What Are Dietary Supplements?
Dietary supplements are substances that you eat and/or drink. This can include a variety of things such as vitamins, minerals, plants (like herbs), other vegetation, amino acids or parts of these substances (such as oil extracts, seeds, etc.). They can also be consumed in a variety of ways including solids (like pills and capsules) or in liquids (such as essence or oils). These items are meant to be taken in conjunction with food rather than in place of food.
In the United States, dietary supplements can be purchased anywhere that drugs are sold such as discount stores, health food specialty shops, food markets, drug stores and even online and through catalogs. Dietary supplements are used for many reasons, including improving your health. Many people take diet supplements to increase their levels of vitamin C, E, Iron, etc.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved diet supplements to be used as any medication and as such manufactures of such products cannot legally claim that their products can act as a preventive measure of disease nor can they say that their products heal or remedy diseases. They are allowed to say, however that dietary supplements are used to add to health preservation and welfare.
Diet supplements are nothing new; people have been using them for thousands of years to better their health and even for the treatment of disease and illness. It is interesting to note that some modern day medicines such as aspirin were developed from herbal remedies of the past (aspirin is developed from willow bark).
Diet supplements are typically not researched before released because the FDA does not require them to. In fact the FDA does not monitor the release of dietary supplements at all unless a diet supplement does harm the FDA will require that it be removed from the market.
What Are Dietary Supplements Used For?
Health reasons are the most common reason that people choose to use dietary supplements.
- People will use products such as vitamin C to help them recuperate faster or to prevent colds in the first place. Echinacea is a diet supplement that can be used for this as well.
- Many people use natural herbal remedies in place of common (and sometimes controversial) medications in order to treat and prevent some diseases. Some natural remedies can also treat common ailments such as gastric discomfort. Some natural remedies, such as green tea are used to help people to sleep. The benefit to using natural diet supplements is that they often treat the problem without some of the side effects that medications may have.
- There has been some research on many of the natural remedies that are commonly used and studies are showing more and more that there are many benefits to using natural remedies versus prescribed medication, which is leading to more research in this field.
Are Dietary Supplements Safe?
There is no easy answer to this question. The truth is there are many diet supplements that are safe but some are not safe as well. You can always ask your doctor about a dietary supplement that you are considering taking and if you are already on medication you should make sure that the dietary supplement that you want to take does not interfere with your current medication.
You should also not stop taking a medication that your doctor has prescribed to you in order to switch to an herbal regiment. Your doctor should always be involved in your treatment, whether you choose a natural route or not. If you are a pregnant woman or you are breast-feeding it is even more important that you not do anything without your doctors knowledge and approval.
You should always keep these things in mind when considering using dietary supplements:
- Diet supplements can cause the same kinds of reactions that prescribed medications can, especially when considering allergies. They can also cause any medications that you are taking to work incorrectly, not work as well, or cause an adverse reaction.
- Each brand of dietary supplement is different. This means that if you are taking something from brand A and make a switch to brand B you might be getting a completely different dose or even a supplement with different ingredients. Always read the dosing instructions and the ingredients when you switch products.
- Because dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA, most long-term benefits or possible problems are unknown. This is not the case, however with vitamins and minerals, which have been thoroughly tested.