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Dietary Supplements: What you must know.

Updated: Jun 16, 2023

Supplements are a very big part of today's pharmaceutical achievements. They are worth billions of dollars and still fast-growing. One in three Americans is taking at least one supplement alongside other medications.

We already established that like any drug, dietary supplements should be recommended with dosages by your healthcare provider before they are consumed. But are supplements truly what they should be? Should everyone have them? What surrounds the existence of a supplement and how can I know which is best for me? These and some other points will be discussed in this article.

Supplements" What you must know before taking them

Earlier, I have described the major things to look out for in a dietary supplement, its composition and why they are called supplements. You can read that here. Today we see many manufacturers flash their products in our faces and stalk us with them even when we do not really need them. I am sure I am not the only one who now feels the pharmaceutical industry is now more of a business thing than a wellness aid. But let us look at what surrounds the use of a supplement.

How safe are supplements?

Supplements have a long history of making up for dietary nutrients that we often fail to get in our diets. This is true because we often sideline the nutrient-dense foods for some foods which are barely having a few nutrients. The presence of very active compounds in dietary supplements has been the reason why they have been very effective in making up for our adequacies through our poor diet.

However, the efficiency of a dietary supplement does not mean safe at any pharmacological or physiological level. Most of the active compounds used to formulate supplements are not totally tested for approval before they are marketed and sold to consumers.

The FDA for example does not have a provision to approve dietary supplements as it does for drugs. The FDA simply expect that the content in and on the label of the dietary supplement is not misleading and truthful. They can only call for their removal from the marketplace after the supplement has been reported to be harmful, usually by the public or other competitors.

On The Quality of Dietary Supplements

So the efficacy of a dietary supplement may be positive based on the component, but may also be harmful to other aspects of our health because of the other active ingredients present. A few exceptions are with herbal formulations.

Although they may be sometimes free from side effects but may not be very advisable to be used for the long term, because the extract is usually very highly concentrated and can be overdosed.

Also note that the words “natural”, and “standardised” which may be inscribed on the label do not interpret quality, free form side effects or are truly natural.

Some may contain cautionary statements which already show that it is capable of giving discomfort to some of their users.

Labels or inscriptions on supplements can be misleading, this is why you need to consult your healthcare worker before you use any supplement. Ideally, they should be recommending supplements to you after a poor nutrient diagnosis, not promoting any brand.

However, good manufacturing practices are fondly the major things put in place for dietary supplement manufacturing companies. Dietary supplement manufacturers have been expected to only guarantee the purity, potency, composition and identity of the product. Typically to prevent the addition of adulterants, avoid the inaccurate quantity of ingredients, reduce contamination, and ensure proper packaging and labelling as well as storage of the product.

Safety and Risk: What is the degree of risk they pose?

Many dietary supplements are undoubtedly potent due to the active ingredients in them, and hence they also pose a risk if overdosed on. One also needs to be watchful for possible reactions in the body, especially when taking a new supplement.

The chances of experiencing more obvious side effects come chiefly from an overdose.

While taking dietary supplements, we also ought to know that it can trigger an interaction with other medications which are being used and it may reduce their potency or inhibit their actions.

A typical example is taking Vitamin K supplements when using medications like warfarin which is supposed to improve blood thinning. An inhibition happens and the patient may have a severe crisis. Likewise, certain types of cancer chemotherapy have been seen to be inefficient when Vitamins C and E are in use.

It is interesting to also know that some of the “fortification” in your breakfast cereals, cooking ingredients and co are supplementary ingredients added to those foods. So before you embark on taking any supplement, discuss it with your healthcare professional (doctors, pharmacists, dietitians, etc).

Children, nursing mothers and pregnant women are most vulnerable to side effects and reactions that may occur when taking supplements. Hence, they should be careful about using dietary supplements except otherwise stated by their healthcare professional. This is because many supplements have not been appropriately tested for safety in children, nursing and pregnant women.

Of course, every reaction and side effect should be reported to the healthcare professional and the dietary supplement should be discontinued immediately.

A Lasting Solution

A healthy salad bowl

A well-nourishing diet is still the best way of taking in essential nutrients for a normal adult. This is a very safe and pure way. There are no side effects to eating fresh foods and nourishing meals. The best nutrient-dense foods are whole plant foods. They contain a lot of nutrients that are naturally occurring and highly absorbable by the body.

Whole foods will typically include all fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices like turmeric, ginger, garlic, cloves, cinnamon, etc. Legumes and pulses, cereals and grains and green leafy vegetables (fresh or frozen).

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