially if you are currently on prescription medication or suffer from any physical ailment.

Namaste, Beci 


Thompson, J., & Manore, M. (2006). The Role of Nutrition in Our Health. In Nutrition An Applied Approach. San Francisco: Pearson Education.  

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