Health supplements – What you need to know

Introduction

Dietary supplements are products designed to augment your daily intake of nutrients, including such ingredients as vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, and enzymes, probiotics, botanicals, and animal extracts. Dietary supplements are marketed in forms such as tablets, capsules, softgels, gelcaps, powders, and liquids.

 

What are the benefits of dietary supplements?

Some supplements can help assure that you get enough of the vital substances the body needs to function; others may help reduce the risk of disease. But supplements should not replace complete meals which are necessary for a healthful diet – so, be sure you eat a variety of foods as well.

Normally, you should be able to get all the nutrients you need from a balanced diet. However, supplements can provide you with extra nutrients when your diet is lacking or certain health conditions (such as cancer, diabetes, or chronic diarrhea) trigger a deficiency. A multivitamin/ mineral supplement will provide all the micronutrients your body needs. They are generally safe because they contain only small amounts of each nutrient 

Individual nutrients are available as supplements, usually in doses larger than your typical multivitamin. They can be used to treat a deficiency, such as an iron deficiency, or reduce the risk of a medical condition, such as hypertension.

For example, large doses of vitamin B3 (niacin) can help raise “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, while folic acid has long been used to reduce the risk of a birth defect called spina bifida. Antioxidants, such as vitamin C and vitamin E, may reduce the toxic effect of chemotherapy drugs (allowing patients to tolerate larger doses of chemo).

Every year, consumers spend over a billion dollars on vitamins and other dietary supplements in the hopes of restoring or preserving their health. 

On one hand, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet should provide you with all of the individual nutrients you need. But, on the other hand, if your diet isn’t so good, some of those nutrients might be deficient.

A supplement or multivitamin can help fill the nutrient gaps in your diet—but multivitamins won’t fix an unhealthy diet. For example, a person who hates fruits and vegetables might not get enough vitamin C, and someone who refuses to eat dairy products may need extra calcium. Taking a daily multivitamin/multimineral product is an inexpensive and easy way to ensure the recommended dietary intakes for most vitamins and minerals are met.

But what if you want to take dietary supplements to reduce your risk of a specific disease? In most cases, adding a supplement to your daily diet won’t make much of a difference, if any. Unless a specific deficiency is identified, a supplement is usually not necessary if you eat and exercise properly. The appropriate use of supplements can help you avoid side effects and toxicities associated with overuse.

Unlike drugs, supplements are not permitted to be marketed for the purpose of treating, diagnosing, preventing, or curing diseases

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