Are Dietary Supplements Safe to Use? - An Expert's Perspective

Most people can safely use dietary supplements as long as they don't overtake them. However, dietary supplements aren't totally safe and taking them can carry risks, especially for people being treated for cancer. Multivitamins, vitamin D, echinacea, and fish oil are among the many dietary supplements found on store shelves or available online. Maybe you're already taking a supplement or thinking about using one. Dietary supplements can be beneficial to health, but they can also pose health risks.

Therefore, it's important to talk to a health professional to help you decide if a supplement is right for you. For someone who is generally healthy and eats a wide variety of foods, supplements aren't worth it. Supplements aren't meant to replace food because they don't include all the nutrients and benefits of whole foods, such as fiber and phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables. However, for people with certain health conditions, it's not always possible to eat a variety of foods to meet their nutritional needs. It is important to consult with a healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement to determine how much is safe to take based on individual needs.

Vitamins are generally considered safe by the general public and a large percentage of the population uses them. In one survey, half of people aged 50 to 64 took vitamins, a figure that increased to 68% in people aged 65 and older. While vitamin C and vitamin B12 are generally considered safe in any amount, excessive amounts of certain vitamins are associated with harm. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which oversees product advertising, also requires that information about a supplement be truthful and not misleading. Dietary supplements are intended to add to or supplement the diet and are different from conventional foods.

It is also important to be careful when giving supplements to a child, unless recommended by your healthcare provider. A 2002 FTC report on 300 weight-loss ads, two-thirds of which were for dietary supplements, found many false or misleading claims, including safety claims made without any scientific data to back them up. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires supplement companies to label the ingredients in their products. Manufacturers and distributors of dietary supplements are responsible for ensuring that their products are safe before they go to market. Recall notices are also posted on the FDA website, or you can sign up to receive alerts from the FDA about recalls and safety alerts. Manufacturers may say, for example, that a supplement promotes health or supports a part or function of the body (such as heart health or the immune system).

It's not wise to rely on the claims made by manufacturers of dietary supplements about the effectiveness or safety of their products. In general, if a product is intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent diseases, it is considered a drug even if it is labeled as a dietary supplement. In the case of herbal supplements, it's worth knowing how they might interact with other supplements and prescription medications. The FDA has established good manufacturing practices (GMP) that companies must follow to help ensure the identity, purity, concentration and composition of their dietary supplements. Products sold as dietary supplements come with supplemental information labels that list the active ingredients, the amount per serving (dose), and other ingredients such as fillers, binders, and flavorings. Tell your healthcare providers (including doctors, dentists, pharmacists, and dieticians) about any dietary supplements you are taking. Unfortunately, this is another case of scant knowledge about the safety or effectiveness of supplements that are widely sold.

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