The role of the supplement is just that – to supplement the levels of a nutrient already found in your body. Dietary supplements come in many different forms: chewable tablets, pills, powders, gummies, drinks, and even energy bars. Some supplements are more beneficial than others, and some are absorbed better than others. Today we’ll walk through what you need to know about supplements so that you can have an informed conversation with your doctor about whether or not they’re right for you.
What to consider before taking a supplement
Just like any other drug you put on or in your body, supplements can be helpful, harmful, or have no effect at all. With such variability in how they can react in your body, it’s important to consider supplements just like you would with other drugs. Talk to your doctor and pharmacist before you start taking one, and continue to check in from time-to-time to make sure it’s still safe for you.
Here’s a list of some things you should consider before taking a supplement:
Myth: Supplements are unregulated
A critique you may have heard about supplements is that they’re unregulated, but what does this actually mean? First, we need to understand how the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates prescription and over-the-counter drugs. These go through a rigorous review and approval process taking several years in order to demonstrate that a drug is both safe and effective in treating a certain symptom or condition.
In contrast, manufacturers of supplements are required to meet Good Manufacturing Practices that demonstrate that the product is manufactured, prepared, and stored properly. The manufacturers are not required to prove that the ingredient is safe or effective for a particular use before hitting the shelves.
Once a dietary supplement is on the market however, the FDA monitors information on the product’s label and package insert to make sure the information about the products content is accurate and that any claims made for the product are truthful and not misleading. The FDA requires that the claims on the bottle must be true and limited by how much evidence exists in the scientific literature. The Federal Trade Commission also helps to monitor whether the claims on a supplement bottle or in a commercial are misleading or untrue.
In summary, there is some oversight on supplements, but not nearly as much as prescription drugs. It’s important to remember that while many have documented benefits, not all supplements at the store or online may have been scientifically proven to be safe or effective.
Why are the claims such a big deal?
While the supplement company is responsible for having evidence that the ingredients in the supplement are safe and the claims it makes on the bottle are truthful and consistent with available scientific evidence, these claims are not reviewed by the FDA prior to selling the product. Supplement companies are therefore not legally allowed to claim that their product treats, diagnoses, prevents, or cures diseases. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
In addition to paying special attention to the claims that the supplement company makes, look for the supplement facts panel that lists the contents, amount of active ingredients per serving, and other added ingredients (like fillers, binders, and flavorings), which is a required part of the label. There will also be a serving size suggestion, but your doctor might decide a different amount is right for you based on your needs.
Supplements can be great… but it’s important to make sure know how to take them safely
Just like any medication, supplements can be a really powerful addition to your body’s own power to heal, build, and detoxify, but only if they are taken safely. Make sure to include your doctor and pharmacist in the management of all your supplements and medications.
If you are already on a supplement regimen, be sure to write down the specific product name, the dose you take, how often you take it, and the reason why you take it. When you visit with your doctor or pharmacist, be sure to bring up each one just like you would with other medications you might be taking.
The more educated you all are about what you’re taking, the better you’ll be able to make decisions that let you live your healthiest life.
Medicine isn’t perfect. For every breakthrough that cures a disease (or makes it easier to live with one) there are many more treatments that only help a little. And there are many more that may have no effect or that may actually cause a particular person more harm than good. So, it’s important to approach any decision that affects your health, or the health of someone you love, with eyes wide open.
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