Eating a variety of healthy foods is usually the best way to get the nutrients you need. Here are some suggestions for how to eat well for your health. With thousands of options to choose from, selecting a dietary supplement can be a challenge. If you are thinking about taking a dietary supplement, take these steps to protect your health:
- Talk to your doctor
- Talk with your doctor about dietary supplements – he or she can help you understand the real benefits and risks.
- Ask if there are any treatments that have proven to be effective, or any dietary changes that you should consider instead of, or as well as taking supplements.
- You can use this list to keep track of all the medicines and dietary supplements you are taking, and share it with your doctor and pharmacist.
- CAUTION: Do not give dietary supplements to children, or take supplements if you are pregnant or nursing, without talking to your doctor first. To learn about dietary supplement use in pregnancy, review the FDA's special update on supplement use in pregnancy and the Mayo clinic's article on supplement safety during pregnancy.
- Get more information and know the facts
- Safety and effectiveness:
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), regulates the safety of food and medicines but it does not determine whether dietary supplements are effective before they are marketed or sold. In general, there is very little quality research on dietary supplements. However, reliable information about the safety and effectiveness of dietary supplements is available from the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), the NIH Library of Medicine A-Z guide to herbs and supplements and the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.
- To receive current information on dietary supplement safety alerts and recalls, visit the FDA webpage. You can also sign up to receive email updates.
- Drug-supplement interactions: When taken with other medicines, some dietary supplements can be dangerous and/or can make your other medicines not work as well. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to learn how dietary supplements can interfere with your medicines. You can also use this Drug Interaction Checker.
- Is the online information trustworthy? A popular way to get information about health topics is to go on-line. Use this guide to help you know whether the information you’re finding on-line about supplements is trustworthy.
- Safety and effectiveness:
- Read the label
- The Dietary Supplement Label Database (DSLD) provides guidance on product labels, such as ingredients and safety warnings so that you can do some research before purchasing any dietary supplements. It also provides contact information for many dietary supplement companies.
- Consumer Reports has identified 15 ingredients to always avoid.
- Look for seals that monitor quality
Dietary supplements are not regulated according to the same quality standards as prescription drugs and over the counter medicines. Some studies tested dietary supplements, and found that they did not contain any of the ingredients listed on the label. On the other hand, some supplements contained substances that were not listed on the label. These unlisted ingredients included prescription drugs, banned substances, or contaminants such as lead and mercury.
Several independent organizations test samples of dietary supplements to see if they contain the ingredients listed on the label and do not contain harmful levels of contaminants. Their “seals of approval” are placed on products that pass their tests.
It is important to note that a seal does not guarantee that the product is safe or effective. To learn more, read the Consumer Report’s article ‘What 'USP Verified' and Other Supplement Seals Mean’.
- Check for safety alerts and recalls
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Office of Dietary Supplements provide up to date product safety information for consumers.
- Be on the alert for scams
Dietary supplements may be sold as “miracle cures”. Beware of products that promise to cure a chronic illness or treat a condition that does not have a cure. Ask questions and learn how to spot a scam, especially if a product claims to improve physical appearance or athletic or sexual performance. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Seniors and Supplements
Athletes and Supplements
- The Supplement 411 website from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has information for athletes on dietary supplements safety issues and lists of banned substances.
Information on how to eat well and get more nutrients from your diet: