Benefits of Dietary Supplements: Benefits, Uses, and Risks – Greatist

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Are you considering taking dietary supplements on your health quest? If you’re vigorously nodding, you ain’t alone! But are supplements safe and effective?
More than half of all American adults use supplements on the regular (and the percentage soars as we age). Given that dietary supplements might be part of your self-care strategy, ya might wanna know if they’ll help you reach your desired outcomes, such as boosting overall well-being or warding off illness.
Or will they just make your pee rainbow-colored and expensive? Worse, could dietary supplements be harmful to you? We popped the capsule of truth to let you know what’s what.
Let’s take a look at what dietary supplements may do for you — and whether they live up to that potential.
There’s a huge variety of dietary supplements on the market — from vitamin A to zinc and everything in between — that aim to address a spectrum of health conditions.
We’re going to lump them into three categories:
In a nutshell, there are countless dietary supplements that may yield benefits for an equally countless number of physical and mental health concerns. Buuuuuuut…
Oh, wow, now this is a doozy of a topic. To put it mildly, effectiveness of dietary supplements is… inconclusive.
The number and quality of studies on dietary supplements is pretty uneven.
Many existing studies are observational, meaning that the researchers didn’t use any control groups. This could render the findings a bit skewed. Controlled randomized studies often generate results that are totally different from those of observational studies.
Certain celebrity supplements — like magnesium and potassium — have enjoyed being the subject of much research, so there’s a lot more hard data available to analyze on those.
Other supplements (the up-and-comers) don’t necessarily have loads of studies backing them, so there are still pretty big question marks about their effectiveness.
Clearly, we could all benefit from continued investigation of the effects of supplements.
Getting your nutrients from a healthful, well-balanced diet can be way more effective than getting them from supplements. (Plus, it could be cheaper and tastier!)
But certain groups of people can’t get the nutrients they need through diet alone for a variety of reasons, so supplements may be essential.
Dietary restrictions may lead to nutrient deficiency in some people (vegans, for example). An inability to fully absorb B12 from food as we age (which might be due to low stomach acid levels) or increased nutrient needs seen in hypermetabolic states like cancer might also be responsible.
Whatever the cause, supplements can plug these gaps in nutritional intake.
Supplements can also be really helpful for correcting a vitamin D deficiency. This type of deficiency is super common, and vitamin D doesn’t pop up in many foods. Vitamin D deficiency is much more common in people with obesity and people with certain health conditions.
So, unless you’re getting ample sunshine and are in perfect health, you have a pretty good chance of developing low vitamin D levels or a full-on deficiency.
Common meds — including certain types of birth control, metformin, and statins — can also deplete nutrients in your body. This can make it hard to get optimal amounts through your diet alone.
Chew on that for a bit…
Dietary supplements could be really useful if you can’t get all the nutrients you need from food sources. This may be due to:
As with any substance you’re putting in or on your body, supplements come with a chance of an unintended negative response — like an allergic reaction, side effects, or interactions with medications you’re taking.
The FDA doesn’t regulate dietary supplements in the same way as drugs — instead, it regulates them in a similar way to food. This means it doesn’t have the authority to weigh in on the safety or effectiveness of a supplement. That responsibility is left to the supplement maker.
Manufacturers are supposed to ensure that supplements are safe before bringing them to the marketplace. Another buuuuuuuut…
The marquee nutrient in many supplements — the ginger or curcumin or echinacea, for example — is usually considered safe for most people when taken properly. The government deems these substances “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS).
But probs can come up. In fact, on average, there are about 23,000 ER visits per year for adverse events related to dietary supplements.
So, what are the biggest issues? Well…
There’s a lot you can do to make supplementation a safer experience. Isn’t it great to have personal agency?
Confirm that the supplements you’re considering are a good idea for you, specifically. Before starting a new supplement routine, it’s a good idea to touch base with a healthcare professional. After all, you want to make sure you’re tending to your unique needs in the safest and most effective way possible.
If you have a go-to doctor or other healthcare pro, they know your individual medical profile. They’ll be able to advise you on how a certain supplement might interfere with other meds you’re taking or impact any health conditions you may have.
Some supplements can block the absorption or alter the effects of medications. For example, your body may not absorb the full amount of your prescribed drugs.
Here are some common supplements that don’t mingle so nicely with certain prescription medications:
Also note that:
If you want quality products, you’re gonna have to do some due diligence. That means using common sense plus doing solid research on the supplement and manufacturer. You can better evaluate the potential safety and effectiveness of a supplement once you’re armed with information.
Here are some tips to get you started:
Dietary supplements are vitamins, minerals, and other substances designed to enhance your nutrition. Supplements come in many oral forms, like pills, powders, liquids, bars, and gummies.
People take supplements with hopes of maintaining or improving overall wellness, addressing specific health conditions, or preventing illness or injury. Each supplement offers unique potential benefits.
Supplementation does come with some risks. You might experience adverse effects or allergic reactions. Talk with a healthcare pro before starting any supplements, especially if you have existing medical concerns.
More and better research is needed to determine the safety and effectiveness of most supplements.
As always, your diet should be your primary source of nutrients. This is why it’s important to eat a nutrient-dense, varied diet. However, some people may need to take one or more dietary supplements for a number of reasons.
It’s best to work with your healthcare team when considering dietary supplements. They can help you decide whether supplements are necessary for your specific needs and, if they are, which ones are most effective and safe.
Last medically reviewed on July 21, 2021



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