A Closer Look at Dietary Supplements

Learn about the benefits and risks of dietary supplements from the Giant Eagle® team of dietitians and pharmacists.
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Dietary supplements are not approved by the government for safety and effectiveness before they’re placed on the market.

Today more than half of the adults in the United States take one or more dietary supplements each day to improve their health. These supplements include traditional vitamins and minerals, phytonutrients (plant nutrients), herbal products, fiber and protein sources and may be in pill, capsule, powder or liquid form.

Are Supplements Beneficial?

Nutritionists and medical professionals agree that a healthy diet with a variety of foods is the best source for the essential nutrients we need each day. Dietary supplements may be recommended as a nutritional boost for individuals:

  • Following surgery, chemotherapy, or illness
  • With a decreased appetite
  • On medications that block absorption of certain nutrients

Additionally, pregnant women are often advised to take multivitamins to meet increased nutritional requirements and folic acid to prevent certain birth defects in their babies.

Can Supplements Be Harmful?

High levels of some nutrients and some herbal or botanical products can cause harmful side effects, especially if when taken with certain medications. Many of the more traditional nutrients have a maximum safe level for daily use. Since many foods, such as cereals, drinks and juices, and snack bars are already fortified with nutrients, the combined level may easily exceed recommended safe levels.  Because fat-soluble vitamins like A and D are stored in the liver and fatty tissues, mega doses of these vitamins can lead to toxicity.

Remember, dietary supplements are not approved by the government for safety and effectiveness before they’re placed on the market. “Natural” doesn’t necessarily mean safe or harmless. Consumers need to be aware that harmful side effects can and do occur as the result of popular supplements. For example, Ephedra was originally sold as a weight loss supplement but was eventually removed from the market due to serious adverse side effects including heart attacks, liver damage and even deaths.

Be a Smart Supplement Shopper

When choosing supplements, follow these important considerations:

  • Supplements can contribute to your health and well-being, but know what works best for your health profile and choose wisely. Don’t presume that even if a supplement doesn’t work as stated, that it’s harmless.
  • Always consult with your physician and pharmacist to determine potential benefits of any supplements and to ensure compatibility with your medications. Some nutrients are absorbed more completely with certain medications, while some supplements may affect drug effectiveness.
  • Multivitamin/mineral supplements are the most popular and can help provide an important nutrient boost. As a general rule, choose a multivitamin that has no more than 100% of the Daily Value for a variety of nutrients and one appropriate for your age group. For example, women who have reached menopause typically require less iron than younger women.
  • Beware of misleading manufacturer claims that seem too good to be true, such as “totally safe” or “effective natural cure all.” Unlike medications, supplements are not intended to be used to treat or cure diseases. Avoid supplements with claims like “treats arthritis” or “cures asthma,” as these are not legitimate medical statements. Check the FDA Health Fraud Scams and Tainted Supplements web sites for more information.
  • Remember, your dietary needs are a balance of the food you eat, timing of meals, exercise and activity, genetics and your health. Giant Eagle dietitians are available to help you evaluate your overall nutritional needs and provide important information on your diet, food choices and how supplements may help.

If You Take Supplements:

  • Tell your doctor about all supplements you use
  • Follow label recommendations on how much and how often to take supplements
  • Stop taking immediately if you experience side effects and consult with your physician
  • Check with your pharmacist about potential interactions with your prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Questions?

For more answers to your questions and nutrition tips, ask the Giant Eagle registered dietitians at nutritionist@gianteagle.com.

Important Physician Advice Disclaimer: The content provided by Giant Eagle®, including but not limited to, website, recipe and health information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Consult your physician for professional guidance before changing or undertaking a new diet program. Advance consultation with your physician is particularly important if you are under the age of 18, pregnant, nursing or have health problems.