Dietary supplements appear everywhere and their popularity is growing. Advertised benefits of supplements range widely from energy boosting to disease prevention and anti-aging.
While dietary supplements can be consumed safely and offer benefits as part of a healthy lifestyle they are not ‘magic pills’. In fact, there are a few myths about dietary supplement safety that need to be dispelled.
Myth 1: Dietary supplements can make-up for a poor diet.
Despite bad eating habits, people want to stay healthy and the ease of popping a pill with the promise of delivering daily doses of vitamins and minerals is enticing. But only a diet of whole foods can provide you the variety of nutrients, fiber, and the protective phytochemicals your body needs. A dietary supplement might help you fill in a critical gap but the idea that a multi-vitamin or doses of specific nutrients will replace whole food nutrition is a myth.
Myth 2: Dietary supplements can prevent and cure diseases
Some supplements are advertised with big promises like cancer prevention and reversal of chronic diseases. A closer inspection will reveal a disclaimer printed right on the packaging that “this product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” The National Institute of Health’s Office for Dietary Supplements explains that dietary supplements are “not intended” for disease prevention and that “the manufacturer does not have to prove that the supplement is effective, unlike for drugs.”
Myth 3: The claims of dietary supplement manufacturers have to be true because supplements are regulated by the government.
While not completely a myth, digging a little into what government regulation means for supplements provides a dose of realism. While it is true that the FDA regulates dietary supplements, it is not the same as the regulations for regular foods and drugs. The FDA acknowledges that the supplement manufacturers themselves “are responsible for evaluating the safety and labeling of their products.” Many consumers may be surprised to learn from the FDA that “there are no provisions in the law for FDA to ‘approve’ dietary supplements for safety or effectiveness before they reach the consumer.”
Myth 4: I can take extra doses of dietary supplements to increase the result I want.
Whether its vitamins, protein, or herbal extracts, some consumers believe that if the recommended causes a benefit, than a larger dose would equal a corresponding beneficial increase. Believing that doses can be boosted to speed up or increase a desired affect is another dangerous myth. This is a myth and taking too much of a dietary supplement can have harmful side effects.
Myth 5: I don’t need to talk about the dietary supplements I take with my doctor.
This idea is wrong for a couple of reasons. First, you want to ensure you are using a dietary supplement properly to get the desired health benefit. Take the common dietary supplements, glucosamine and chondroitin.
According to a 2012 report in the Journal of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, researchers questioned the effectiveness of these supplements in alleviating osteoarthritis. The research pointed to a variety reasons which included “a lack of complete understanding of when and how to apply the compounds.”
Taking dietary supplements may not be as easy as just popping a pill in your mouth. Your doctor can offer you an educated opinion far beyond manufacturer labeling on the effectiveness and suitability of supplements.
Secondly, consumers can overlook the potential interactions between the dietary supplements they buy at the grocery store and the prescriptions they get at the pharmacy. A recent survey of over 1800 patients conducted at the Mayo Clinic revealed that 710 of these patients reported use of dietary supplements and of these, there were 107 interactions (between the supplement and prescription) with “potential clinical significance”.
The bottom line with dietary supplements is they are not‘magic pills’. Do your research, discuss the supplements you take with your doctor, and above all, maintain an overall healthy lifestyle consisting of a good diet of whole foods, exercise, and rest.