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An Overview of Dietary Supplements

Dietary supplements are taken by half of the United States’s population at least once daily. Find out about what they are, how they are used, their benefits and side effects and more in this article.

By Rhoda Kasin

Published 12:20 AM EST, Mon July 6, 2021

An Introduction To Dietary Supplements

Dietary Supplements are advertised as nutritional additions to your diet. They are products with dietary ingredients such as minerals, vitamins, amino acids, enzymes, botanicals and others. These supplements are available for consumption in  pill, gummy, or liquid forms. Their containers are usually labeled with ‘dietary supplement’ on the front panel. Labels also display active ingredients, instructions on how they should be used and their serving size. Generally, dietary supplements allow an individual to obtain essential nutrients, especially if their usual diets do not contain food varieties. Risks of having health problems can be lowered as well through supplements. Supplements should not, however, be used to replace meals. This article will continue to explore dietary supplements by understanding their various uses, and who uses them as well as evaluating their pros and cons. 

Who Uses Dietary Supplements?

Half of the United States population takes at least one supplement on a daily basis. According to the CDC between 2017/18, around 57.6% of adults aged 20 years and above had used a dietary supplement in the past 30 days. Of this percentage, 50.8% were reported to be men and 63.8% were reported women. Whether male or female, the use of dietary supplements increased with age. For men between 20 – 39 years, the use of supplements was 35.9% but rose to 67.3% in men aged 60 years and older. Meanwhile in women aged 20 – 39 years old, the use was 49.0% and rose to 80.2% in those 60 and older. All this data shows that the use of dietary supplements is generally higher in women 

Many take dietary supplements for different reasons. Aside from maintaining their overall health and wellness, some take them to get in needed nutrients. Others take supplements for energy, some for their bone health and others for heart health. Pregnant women or those trying to become pregnant may take prenatal vitamins such as Folate, which is better known as Folic Acid or Vitamin B9. Taking 400 micrograms of Folate on a daily basis helps to promote genetic material growth and provide protection against birth defects. 

People on restricted diets such as vegans, or people with food allergies may also need to take dietary supplements. Supplements provide their bodies with the needed nutrients it may find hard to either digest because of allergies or even get due to their diet. Vitamins such as Calcium and Vitamin D are great supplements for older adults who may need them for bone strength. Other supplements they may need include Vitamin B-12 which helps to maintain red blood cells and nerves and Vitamin B-6 which helps to form red blood cells. 

What Are The Benefits And Side Effects Of Their Usage?

Once again, dietary supplements are useful to gain adequate amounts of essential nutrients to the body. Their role could be vital in leading a healthy lifestyle if the consumer is well informed. They can also be used to maintain one’s general health, provide support to one’s immune system and support sports and mental performance. 

Not following the instructions printed on the dietary supplement’s container or your doctor’s advice can lead to negative side effects. These include having an upset stomach, experiencing heartburn, having gas and feeling bloated. You may also have more serious consequences such as suffering headaches, feeling nauseated, bleeding internally, having liver damage and more. In a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, it was observed that unfortunate side effects of dietary supplements accounted for about 23,000 emergency room visits per year. Thus establishing that although supplements are meant to be beneficial to a person, they can still be extremely harmful if not used correctly. 

More Information Concerning Supplements

The United States’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates food, vaccines, cosmetics, drugs, medical machines meant for human use and tobacco products. Dietary supplements are also regulated by this federal agency, although they are treated more like food instead of medication under FDA guidelines. Dietary supplement makers don’t have to prove their products’ effectiveness or show how safe they are before selling them on the market. The manufacturers however, are supposed to follow good manufacturing practices or GMP’s, to confirm the supplements meet specific quality standards. A seal of approval from an organization that tests supplements such as; US Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLa or NSF International; allows you as a consumer to know you are getting a quality product. Look for this seal on the container of the supplements. 

Dietary Supplement makers are not allowed to claim that their product prevents treats symptoms, cures symptoms, reduces symptoms or prevents diseases. They need to add a disclaimer on the label if such claims are made. Over the top claims such as a product being ‘Completely Safe!’ or a product is ‘Totally Natural!’ or a ‘Miracle Cure’, are warning signs one should further investigate. Contacting your doctor, pharmacist or the manufacturers to ask which studies have been done to support the extravagant claims made about the supplement. 

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, nutritional additions to a person’s diet are dietary supplements. About ½ of the United States populations takes 1 daily, with a higher percentage of this group being female. They can be great instruments in leading a healthy lifestyle but can also be dangerous if used incorrectly. Despite all their benefits, it is still recommended to try and have a varied diet instead of relying on supplements.  

At the end of the day though, how one chooses to take control of their health is entirely up to them. However, if you are contemplating taking supplements; you should consider the dosage, frequency and potential health risks. While clearly following the instructions on their container labels is paramount, you must always consult with your doctor on any queries and concerns, ensuring you receive the best health care possible.

Rhoda Kasin, Youth Medical Journal 2021

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, et al. “Dietary Supplement Use Among Adults : United States, 2017-2018.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db399.htm. Accessed 8 June 2021.

CHPA Educational Foundation. “Dietary Supplements : Make Sure You Get the Benefits.” knowyourOTCs, 2020, https://www.knowyourotcs.org/dietary-supplements-make-sure-get-benefits/. Accessed 8 June 2021.

Gordon, Serena. “Study: Dietary Supplements Do Nothing for Health.” WebMD, 2019, https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/news/20190408/study-dietary-supplements-do-nothing-for-health#:~:text=%22Over%20half%20of%20the%20United,balanced%20diet%2C%22%20said%20Dr. Accessed 8 June 2021.

National Institutes of Health. “What You Need to Know; Dietary Supplements.” National Institute of Health, 3 September 2020, https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/WYNTK-Consumer/. Accessed 7 June 2021.

The President and Fellows of Harvard College, and Susan Farrell. “Harmful effects of supplements can send you to the emergency department.” Harvard Health Publishing; Harvard Medical School, 15 October 2015, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/harmful-effects-of-supplements-can-send-you-to-the-emergency-department-201510158434. Accessed 8 June 2021.

WebMD, and Melinda Ratini. “FAQs About Dietary Supplements.” WebMD, 16 November 2020, https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/supplement-faq. Accessed 7 June 2021.

By Rhoda Kasin

Rhoda Kasin is a dual enrolled student at Northwood High School in Silver Spring, MD and Montgomery College in Rockville, MD. She has not finalized which areas of health she would want to get into, however she is currently interested in radiology and neurology.

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