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What Are Dietary Supplements?

What Are Dietary Supplements?

What are dietary supplements? This is an oft-asked question for individuals exploring health-boosting options. Dietary supplements give you the extra help you need to achieve good health. But, what exactly are dietary supplements? Are dietary supplements good or bad for you? Read on to find out the benefits of taking these supplements and their effects on your health.

What Are Dietary Supplements? Find Out If They’re Good for You

In this Article:

What Are Dietary Supplements?

What Are Dietary Supplements? | What Are Dietary Supplements? | benefits of taking vitamins


Dietary supplements are products you either eat or drink. They support good health and supplement your diet. They come in various forms: tablets, drinks, capsules, energy bars, and powders. Dietary supplements are not medicines or substitutes for food.

What Are Dietary Supplements Used for?

People take dietary supplements to ensure they get enough essential nutrients. This is necessary for maintaining or improving their health. It is possible to get all the nutrients your body needs by eating the right types of foods, but dietary supplements are useful in filling the gaps in your diet. Remember not to take dietary supplements to treat a self-diagnosed health condition.

Should You Take Dietary Supplements?

You don’t need a prescription to take dietary supplements, but it’s best to ask your doctor if you should take them and discuss which ones to choose for your body’s needs. Supplements address the nutrient deficiencies you might have and at the same time, enhance your health.

Who Shouldn’t Take Dietary Supplements?

If you have health issues, consult with your doctor before taking any dietary supplements. Before trying a supplement, talk to your doctor if:

  • You are taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. Some supplements might cause serious side effects when mixed with certain medicines.
  • You are pregnant or breastfeeding. Some medications might be harmful to your fetus or your breastfeeding child.
  • You will have surgery. Many supplements can affect the success of the surgery. Some may decrease the effectiveness of anesthetics. Others may cause dangerous complications, such as bleeding or high blood pressure.
  • You are younger than 18. There are not many tests done on young adults and children for supplement safety, while the bodies of older adults process medications differently.  Older adults often need supplements to help augment aging systems.

What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor About Taking Dietary Supplements?

What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor About Taking Dietary Supplements? | What Are Dietary Supplements? | dietary supplements good or bad


At the very least, you must ask, what do dietary supplements do? Consult your doctor if you need a dietary or nutrient supplement based on your diet and health. Ask about the benefits and risks the supplement has. Also, ask about the right dosage, frequency, and for how long you'll need to take it. Learn which supplements will best benefit your health.

Which Dietary Supplements Should I Take?

Dietary supplements can enhance health in different ways. The supplements you choose will depend on your health needs. These are the most popular dietary supplements due to the benefits they provide.

  • Calcium - supports bone health and maintains bone strength
  • Vitamin D - helps the body absorb calcium, can reduce the risk of certain cancers by as much as 80% if levels are adequate
  • Vitamins C and E - antioxidants which prevent cell damage caused by free radicals
  • Folic Acid - helps prevent complications during pregnancy for childbearing women and is also important for both detoxification and brain function
  • Vitamin B12 - keeps nerve and blood cells healthy
  • Fish Oil - promotes heart health, healthy hair and skin and prevents heart disease

Who Regulates Dietary Supplements?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) carries out government regulations on dietary supplements. But, the FDA considers them as foods rather than medications. The manufacturers are responsible for ensuring their products are safe and effective.

Does the FDA Approve Dietary Supplements?

The FDA does not consider dietary supplements as medicine, so they do not go through as much regulatory supervision as medications. The FDA does not have to approve or inspect dietary supplements sold in the market. At the very least, manufacturers follow "good manufacturing practices" (GMPs). This means their supplements must meet certain quality standards.

Are Dietary Supplements Exempted from Tax?

Health supplements and dietary foods are tax exempted in whatever form it is sold (powder, solid, liquid, etc). How will you know if it is under dietary food or health supplement? Dietary foods are used in special diets. This is often used as a substitute for natural food or to supplement a person's normal diet. Health supplements fall under dietary foods.

Do Dietary Supplements Contain Plant Extracts?

Dietary supplements, which contain plant extracts, are called herbal supplements or botanicals. Not all dietary supplements are botanicals or contain plant extracts.

Are Dietary Supplements Drugs?

Are Dietary Supplements Drugs? | What Are Dietary Supplements? | what do dietary supplements do


Drugs are substances that can alter the body's functions either physically or mentally. Medicine is the term for drugs that can cure, mitigate, or prevent disease. Dietary supplements are not drugs or medicines. They do not treat, prevent, or cure diseases.  The exception to this rule are supplements that have been certified by the FDA as Medical Foods.

How Do You Know If a Supplement Is of Good Quality?

A good quality dietary supplement should have a seal of approval. This seal must come from an organization that tests supplements. Some of these organizations include U.S. Pharmacopeia, Consumer Lab, or NSF International. You may also contact the manufacturer and ask about the research conducted regarding the benefits of their supplements. Also, ask about their production standards and the product's reported side effects.

Special Purpose Supplements

Many supplements are designed to help with certain medical conditions.  While unless they have been certified as Medical Foods by the FDA,  manufacturers cannot make medical claims,  However, many supplements are designed with a certain medical problem in mind.  There is often research on many of the ingredients used to make a specialty supplement, but not the supplement as a whole.  Many manufacturers publish these studies on the product page. If a manufacturer does the studies on the supplement and then submits the studies to the FDA for review and if FDA agrees, the supplement may be designated as a medical food.

Are Dietary Supplements Bad for You?

Dietary supplements can be detrimental if you take higher doses than necessary this is especially true of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, which can build up in your body.  Excess water-soluble vitamins are excreted in the urine.

Do Dietary Supplements Have Calories?

Supplements derived from whole food sources may contain calories. Some examples are fish oil and flaxseed supplements which both contain fats. A multivitamin supplement typically does not contain any calories. The Supplement Fact Label indicates the number of calories a dietary supplement has.

Do Dietary Supplements Expire?

Dietary supplements can last two years after the date of manufacture. The key here is proper storage and keeping the supplements away from heat, light, and humidity. Expired vitamins do not turn toxic or poisonous. It is not dangerous to take them but over time, they lose their potency.

Can Dietary Supplements Affect a Drug Test?

Dietary supplements are not standardized, approved, or FDA-controlled substances. The supplement may contain undeclared drug ingredients, and most likely, will not be on the Supplement Product Label. As a result, there is a chance for people taking dietary supplements to score positive on a drug test.

What do you need to know about dietary supplements? Check out this video from the National Institutes of Health:

Caring for your health means being cautious about what you put in your body. Taking dietary supplements and choosing the right kind for you are serious matters. You must talk to your doctor before taking any supplements to be on the safe side. Although there are several benefits of taking vitamins and supplements, it's important to know what risks might be associated with it.

What dietary supplements are you taking right now? Share your experiences in the comments section below!

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DISCLAIMER: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. None of the nutritional products mentioned are intended to Diagnose, Treat, Cure or Prevent any Disease.