The Importance of Safely Using Supplements
As increasing numbers of Americans take supplements in an effort to live more healthy lives, it becomes very important that consumers understand the pros and cons of supplemental products. With the market flooded with supplements that claim major health advantages, there is a strong need for research before you settle on any one product.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for regulating dietary supplements. Their website is a good place to start your research.
The National Institutes of Health’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey has collected data from 2003 to 2006 about dietary supplements. They found that 53% of American adults take at least one dietary supplement. Additionally, women are more likely to take supplements than men.
Defining Dietary Supplements
In 1994, Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act. The Act defined a dietary supplement as a product that is intended to supplement the diet and containing one or a combination of dietary ingredients such as vitamins, botanicals, minerals, herbs, or amino acids.
These supplements had to be ingested as a tablet, soft gel, capsule, powder, gel cap or liquid.
Side Effects of Dietary Supplements
Like any other chemical combination, dietary supplements are known to have side effects on the human body. With many active ingredients, it is important that you monitor your body as you take dietary supplements to be aware of any unexpected harmful effects.
Supplements come in different doses. Most side effects occur when people take the wrong dose, wrong combination, or wrong amount of supplements.
Some supplements can increase the risk of bleeding and should be avoided before or after surgery. For instance, Vitamin K can reduce the ability of certain blood thinners to prevent blood clotting.
The use of Vitamins C and E can negatively impact cancer chemotherapy.
Certain supplements are known to interact with specific prescription drugs in a harmful manner and thus, should be carefully monitored. For example, St. John’s Wort is known to speed up the breakdown of antidepressants and birth control pills, leading to reduced efficacy.
Additionally, as growing number of food products are including dietary supplements in their ingredients, you might be ingesting more of certain supplements than required. This could lead to symptoms such as headaches, liver damage, reduced bone strength and, in some cases, birth defects. Sometimes people might experience intense nausea and vomiting after taking supplements such as multivitamins.
If you are pregnant, nursing, or about to get pregnant, you should be extra careful about taking supplements since most companies do not test for this group specifically.
Safety Considerations for Taking Dietary Supplements
Much like any other chemical combination you intake, be cautious about your dietary supplements.
Talk to your healthcare provider and learn about all possible side effects. Make sure you discuss any other medications you are taking, your health history, and your current health habits. This will allow them to educate you about any possible side effects and what to do if they occur.
If you are about to have surgery, tell your surgeon about your dietary supplements since some products are known to interfere with anesthetics, besides increasing your chances of bleeding.
All dietary supplement companies are required to put the ingredients list on the container. Read the ingredient list carefully and follow the label instructions to the letter. If you feel any nasty side effects, stop taking the supplements immediately and talk to your healthcare provider. You might consider talking to the dietary supplement manufacturer too, if needed.
You must be aware that, while the FDA does set standards for dietary supplements, they are not as stringent as those for medications; both prescription and over-the-counter products. Therefore, setting the standard is left to each individual dietary supplement manufacturer.
While many manufacturers might use the term “natural” or “organic”, it does not necessarily mean that it is safe to take. For instance, certain herbs that are part of many supplements such as kava are known to be very harmful to the liver.
Additionally, the term “certified” or “standardized” is not an indication of product quality or consistency. So try to stick to established companies and their products, since their reputation is usually a good indication of standardization.
While manufacturers are required to list all ingredients, many herbal supplements might contain compounds that are not clearly marked. Unfortunately, recent research has found that many dietary supplements do not actually carry the labeled ingredients or have lower or higher content of them.
In some cases, many dietary supplements have been found to be adulterated with pesticides, metals, and even prescription drugs. If you are suspicious of a certain product, you can contact your healthcare provider, who can guide you as to what steps to take. You can also contact the FDA, if needed.
Children’s intake of supplements should be limited to carefully chosen multivitamins.
Be a vigilant consumer. If any company is advertising their product as being totally safe, a cure-all, or a treatment for any disease, you should give it a wide berth. With dietary supplements, like everything else, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is!