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Supplements: What You Need To Know

posted Sep 19, 2019, 2:10 PM by Amanda Schlink, MS, RD, LD   [ updated Sep 19, 2019, 2:10 PM ]

Have you ever noticed that the supplement aisle in the grocery store looks more like a candy aisle? There are so many options, colors and sizes, it seems harmless right? Plus, if the word “natural” is on the label that makes it safe, or so we thought. The FDA is not authorized to review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed. Many supplements can have side effects that may harm individuals if they are not careful. We’re going to walk through the basics of supplements and a few things to keep in mind the next time you find yourself shopping for supplements.

A dietary supplement, according to the National Institutes of Health, includes a group comprised of vitamins, minerals, herbals and botanicals, amino acids, enzymes and probiotics. They come in a variety of forms, such as tablets, capsules, powders, drinks and energy bars. Any product that is labeled as a dietary supplement will carry a Supplement Facts panel, which lists the contents, amount of active ingredients per serving and other additional ingredients. A serving size is suggested by the manufacturer. However, the amount you take may be different, as determined by your health care provider.

The most commonly consumed dietary supplement in the United States is a multivitamin/mineral (MVM) supplement. These account for roughly 1/6 of all purchases of dietary supplements. Surprisingly, there is no standard or regulatory definition available for an MVM supplement. Many MVMs are available in retail stores and online outlets and are sold relating to certain characteristics (i.e. age, gender, pregnancy, etc.). According to the NIH, taking a basic MVM should pose no safety risks to healthy people, providing the MVM contains the recommended intakes of vitamins and minerals. However, it is strongly suggested to check with a healthcare provider before starting an MVM supplement, as some medical conditions or other prescription medications may interfere with the MVMs' efficacy.

So you might be wondering, “How do I know which dietary supplements should I be taking?” It is critical to speak to your primary healthcare providers before beginning any type of supplement regimen. Healthcare providers, including physicians, pharmacists and registered dietitians, are the best resource when it comes to dietary supplements. Traditionally, a healthcare provider will opt for a variety of tests to obtain a better picture of your current health status. Additionally, healthcare providers take into count important factors, such as diet, lifestyle habits, environmental factors and medication usage. Supplements can be costly and harmful to your health for individuals with certain medical conditions, so it is not recommended to self-diagnose. These products are intended to supplement the diet so the intake dosage is extremely important. A healthcare provider can offer the best options for which supplements to take and which ones to avoid.

Multivitamin/mineral Supplements-Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. (2015, July 8). Retrieved from

Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know. (2011, June 17). Retrieved from