What is a Nutrition Supplement?

Nutrition or Dietary Supplements are so hot right now BUT … What are they?

Define Nutrition Supplement Please

So according to the FDA, a nutrition or dietary supplement is anything that contains a “‘dietary ingredient.’ Dietary ingredients include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and herbs or botanicals, as well as other substances that can be used to supplement the diet.” Most are taken orally whether that is in capsule, liquid, powder, tablet or bar form.

Good News – you have many choices from which to choose!

Bad News – you have too many choices from which to choose!

Why take a supplement?

First, you will know it is a supplement and not a food when the label on the product actually says “Supplement Facts.”

Second, people take supplements for a variety of reasons. This is probably one reason why there are a variety of supplements. Some want it for personal diets and to lose weight, lower cholesterol, improve and protect neurons (brain health), etc. Some want it for medical reasons such as diabetes, stroke and heart attack prevention, or filling a deficiency. Others still, will take it to improve their appearance, energy, sleep or to balance hormone levels. Whatever the reason, there is probably a supplement (or two) for you.

Any advice for supplement taking?

Yes – the FDA suggests checking with your health care provider first. Some supplements have strong ingredients, causing biological effects, and may not be safe. Here is some general advice though:

  • Supplements cannot claim to treat, diagnose, cure, or alleviate the effects of diseases. They may be useful, however, in preventing disease, strengthening one’s immune system, or expediting recovery. Some supplements have been studied extensively so their benefits are widely known and prescribed by doctor’s such as prenatal vitamins.
  • Use supplements wisely. Taking supplements can be harmful is taken without knowledge and research (so… good thing you are here!). A combination of supplements along with medications or using supplements instead of certain prescribed medicines can have harmful or fatal results.
  • Check effects before surgery. Most supplements are fine but some can have negative effects if you plan on having surgery. For example taking garlic, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, or Vitamin E can cause bleeding. Kava and valerian can increase anesthesia effects during a surgery as they are natural sedatives. So, be sure to tell your doctor not only any and all medications you are taking but also any/all supplements you are using.

Are Supplements Regulated?

That’s a good questions BECAUSE…the FDA has little to do with the supplement until it enters the market place. Well, what does that mean for you –

  • Every dietary or nutritional supplement is labeled with the “supplement” description.
  • Dietary supplements do not need to be proven safe by the FDA until it is marketed
  • Supplemental safety and verification begins AFTER the product is available for purchase. The federal law does not require a nutritional/ dietary supplement to prove that its claim is truthful or accurate until it becomes available to consumers.
  • Advertising (add on radio, television, social media, etc.) fall under the Federal Trade Commission NOT the FDA
  • Once on the market, the FDA:
    • monitoring mandatory reporting of serious adverse effects by dietary supplement firms
    • monitoring voluntary adverse effects by consumers and health care professionals
    • Inserts such as package inserts, accompanying literature, internet promotion, and other product information is included
  • Dietary supplement manufacturers don’t need to get the agency’s seal of approval in order to produce or sell a product
  • Supplements cannot be marketed as a way to cure, treat, or alleviate symptoms of diseases.

Are supplements safe?

Many supplements are just fine and have very clean, safe histories. For example, millions of people (especially American) take folic acid and/or a prenatal vitamin. These supplements have show to benefit a woman and child’s health and reduce the risk of birth defects and difficulties.

However, some supplements get recalled. There are a few reasons for these recalls:

  • Contamination of microbiological, pesticide, and heavy metals
  • absence of a product claimed to be present
  • the presence of more or less of an ingredient than claimed on the label

Some manufacturers will even try to sell false products in hopes they can get your money with wild claims. They know the FDA cannot look into their products until it hits the market. Therefore, if they can get you to buy their product quickly BEFORE the FDA can recall it, they will still make money.

As a Consumer –

So, as a more informed consumer, be sure that the dietary/ nutritional supplement you are purchasing and taking is safe and appropriate for you and your loved ones. Make sure it is also being taken for its intended purpose. Meaning – don’t take a prenatal vitamin is you’re not pregnant.

Also, …

  • Inform your health care physician and seek advice regarding how to sort about reliable information
  • Contact the manufacturer – you should ALWAYS have a way to contact them. If not, consider it questionable and don’t buy
  • Avoid self-diagnosis. Work with a health care professional and decide on the best supplements, brand, amount, etc. to achieve optimal health
  • “Natural” is just another word. It doesn’t mean natural. investigate to see what is actually “natural” in the supplement.
  • Don’t base your decision on one study or on headlines. Remember, the FDA needs times to investigate new supplements. So new products that have promising headlines and are full of hype, may not be the best for your long term health.
  • If it’s too good to be true – RUN! DON’T BUY!!

What if it’s too late?

If you have ANY adverse effects from a supplement, report to the FDA as soon as possible. Certainly contact your health care professional as well. You can contact the FDA about your situation through this link: For information on how to do this, go to www.fda.gov/FDAgov/Food/DietarySupplements/Alerts/ucm111110.htm.

You can also report to the manufacturer or distributor directly. There is most likely a phone number or address listed on the product label as well. Just a reminder – the dietary supplement firms are REQUIRED to forward reports of adverse effects to the FDA within 15 days. So, your individual case may not seem like a big deal but if everyone reports, then the consumers across the country, across the world get a better idea of the product.


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