Dietary supplements may not be risk-free under certain circumstances. Be sure to consult your health practitioner before purchasing or taking any supplement if you are pregnant, nursing a baby, or have a chronic medical condition such as diabetes, hypertension, or heart disease. Also, while vitamin and mineral supplements are generally considered safe for children, you may wish to check with your doctor before giving these or any other dietary supplements to your child.
In many cases dietary supplements can be marketed without providing evidence of safety or efficacy. Supplement manufacturers are allowed to make claims regarding health, nutritional content, and structure/function, subject only to limited restrictions. Health claims describe a relationship between a dietary supplement ingredient and reducing the risk of a disease or health-related condition. For example, the label on a bottle of Evening Primrose Oil capsules might claim that the product, “Provides relief from symptoms associated with PMS and menopause such as cramps, hot flashes, breast tenderness, and moodiness.”
Nutrient content claims refer to the percentage of DV (daily value) of the nutrient the supplement provides. A structure/function claim is a statement describing how a product may affect the organs or systems of the body. It can’t mention a specific disease. For example: “COQ10 supports heart function as a component of the electron transport system, and as an antioxidant protects mitochondrial membranes and cholesterol from oxidation.”
- Nutritional, dietary, and herbal supplement manufactures are not are required to run studies to determine product safety or efficacy.
- In the U.S., the FDA does not analyze the contents of dietary supplements.
- Dietary supplement manufacturers in the U.S. must meet the FDA’s Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) for food, but some companies also follow the GMP for drugs on a voluntary basis.
- Specific health claims on dietary supplement labels in the U.S. are not approved by the FDA and must also include a disclaimer that states the nutritional supplement is not intended to “diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”
- Daily Value (DV) describes the recommended daily intake of a particular nutritional supplement, if one is established.
In addition, keep in mind the following safety concerns when taking vitamin or mineral supplements:
Don’t substitute dietary supplements for medication
If you’re considering using a dietary supplement in place of drugs, consult your health care provider first. And remember, just because it is “natural” doesn’t mean it’s gentler or more beneficial to your body. Many supplements contain active ingredients that have strong biological effects and their safety is not assured.