Dietary supplements: to trust or not to trust?

November 3, 2015

By Audrey Roen

Even though I didn’t quite understand their purpose as a child, I will never forget looking forward to the fruity flavor of a Flintstone vitamin. Recent studies are looking into such dietary supplements and it seems that they might need more regulation than we thought.

According to a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, yearly over 23,000 people in the U.S. end up in the emergency room with complications related to dietary supplement intake. Some of these complications include fast or irregular heartbeat mainly caused by weight loss and/or energy boosting supplements. Among those cases, roughly 2,154 individuals were admitted for further testing.

This is the first study of its kind to emphasize complications related to dietary supplement intake, and I’d say it might be worthwhile to discuss the potential risks of certain supplements.

I do not intend to insult companies such as GNC or the Vitamin Shoppe, but there are some things they are doing that I don’t agree with such as marketing dietary supplements as overnight muscle builders without mentioning potential risks.

Dietary supplements are things like vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals, amino acids and enzymes. They come in the form of capsules, soft gels and/or gelcaps, and are meant to make up for nutrients, vitamins and minerals that are lacking. While some supplements are clearly labeled and perfectly safe, others may require further investigation.

Unlike prescription drugs, supplements are not meant to treat, diagnose or cure diseases. They are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which means they are not approved by the government for safety and effectiveness. According to the FDA, human error can impact the toxicity of a supplement. It’s not the best idea to use supplements while on a medication or substituting a supplement for a prescription medication as this can have adverse effects.

Supplements are marketing gold mines and people seem to believe in their powers without taking into consideration the lack of research. According to the NPR shots blog, Americans spend over 14 billion dollars on dietary and herbal supplements each year to treat a variety of conditions such as the common cold, arthritis and immune system problems as well as to help weight loss.

Before starting on a supplement, talk to your family doctor or pharmacist to decide which supplement and dose will work best for you. It’s important to remember that supplements shouldn’t replace a balanced diet. Make sure to look for the United States Pharmacopeia Convention (USP) symbol, as this verifies that the supplement contains the ingredients listed on the label and that it does not contain harmful amounts of contaminants.

Not all dietary supplements are out to kill us. In fact, most can be very helpful in improving one’s nutritional profile. Eat like a human, rest like a human and avoid marketing scams that seem too good to be true.