Should I take dietary supplements?

By Dr. Josh Palgi


A dietary supplement is a product taken by mouth that contains a “dietary ingredient” intended to supplement or enhance the diet. Supplements help ensure that you get adequate amounts of essential nutrients or help promote optimal health and performance if you do not consume a variety of food, as recommended in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

More than 50 percent of adults in the United States take some sort of dietary supplement. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), multivitamins are the most commonly used supplement.

The “dietary ingredients” in a dietary supplement may include: vitamins, minerals, herbs, plants (such as gingko, biloba, ginseng, exhinacla) or enzymes. Dietary Supplements can be extracts or concentrates, and may be found in many forms such as tablets, capsules, soft gels, gel caps, liquids or powders. Congress defined “Dietary Supplement” in the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act in 1994.

Many terms are used when referring to either the amount of particular nutrients (such calcium or vitamin D) you should get or the amount that exists in a food or dietary supplement. The two most common are the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) and the Daily Value (DV). The RDA is the intake level of a nutrient that is considered to be sufficient to meet the requirement of 97-98 percent of healthy individuals in every demographic in the United States.

The RDA is used to determine the Daily Value (DV) of foods, which is printed on nutrition facts labels in the United States and Canada and is regulated by the FDA, and Health Canada.

Is it safe to take dietary supplements?

FDA regulates dietary supplement and dietary ingredients under a different set of regulations than those covering “conventional” food and drug products (prescription and over- the counter). Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, the dietary supplement or dietary ingredient manufacturer is responsible for ensuring that a dietary supplement or ingredient is safe before it is marketed. FDA is responsible for taking action against any unsafe dietary supplement product after it reaches the market. Generally, manufactures do not need to register their products with FDA nor get FDA approval before producing or selling dietary supplements. Eating a healthy well-balanced diet should provide you with all of the individual nutrients you need, but if you’re considering taking dietary supplements you must
be a safe and informed consumer.

Let your health care professional advise you on sorting reliable information. Contact the manufacturer for information about the product you intend to use

Be aware that some supplement ingredients, including nutrients and plant components, can be toxic. Also, some ingredients and products can be harmful when consumed in high amounts, when taken for a long time, or when used in combination with certain other drugs, substances, or foods.

Do not self-diagnose any health condition. Work with health care professionals to determine how best to achieve optimal health.

Do not substitute a dietary supplement for a prescription medicine or therapy, or for the variety of  foods important to a healthful diet.

Do not assume that the term “natural” in relation to a product ensures that the product is wholesome or safe.

Be wary of hype and headlines. Sound health advice is generally based upon research over time, not a single study.

To help consumers in their search to be better informed, FDA is providing the following sites:

  • /food/dietarysupplements/consumersinformation/ucm110564.htm
  • /food/fooddefense/bioterrorism/foodfacilityregistration/default/htm
  • /food/dietarysupplements/ucm109764/htm
  • /food/dietarysupplements/consumerinformation.ucm110567.htm
  • /food/dietarysupplements/alerts/ucm111110.htm
  • /food/labelingnutrition/labelclaims/ucm111447.htm
  • /food/dietarysupplements/consumerinformation/ucm110567.htm
  • /food/dietarysupplements/labelclaims/ucm111447.htm
  • /food/labelingnutrition/labelclaims/ucm111447.htm
  • /safety/medwatch/HowToReport/ucm085569.htm
  • /safety/MedWatch/HowToReport/ucm053074.htm
  • /Safety/ReportaProblem/ConsumerComplaintCoordinators/default.htm

Dr. Palgi is a professor in Kean’s Physical Education, Health and Recreation Department.

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