Be honest – when was the last time you ate your suggested five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day? Despite your best efforts to eat a balanced diet, you may be falling short of the recommended daily amount of certain nutrients.
Many people turn to dietary supplements to get their recommended intake of those missing nutrients. Supplements can be used to fill in nutritional gaps in your diet and may be especially beneficial for certain groups of people (including pregnant women, menopausal women, vegans, vegetarians, and people with food allergies) who may need higher levels of certain nutrients or whose diets may restrict the intake of certain nutrients.
Here are some general tips for adults who are considering taking a dietary supplement. Remember, even though these products are available without a prescription, you may want to talk to your healthcare provider before you begin taking any type of supplement. Supplements may not be necessary for everyone. Your provider can help you determine if a dietary supplement is necessary.
Tip: Watch the Amount You Take
Be sure to follow the servings recommendations printed on the label or suggested by your healthcare provider, when taking supplements. Remember, supplements provide additional nutrients to those you’re already getting from your food. And for healthy adults there’s no advantage to getting more of a particular vitamin or mineral than you need; in fact, getting too much of certain vitamins or minerals can cause uncomfortable side effects, like stomachaches, nausea or diarrhea, and long term excess intake of fat soluble vitamins may result in more serious health problems, like liver damage.
Be particularly careful when it comes to the following supplement ingredient
- Iron: Iron is an essential mineral whose main function is to carry oxygen to tissues. Iron is also important for maintaining muscle and brain function, as well the immune system. However, if you take in more iron than you need, it can cause adverse health effects Adult men and postmenopausal women rarely experience iron deficiency and should consult a doctor before using iron supplements.
- Vitamins A, D and E: These are “fat-soluble” vitamins, which means your body will store surplus in your liver and fat tissue. While vitamins that are “water-soluble” pass through your body when you take more than you need. Fat-soluble vitamins can build up to unsafe levels over time if you take too much.
Tip: Take as Directed
Taking your supplement as directed does not just mean paying careful attention to the servings recommended. It is also important to read the label of all your prescription and OTC medications to understand how any supplement could potentially interact with the medications you take or the foods you eat.
- Always take your supplement according to the directions on the label. Most dietary supplements should be taken with food for best absorption. Some are recommended to be taken on an empty stomach, which will be listed on the label. Fat-soluble vitamins are always absorbed better when taken with a meal containing a little fat.
- Certain vitamins and minerals can affect the absorption or efficacy of medications (including anticoagulants, certain antacids, and antibiotics). Make sure to read the labels on both your prescription and OTC medications thoroughly and talk with your healthcare provider or pharmacists about all the medicines and supplements you take and potential interactions.
Tip: Read Labels Carefully
It’s important to do research when considering a certain supplement – and this includes reading the labels carefully. Supplements cannot claim to treat or cure diseases, and they must bear appropriate ingredient and nutrition labeling. Here are important things to watch out for when considering a particular supplement:
- Claims that seem too good to be true: Fraudulent products boast of unrealistic benefits or results. Watch out for anything claiming to be a quick fix or boasting of a dramatic breakthrough.
- Natural does not mean safe: People see the word “natural” and erroneously assume the product is safe. Any supplement can potentially cause side effects or interact with medications. Therefore, it is important to read product labels and talk to your healthcare provider about supplements and medications you are taking.
- Claims to be 100% safe: Any supplement may cause a side effect or interact with a drug in some people. Be wary of any product that claims to be 100% free of side effects.
When choosing a supplement, it’s important to get accurate, up-to-date information. Your healthcare provider is your best resource for answering any questions you may have.
Tip: Never Substitute for Food
Over-the-counter vitamin and minerals can be used as a supplement to your diet, but they should never be used in the place of real food.
Tip: Store Supplements and Medicines Safely
To prevent accidental ingestions, always be sure to store medicines and vitamins up and away and out of your child’s reach and sight. And put the medicines or supplement back in its proper place every time you use them.