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Dietary Supplements – The Unknown Facts and Risks

Having a dietary supplement as a daily routine is a common thing in modern lifestyle. People do it to stay fit and healthy. The market is flooded with so many dietary supplements, lot of health claims are made about their benefits, however are they really safe and effective? This article is to analyze the information about dietary supplements, the safety considerations, and other unknown facets of Supplements.

Dietary Supplements – Key Points

  • There is a huge difference between over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements. The FDA (federal) regulations for dietary supplements are far simple and a dietary supplement does not have to prove a product’s safety and effectiveness before it is marketed to the people unlike prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
  • Dietary supplements may contain ingredients that are not listed on the label.
  • One should not hide anything from their health care provider, including things like alternative practices or dietary supplements. Such a practice will make sure of a coordinated and safe care.
  • Not many people know that the dietary supplement that they take can interact with their medications. People should get reliable information from trusted sources before opting for supplements. For instance kiwi supplements are blood thinners, hence should not be consumed before a heart surgery. Acai supplements should not be taken before an MRI scan as it can change the results. A lot of supplements can interact with the medications.

Definition of  “Dietary Supplements”:

A law passed in 1994 by the Congress named “Dietary Supplement Health Education Act (DSHEA) defines the term Dietary supplements. Acording to that law a dietary supplement can be defined as a product that:

  • Is intended to supplement the diet
  • Contains one or more dietary ingredients (including vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and certain other substances) or their constituents
  • Is intended to be taken by mouth, in forms such as tablet, capsule, powder, softgel, gelcap, or liquid
  • Is labeled as being a dietary supplement.
  • [highlight]Herbal supplements are one type of dietary supplement. An herb is a plant or plant part (such as leaves, flowers, or seeds) that is used for its flavor, scent, and/or therapeutic properties. “Botanical” is often used as a synonym for “herb.” An herbal supplement may contain a single herb or mixtures of herbs.[/highlight][/starlist]

dietary supplementsResearch has proven that several dietary and herbal supplements are effective in preventing or treating diseases. For example, scientists have found that folic acid (a vitamin) prevents certain birth defects, and a regimen of vitamins and zinc can slow the progression of the age- related eye disease macular degeneration. Also, calcium and vitamin D supplements can be helpful in preventing and treating bone loss and osteoporosis (thinning of bone tissue).

Research has also produced some promising results suggesting that other dietary supplements may be helpful for other health conditions (e.g., omega-3 fatty acids for coronary disease), but in most cases, additional research is needed before firm conclusions can be drawn.

Dietary Supplements – Federal Regulations:

The Federal Government regulates dietary supplements through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The regulations for dietary supplements are not the same as those for prescription or over-the-counter drugs. In general, the regulations for dietary supplements are less strict.

[box type=”success” align=”alignleft” width=”600″ ]A manufacturer does not have to prove the safety and effectiveness of a dietary supplement before it is marketed. A manufacturer is permitted to say that a dietary supplement addresses a nutrient deficiency, supports health, or is linked to a particular body function (e.g., immunity), if there is research to support the claim. Such a claim must be followed by the words “This statement has not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”

Manufacturers are expected to follow certain “good manufacturing practices” (GMPs) to ensure that dietary supplements are processed consistently and meet quality standards. Requirements for GMPs went into effect in 2008 for large manufacturers and are being phased in for small manufacturers through 2010.

Once a dietary supplement is on the market, the FDA monitors safety. If it finds a product to be unsafe, it can take action against the manufacturer and/or distributor, and may issue a warning or require that the product be removed from the marketplace.

Also, once a dietary supplement is on the market, the FDA monitors product information, such as label claims and package inserts. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is responsible for regulating product advertising; it requires that all information be truthful and not misleading.

The Federal Government has taken legal action against a number of dietary supplement promoters or Web sites that promote or sell dietary supplements because they have made false or deceptive statements about their products or because marketed products have proven to be unsafe.[/box]

Reliable Information Providers:

It is extremely important to get information from a reliable source rather than websites whose sole intention is to sell you some product. Also every person is unique, their needs and physical conditions are totally different and hence one should not blindly follow what others are taking as a supplement. One should understand their own body before deciding on the correct supplement.

Safety Considerations of Dietary Supplements:

If you are thinking about or are using a dietary supplement, here are some points to keep in mind.

It is especially important to talk to your health care provider if you are

  • Thinking about replacing your regular medication with one or more dietary supplements.
  • Taking any medications (whether prescription or over-the-counter), as some dietary supplements have been found to interact with medications.
  • Planning to have surgery. Certain dietary supplements may increase the risk of bleeding or affect the response to anesthesia.
  • Pregnant or nursing a baby, or are considering giving a child a dietary supplement. Most dietary supplements have not been tested in pregnant women, nursing mothers, or children.
  • If you are taking a dietary supplement, read the label instructions. Talk to your health care provider if you have any questions, particularly about the best dosage for you to take. If you experience any side effects that concern you, stop taking the dietary supplement, and contact your health care provider. You can also report your experience to the FDA’s MedWatch program. Consumer safety reports on dietary supplements are an important source of information for the FDA.[/checklist]

Risks Associated with Herbal Supplements:

  • An herbal supplement may not contain the correct plant species.
  • The amount of the active ingredient may be lower or higher than the label states. That means you may be taking less—or more—of the dietary supplement than you realize.
  • The dietary supplement may be contaminated with other herbs, pesticides, or metals, or even adulterated with unlabeled ingredients such as prescription drugs.
  • For current information from the Federal Government on the safety of particular dietary supplements, check the “Dietary Supplement and Safety Information” section of the FDA Web site at www.fda.gov/Food/DietarySupplements/Alerts/ or the “Alerts and Advisories” section of the NCCAM Web site at nccam.nih.gov/news/alerts.


  1. Barnes PM, Bloom B, Nahin R. Complementary and alternative medicine use among adults and children: United States, 2007. CDC National Health Statistics Report #12. 2008.
  2. Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. U.S. Food and Drug Administration Web site. Accessed at http://www.fda.gov/RegulatoryInformation/Legislation/ on May 12, 2008.
  3. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/supplements/wiseuse.htm
  4. Dietary supplements: overview. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Web site. Accessed at www.fda.gov/Food/DietarySupplements/ on May 12, 2008.
  5. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Product monographs. Accessed at www.naturaldatabase.com on May 13, 2008.

About the author


Ajithkumar, an Engineer and a management professional is the founder of AlternativeMedicineWiz.com. He’s practiced Yoga and Pranayama for more than a decade, after learning it from his renowned guru Gireeshan. He has a keen interest in Ayurveda and Siddha medicine.

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