Supplements Are You Taking?
Does Your Health
Care Provider Know? It Matters, And Here's Why
Partners in Health --
Working With Your Health Care Providers
abundance of conflicting information available
about dietary supplements, it is more important
than ever to talk with your doctor and other
health care providers (dietitian, nurse,
pharmacist, etc.) to help you sort the reliable
information from the questionable.
Dietary Supplements --
More Than Vitamins...
supplements are not only vitamins and minerals.
They also include other less familiar substances,
such as herbals, botanicals, amino acids, and
enzymes. Dietary supplements come in a variety of
forms, such as tablets, capsules, powders, energy
bars, or drinks.
If you do not consume a variety of foods, as
recommended in the Food Guide Pyramid and Dietary
Guidelines for Americans, some supplements may
help ensure that you get adequate amounts of
essential nutrients or help promote optimal health
and performance. However, dietary supplements are
not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate,
prevent, or cure diseases; therefore,
manufacturers may not make such claims. In some
cases, dietary supplements may have unwanted
effects, especially if taken before surgery or
with other dietary supplements or medicines, or if
you have certain health conditions.
Unlike drugs, but like conventional foods, dietary
supplements are not approved by the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) for safety and effectiveness.
It is the responsibility of dietary supplement
manufacturers/distributors to ensure that their
products are safe and that their label claims are
accurate and truthful. Once a product enters the
marketplace, FDA has the authority to take action
against any dietary supplement product that
presents a significant or unreasonable risk of
illness or injury.
Scientific evidence supporting the benefits of
some dietary supplements (e.g., vitamins and
minerals) is well established for certain health
conditions, but others need further study.
Whatever your choice, supplements should not
replace prescribed medications or the variety of
foods important to a healthful diet.
How To Recognize a
At times, it can be confusing to
tell the difference between a dietary supplement,
a food, or an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine. An
easy way to recognize a dietary supplement is to
look for the Supplement Facts Panel on the product.
Potential Risks of Using
products may be helpful to some people, there may
be circumstances when these products can pose
unexpected risks. Many supplements contain active
ingredients that can have strong effects in the
body. Taking a combination of supplements, using
these products together with medicine, or
substituting them in place of prescribed medicines
could lead to harmful, even life-threatening
results. Also, some supplements can have unwanted
effects before, during, and after surgery. It is
important to let your doctor and other health
professionals know about the vitamins, minerals,
botanicals, and other products you are taking,
especially before surgery.
Here a few examples of dietary supplements
believed to interact with specific drugs:
Calcium and heart medicine (e.g.,
Digoxin), thiazide diuretics (Thiazide), and
aluminum and magnesium-containing antacids.
Magnesium and thiazide and loop
diuretics (e.g., Lasix®, etc.), some cancer
drugs (e.g., Cisplatin, etc.), and
Vitamin K and a blood thinner (e.g.,
John's Wort and selective serotonin
reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) drugs (i.e.,
anti-depressant drugs and birth control pills).
What Should I Know Before
Using Dietary Supplements?
Be savvy! Follow
these tips before buying a dietary supplement:
Remember: Safety First. Some supplement
ingredients, including nutrients and plant
components, can be toxic based on their activity
in your body. Do not substitute a dietary
supplement for a prescription medicine or
twice about chasing the latest headline.
Sound health advice is generally based on
research over time, not a single study touted by
the media. Be wary of results claiming a "quick
fix" that depart from scientific research and
established dietary guidance.
to Spot False Claims. Remember: "If
something sounds too good to be true, it
probably is." Some examples of false claims on
- Quick and
- Can treat or
safe," "all natural," and has "definitely no
availability, "no-risk, money-back
guarantees," or requires advance payment.
- More may not
be better. Some products can be harmful when
consumed in high amounts, for a long time, or in
combination with certain other substances.
- The term
"natural" doesn't always mean safe. Do not
assume that this term ensures wholesomeness or
safety. For some supplements, "natural"
ingredients may interact with medicines, be
dangerous for people with certain health
conditions, or be harmful in high doses. For
example, tea made from peppermint leaves is
generally considered safe to drink, but
peppermint oil (extracted from the leaves) is
much more concentrated and can be toxic if used
- Is the product
worth the money? Resist the pressure to buy a
product or treatment "on the spot." Some
supplement products may be expensive or may not
provide the benefit you expect. For example,
excessive amounts of water-soluble vitamins,
like vitamin C and B vitamins, are not used by
the body and are eliminated in the urine.
- Do not
self diagnose any health condition.
Work with your health care providers to
determine how best to achieve optimal health.
- Check with
your health care providers before taking a
supplement, especially when combining or
substituting them with other foods or medicine.
supplements can help you meet your daily
requirements for certain nutrients, but others
may cause health problems.
supplements are not intended to treat, diagnose,
mitigate, prevent, or cure disease, or to
replace the variety of foods important to a
Examples of Products
Marketed as Dietary Supplements
products are marketed as dietary supplements, it
is important to remember that supplements include
vitamins and minerals, as well as botanicals and
other substances. The list below gives some
examples of products you may see sold as dietary
supplements. It is not possible to list them all
Vitamins, Minerals, Nutrients
Botanicals and Other Substances
and/or Chrondroitin Sulfate
A Healthcare Professional's Guide to Evaluating
Dietary Supplements, the American Dietetic
Association & American Pharmaceutical Association
Special Report (2000).
Note: the examples provided do not
represent an endorsement or approval by any agency
or organization that contributed to this material.
If you suspect that you have had a serious
reaction to a dietary supplement, you and your
doctor should report it to FDA Medwatch: