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January 2016

How Safe Are Dietary Supplements?

Half of all U.S. adults use dietary supplements and many take more than one supplement.  Today’s supplements include vitamins and minerals as well as amino acids, protein powders, probiotics, phytonutrients, fiber, herbals and botanicals. There are also exotic potions and pills that promise to boost brainpower and turn back the clock on aging.  How safe are these supplements and are they really beneficial to our health?

Supplement Facts

  • Supplements are intended to add nutritional value to the diet to guard against deficiencies and promote better health.
  • Dietary supplements do not have to adhere to strict requirements for safety and effectiveness that govern medications.
  • Manufacturers self-regulate and are supposed to record, investigate and forward to the FDA adverse events associated with their product.
  • The FDA estimates 70% fail to follow basic quality control standards.
  • Many supplements are sold with unproven claims and are even unlabeled or may contain adulterated ingredients.
  • Leading experts contend that vitamins & minerals should not be grouped with other supplements.  Since vitamins & minerals are science-based, it is felt that some people benefit from taking these supplements.

Too Much of A Good Thing
More is not necessarily better.  Safety concerns can arise even with vitamins and minerals.  The National Academy of Sciences has upper limits (UL) established by the Institute of Medicine.  These are amounts beyond which vitamins and minerals may pose a health risk. Exceed these only if prescribed by your physician.

Supplement Safely & Wisely

  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Do not assume that these products are safe and effective just because they are sold over the counter.
  • Dietary supplements may interact with medications - both prescription & over the counter.
  • Always check with your health care provider when considering taking a supplement, especially if you have a medical condition and are taking medication.
  • When visiting your doctor, bring a list of all supplements you are taking.
  • Look for the ‘USP Verified Mark’. It is awarded by USP to supplement products that successfully undergo & meet the stringent requirements of its voluntary USP Dietary Supplement Verification Process.

The Bottom Line
Eating a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods is the best way for most people to obtain the nutrients they need to be healthy and reduce their risk of chronic disease.

However, there may be some individuals that need supplements to help meet their nutrition needs.

Key nutrients for seniors include: vitamin D and B12.  Check with your physician to see if you should use supplements.  


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