Nutrition Basics: Are Supplements Safe and Healthy?

Dietary supplements can be both beneficial and risky to your health.

You’ve probably used dietary supplements, heard about them, or even recommended them to a loved one. Some supplements are known and well-established while others require additional study to determine their safety.

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviews dietary supplements for efficacy and safety, this is only done post-marketing.

Speak to your healthcare provider before you opt for a supplement, especially for first-time use. With the right usage, supplements can strike a balance between the food you consume and the nutrients your body needs.

But…

What are dietary supplements?

Kids and adults in the United States of America take at least one dietary supplement or vitamin daily.

The term ‘dietary supplement’ is used to refer to products such as botanicals, vitamins, and minerals, and bio-similar products such as the ‘natural male hormone.’

However, the term ‘supplement’ is often used when referring to a single mineral preparation, vitamin, or a multivitamin (contains at least 10 minerals, vitamins, or both).

Produced from synthetic or food sources, dietary supplements provide nutrients to supplement diets. Supplements are popular despite the existence of little evidence to show their health benefits.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, supplements often used for vitamin D, multivitamins, vitamin C, and calcium offer no protection against cardiovascular diseases.

Apart from vitamins, other ingredients often used to prepare supplements to include:

  • Herbs
  • Minerals
  • Amino acids
  • Botanicals
  • Enzymes

Supplements are also made in various forms, including:

  • Capsules
  • Tablets
  • Powders
  • Gummies
  • Energy bars
  • Drinks or liquids
  • Gelcaps
  • Soft gels


Examples of popular supplements include:

  • Minerals such as iron and calcium
  • Vitamins D and B12
  • Glucosamine
  • Fish oils
  • Probiotics
  • Green Tea
  • Herbs such as garlic and Echinacea


Note that the examples above are neither FDA-approvals nor endorsements.

Benefits of dietary supplements

Supplements can help you get vital substances your body requires to function in sufficient amounts. Others can also lower the risk of disease. However, they don’t replace meals essential for a healthy diet. Make sure you eat various foods despite taking supplements.

For instance, the perfect keto is a supplement specifically designed to boost your health. However, otologic reviews indicate that it can improve your mental performance in terms of health benefits.

Unlike medication, supplements aren’t promoted for treatment, diagnosis, or disease curing purposes. This means that no supplement is allowed to claim benefits such as ‘treats heart disease’ or ‘lowers high cholesterol.’ Such claims are only legitimate for drugs.

Many people worldwide take supplements even with little to no evidence that proves their health benefits. People take supplements as something extra that can boost their basic nutritional requirements.

Additionally, people feel healthier when they do something they believe can boost their health, be it exercise or supplements.

What are the risks associated with taking supplements?

Most supplements contain active ingredients with strong biological impacts on the body. As a result, they can complicate or hurt your health in specific situations. For instance, the following actions can be harmful or even life-threatening:

  • Using a mix of medication (OTC or prescription) and supplements
  • Taking a combination of supplements
  • Taking excess supplements such as vitamin A, D, and iron
  • Using supplements as a substitute for prescription medications
  • Taking supplements before surgery, during surgery, or even after a surgical procedure.

Therefore, it’s important to let your pharmacist or physician know about any supplement you’re taking when getting a prescription.

How safe are dietary supplements?

FDA only reviews dietary supplements for safety and efficacy post being marketed. It’s entirely upon supplement manufacturers and distributors to ensure they’re safe prior to market entry.

However, each time a NEW ingredient is included in a supplement, the FDA must be notified before it’s marketed. The notification involves reviewing the supplement for safety only, but not effectiveness.

Additionally, the FDA doesn’t approve supplements.

Every supplement manufacturer is required to produce high-quality products without impurities or contaminants. The products must also be labeled in accordance with labeling practices and current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP).

Adverse events or serious issues related to supplements are reported to FDA. Products with misleading or false claims and those found to be unsafe can be taken off the market.

How to find more information about your diet supplement


Labels on supplement products comprise of the manufacturer or distributor’s name and location. You can access the manufacturer’s website for more information about the product claims, safety, and ingredient effectiveness.

Tips to consider when shopping for supplements


Consider the following tips to help you shop for supplements:

Use non-commercial websites such as FDA, NIH, and USDA to find information when searching for the right supplements online.

Be cautious when a supplement seems to promise too much and seems too good to be true. Look out for phrases such as “no side effects,” “totally safe,” “works better than…,” etc.

Note that natural isn’t always safe.

Is the supplement in question safe and beneficial for your specific needs? Find out from your doctor.

Your health must come first. If a supplement seems risky, you can do without it.