Diet Supplements: Understanding How They Affect Us

Almost 50% of the American population uses dietary supplements regularly according to a study done by the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law.  With this in mind, it is important to ask how effective these supplements actually are and what the positives and negatives can be for those who take them.

Diet supplements come in many shapes and sizes.  Most people think of a pill when they think of a diet supplement, but they can come in different forms.  The Office of Dietary Supplements defines a diet supplement as something that is intended to supplement a diet which is taken by mouth meaning either pill or liquid.  It also must contain one or more dietary ingredients and have a label on its packaging which says that it is a dietary supplement.  In order to be considered a diet supplement, all a manufacturer needs to do is put on the label that say it is a supplement.  This gives manufacturers a lot of room when selling their supplements to consumers.

The FDA does not regulate diet supplements very well and this means that they can be harmful or have incorrect information on labels.  The most recent law about diet supplements passed by the FDA was in 2008, but the law still remains limited.  Diet supplements are not regulated the same as food and drugs and in turn the rules are not as strict.  The FDA does require manufacturers to give them all the cases that have occurred when consumers had reactions to their diet supplements.  While this information is important, it does not protect the consumer as well as it could.

Diet supplements can have one of three general claims: health claims, nutrient content claims, and structure/function claims.   These claims are present on the labels of the supplements.  While these claims may be exaggerated, they may not say the supplement prevents, cures, or treats any disease.  The descriptions of each claim are as follows:

  • Health Claim: Manufacturers can claim the diet supplement reduces the risk of certain diseases by describing the relationship between the disease and the diet supplement.
  • Nutrient Content Claim: Manufacturers can make a claim about what is in the diet supplement. For example, how much of a certain ingredient is present in the supplement.
  • Structure/Function Claim: Manufacturers can claim how a diet supplement may affect the body or organs of the person that takes the supplement.  These statements are not FDA approved, but producers must give the FDA their claims before the diet supplement is sold.

The ingredients that are in diet supplements are not always evaluated by scientists before they are made into sellable products.  While vitamins such as calcium have been researched and studied for years, herbal ingredients have not had as much research done. This leaves room for possible reactions or side effects that consumers may be unaware of.

Supplements are readily available for consumers to purchase.  Without the need for getting a prescription from a doctor, consumers can go to retail stores and purchase diet supplements any time they want.  Examples of places they could find diet supplements would include drug stores such as CVS, GNC, or Walgreens.  They can also be found at places like Walmart or the Dollar Store which do not strictly sell supplements.  Consumers can also go online and find supplements on many different sites across the Internet.

One may ask who would benefit from diet supplement.  The answer does not include the average person.  Professionals recommend that most people get the vitamins they need from their diet.  This includes eating foods such as whole foods that have multiple vitamins and which have natural ingredients.  Human bodies process these types of vitamins better than diet supplements.  However, there are some people who need a little extra help with their diet.  One example is vegetarians and vegans.  Because of their restricted diets, they sometimes are missing essential vitamins which diet supplements can help with.  Women who are also looking to get pregnant or are pregnant can take certain supplements to help ensure healthy baby growth.  Finally, people with certain health conditions may need diet supplements to help keep them healthy.

When it comes to diet supplements there is much debate about them.  On the positive side, there is the fact that diet supplements can be helpful to fill in gaps in your diets.  If you are someone who does not have a good diet, then by taking diet supplements you can help increase your body’s health.  Supplements are also readily available, as mention before, through multiple venues and are not usually above $20 for a bottle.

While there are some benefits to taking supplements, medical professionals have warned many against the use of them on a routine basis.  Diet supplements are not FDA approved and therefore can have things in them consumers are unaware of.  According to Dr. Oz and his colleagues, supplements can contain ingredients that are toxic and have no nutritional value for those that ingest them.  Below is a list of some common ingredients in diet supplements that have no nutritional value to consumers:

  • Methyl paraben
  • Microcrystalline cellulose
  • Silicon dioxide
  • Triethyl citrate
  • Corn starch
  • Talcum powder
  • Povidone
  • Maltodextrin
  • Resins
  • Dicalcium Phosphate
  • Polysorbate 80

After looking at all the information about them, it can still be hard to determine if diet supplements are a good or bad option.  As a consumer, the best thing that can be done is to do as much research before beginning a diet supplement and become an informed individual regarding diet supplements.  It is also important to talk to a doctor about reactions especially if taking any medications that may react with certain ingredients in diet supplements.  In the end, it is up to the consumer to judge if they need to take diet supplements and if it will improve their health.

Sources

  1. http://www.health.ny.gov/regulations/task_force/docs/dietary_supplement_safety.pdf
  2. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/DietarySupplements-HealthProfessional/
  3. http://www.fda.gov/Food/DietarySupplements/
  4. http://www.sharecare.com/question/supplements-necessary-healthy-diet