The term “dietary supplement” describes a broad and diverse category of products that you eat or drink to support good health and supplement the diet. Dietary supplements are not medicines, nor should they be considered a substitute for food.
Dietary ingredients can be one or a combination of any of the following: vitamin; mineral; herb or other botanical; amino acid (the individual building blocks of a protein); concentrate, metabolite, constituent, or extract.
All products labeled as a dietary supplement carry a Supplement Facts panel that lists the contents, amount of active ingredients per serving, and other added ingredients (like fillers, binders, and flavorings). The manufacturer suggests the serving size, but you or your health care provider might decide that a different amount is more appropriate for you.
Dietary supplements are complex products. The FDA has established good manufacturing practices (GMPs) for dietary supplements to help ensure their identity, purity, strength, and composition. These GMPs are designed to prevent the inclusion of the wrong ingredient, the addition of too much or too little of an ingredient, the possibility of contamination, and the improper packaging and labeling of a product.
The FDA periodically inspects facilities that manufacture dietary supplements. In addition, several independent organizations offer quality testing and allow products that pass these tests to display their seals of approval. Buy reputable brands that advertise the purity of their ingredients.
If you don't eat a nutritious variety of foods, some supplements might help you get adequate amounts of essential nutrients. However, supplements can't take the place of the variety of foods that are important to a healthy diet.
Scientific evidence shows that some dietary supplements are beneficial for overall health and for managing some health conditions. Other supplements need more study to determine their value. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not determine whether dietary supplements are effective before they are marketed.
Don't decide to take dietary supplements to treat a health condition that you have diagnosed yourself, without consulting a health care provider.
Safety and Risk
Many supplements contain active ingredients that can have strong effects in the body. Always be alert to the possibility of unexpected side effects, especially when taking a new product. Be careful about mixing herbs and drugs that have similar actions.
Be cautious about taking dietary supplements if you are pregnant or nursing. Also, be careful about giving them (beyond a basic multivitamin/mineral product) to a child. Most dietary supplements have not been well tested for safety in pregnant women, nursing mothers, or children.
If you suspect that you have had a serious reaction from a dietary supplement, let your health care provider know.
See Some Examples
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