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Dietary Supplements – Under The Microscope

Written by Courteney

Posted on May 15, 2016 at 11:46 pm


Over half of Americans take some kind of vitamin or mineral supplement daily. While vitamin supplements can be a puzzle piece to a healthy lifestyle especially if someone has a deficiency, they can also cause significant complications when taken in excess, in combination with other supplements or medications, or in the presence of certain conditions. Not only that, but dietary supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA the same as medications, so some of them contain unwanted filler ingredients that aren’t even required to be listed on the bottle.

What Are Dietary Supplements?

Dietary supplements are natural or synthetic reproductions of dietary components such as vitamins, minerals, herbs, or amino acids in pill form. They are intended to supplement micronutrients in your diet. Many supplements have extra “inactive” ingredients and make label claims to help or “cure” certain health conditions.

Potential Health Perks of Vitamin and Mineral Supplements

Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are essential to sustain good health, but you can generally gather the variety and amounts you need from eating a healthy, diverse diet. Unfortunately, too many Americans have poor diets, consuming ‘junk food’ or empty calories in place of vitamin and mineral rich foods like fresh produce. In these cases, supplements may help somewhat with diet-related micronutrient shortfalls, but won’t take the place of consuming them organically through diet.

Who Can Best Benefit From Supplements?

Some people have micronutrient deficiencies such as low iron or low magnesium. In these cases, the person may have trouble metabolizing the deficient vitamin or mineral through diet and may need the right dietary supplement to help replenish the deficit. Others who may benefit by (doctor-guided) consumption of supplements would be pregnant women (some take folic acid, or need extra iron or calcium) or senior citizens who may not get all their required nutrients from diet or may have deficiencies.

Supplements Come With Potential Risks

According to the FDA of the risks of dietary supplements include:

  • Overdosing: taking too much of a vitamin or mineral you don’t need (already have plenty of) can cause toxicity, causing problems with the kidneys or stomach, just to name a couple. It can be quite dangerous in some cases.
  • Drug interactions: many supplements can interact adversely with certain medications to cause illness. For example John’s Wort can interfere with the effectiveness of anti-depressants, blood pressure medication and birth control.
  • Combining unsafe supplements: similarly to interacting with medications, supplements can also interact with other supplements to cause adverse effects.
  • Substituting supplements for actual medications: Supplements are not It is dangerous to stop taking doctor prescribed medications and start self-medicating with supplements. This can lead to illness, progression of your illness or even death. It is important to consult a doctor before making any changes to your medical treatment.

aside from iron, the FDA doesn’t require supplements to harbour warnings about interactions or potential health risks like medications have to. So unless you actually show your doctor the bottle you’ve purchased, you can’t be sure what it contains.

Supplements Aren’t Well Regulated

According to Consumer Reports between 2009-2012 there were reports of 115 deaths and over 2100 hospitalizations linked to the use of dietary supplements. This is largely due to the fact that supplements aren’t as closely regulated as medications are. Supplement producers don’t have as stringent label restrictions and regulations either. Some more dangerous supplements out there actually contain drugs such as Viagra or synthetic steroids, despite the fact they market “herbal” or “dietary” products. This is dangerous because many patients have conditions or are taking medications that may react with these added drug ingredients.

Do Your Research!

  1. Is the supplement safe and effective?
  2. Is it good quality? Does it contain extra, potentially unwanted or problematic ingredients?
  3. Is the dosage appropriate for your circumstances?
  4. Be sure to ask a doctor before starting any supplements as they can interact with medications.

Thanks for visiting DocChat! Check out our posts on: Vitamin DVitamin B12 and Magnesium, and keep an eye out for more to come!

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