What Should You Consider Before Taking Nutrient Supplements?

Given the current framework, it is difficult to guarantee that any vitamin, mineral, probiotic, sports supplement, herbal treatment, or other dietary supplement is safe, effective, or even contains what is listed on its label. Last year, an investigation by the New York Attorney General's Office found that several popular brand-name supplements at four major retailers (GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart) contained contaminants that were not listed on the label. Only 21 percent of them actually had the DNA of the plant species they intended to sell. To address this issue, a handful of private and independent non-profit organizations have stepped in to inspect some dietary supplements and report on the results.

The United States Pharmacopoeia Convention (USP) runs a voluntary program to inspect and certify the quality of a company's products and facilities. Those who pass can place the organization's yellow and black “USP Verified” seal on their products; however, less than 1 percent of all supplements on the market have this label. The international non-profit public health organization NSF International also has a similar program aimed at sports supplements. In the United Kingdom, the use of dietary supplements by women, especially those over 40 years of age, is widespread.

However, according to surveillance data, there seems to be a disparity between nutritional and health needs and the actual use of dietary supplements by women. This apparent paradox forms the basis of an inverse supplement hypothesis (that is, people who need supplements are less likely to take them). Little research has been done to examine the factors that underlie the decision to use dietary supplements. The reasons for consuming dietary supplements are often complex and combine social, psychological, knowledge and economic factors.

Planned behavior theory is a widely used model for evaluating factors that influence behavioral motivation and action and can be useful for evaluating specific practices related to diet and nutrition. It provided the basis for the development of a questionnaire to explore the general use of dietary supplements in a cohort of women in the United Kingdom. The analysis of factors related to the beliefs that underlie the use of dietary supplements revealed differences between supplement users and non-users. The differences included a stronger belief among users than non-users that taking dietary supplements protects against potential health problems.

Both users and non-consumers of supplements also perceived that the media (books and magazines) had a powerful influence on a person's decision to use supplements. These findings highlight the potential of planned behavior theory to explore supplement consumption behavior and shed light on the factors that influence a person's motivations to use dietary supplements. When it comes to taking nutrient supplements, safety and quality should be top priorities for consumers. From individual vitamins and minerals to nutrient blends and herbs, there are numerous supplement products on the market that claim to offer specific health benefits.

If you feel like you're missing a certain nutrient (for example, vegetarians and vegans often don't get enough B vitamins from food), you can make up for it with supplements. In addition to special foods that help compensate for any key nutrients you think you might be missing, you can also find options that help you achieve a particular health or wellness goal. A varied and balanced diet also provides other essential nutrients and plant compounds important for health. For example, there are different requirements for serving sizes and the nutrients listed on each serving label.

The National Institutes of Health has summarized what is known about the most commonly consumed supplements, vitamins and minerals in a series of fact sheets. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies who are partially and exclusively breastfed receive approximately 400 IU of vitamin D a day in supplement form until they begin to consume milk fortified with vitamin D (1). An observational study of 30,899 adults in the United States revealed that adequate intake of certain nutrients through dietary sources was associated with a reduced risk of death from heart disease as well as death from any cause (1). It is important to note that even if you think you're consuming a safe and harmless supplement, third-party evaluators such as both NSF Certified for Sport and Informed Sport are crucial certifications to consider (more on that later).

Many people say that they rely on supplements as a type of “insurance policy” to ensure that they are getting all the nutrients they need. Under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, foods and dietary supplements must explicitly indicate the presence of any of the eight major allergens (4).

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