Dietary supplements are very common in many population groups as means of promoting optimal health and wellbeing. However, many people take these supplements without having sufficient knowledge of their benefits and/or disadvantages. Some supplements might not be appropriate for some individuals, yet they are consumed and there may be an increased risk of complications. It is important to evaluate the different types of dietary supplements and the oversight that is provided by regulatory agencies regarding these supplements to determine if the benefits are greater than the risks.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates many dietary supplements; however, some supplements are not regulated or approved by the FDA but are consumed nonetheless (FDA). The use of vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other types of substances are often recommended to reduce the risks associated with different health conditions, but they should not be intended for use as a replacement for healthy nutrition and food consumption (FDA). It is important for dietary supplement users to read labels and to determine if these supplements are appropriate for personal consumption, particularly if they have specific health risks that may be exacerbated by these supplements (FDA). In addition, manufacturers possess different requirements when making these products; therefore, some brands might not be as safe as others (FDA). These risks should be taken into consideration when making the decision to take one or more dietary supplements (FDA).
Many dietary supplements may be deemed unsafe if individuals are taking one or more medications because the two may counteract with each other and cause serious side effects (NCCAM). Since the restrictions for dietary supplements are relaxed as compared to prescription medications, it is important to consider these differences when opting to take one or more dietary supplements (NCCAM). It is believed that some dietary supplements, such as herbs, are effective in treating or preventing illnesses; however, additional research is required in this area to confirm these statements and to apply them to larger populations (NCCAM). It is believed that “scientists have found that folic acid (a vitamin) prevents certain birth defects, and a regimen of vitamins and zinc can slow the progression of the age- related eye disease macular degeneration” (NCCAM). Therefore, many individuals may opt to take one or more dietary supplements to preserve their health without knowing all of the risks, which may be problematic over the long term (NCCAM).
Although dietary supplements are subject to FDA regulations and restrictions, some supplements, particularly some herbs, are not easily understood by many groups and are consumed without proper knowledge (NCCAM). This is a problematic circumstance that requires additional evaluation and education so that individuals are prepared for any type of risk associated with these supplements, including how they might impact their overall health and wellbeing over time (NCCAM). These efforts will produce successful outcomes for individuals taking these supplements as directed and under the direction of a physician as required (NCCAM).
It is important for individuals to develop a greater understanding of the different types of dietary supplements and the risks associated with taking these supplements to ensure that they will be safe and effective and not pose any risks. It is important to recognize these challenges and to consider the different concerns for those who are interested in taking dietary supplements. As a healthcare provider, it is necessary to evaluate these considerations and an individual patient’s health profile prior to making any recommendations regarding the use of dietary supplements on a regular basis as a means of health preservation and wellbeing.
Food and Drug Administration, 2013. “Dietary supplements: what you need to know.” 16 March 2013: http://www.fda.gov/Food/DietarySupplements/UsingDietarySupplements/ucm109760.htm
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), 2010. “Using dietary supplements wisely.” 16 March 2013: