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Are Dietary Supplements Necessary?

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Are Dietary Supplements Necessary?

4 min read


Do you take dietary supplements — yes or no? Find out whether you need them or not by reading the article below.

Written by

Dr. Zeba Jabeen

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop

Published At August 1, 2022
Reviewed AtFebruary 28, 2023

What Are Dietary Supplements?

Dietary supplements have been used for centuries in curing diseases and improving overall health. They include food taken in addition to the daily diet to enhance the health and wellness of an individual. The supplements can be vitamins, minerals, herbs, etc. They come as pills, capsules, tablets, liquids, powders, and energy bars. The dietary supplements do not help treat a disease or a condition solely. Instead, they act as an adjunct to the treatment drugs and mainly aid in preventing disease.

According to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, U.S.A applied as public law in 1994; a dietary supplement is any food item (except tobacco) that:

  • Is intended to add-on to the daily diet.

  • Comprises one or more dietary ingredients such as vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, biological products like male hormone and other materials; or their components.

  • Is aimed to be taken orally like a pill, capsule, tablet, liquid, etc.

  • Has a label as being a dietary supplement.

What Do Dietary Supplements Do?

Over-the-counter dietary supplements can never replace a balanced and healthy diet. However, they are widely used globally. Yet, they cannot carry all the nutrients and benefits of whole foods. Moreover, minimal evidence is available proving the notable health benefits of dietary supplements.

Dietary supplements are not meant to diagnose, treat, heal, or relieve the symptoms of diseases. They cannot work like vaccines and prevent the infection completely. However, some supplements help decrease the chances of certain conditions, yet they cannot claim their benefits or uses. For instance, folic acid supplements used during pregnancy aid in lowering the chances of congenital disabilities of the brain and spinal cord of the fetus, but they cannot claim it.

The effects of certain supplements need consideration. Some supplements possess undesirable properties too, besides their benefits. For example, bleeding may be caused by the consumption of additional garlic, ginseng, and vitamin E, so their intake should be taken into account before going for surgery or after it. Moreover, poppy seeds function as painkillers and valerian as sedatives. Both can enhance the actions of anesthetics and other medications used for the treatment. So, the healthcare professional should always be informed about all the supplements being taken.

Who Needs Dietary Supplements?

Supplements are usually not required by people consuming a diet full of essential nutrients and micronutrients. But, they can be undoubtedly incorporated by those in need.

Such individuals are as follows:

  • Pregnant females or those trying to conceive.

  • Are of 50 years of age and above.

  • Are malnourished; or have anorexia, nutritional deficiency, or eating disorder.

  • Are allergic or intolerant to specific food groups.

  • Afflicted with medical diseases or conditions like diseases of the liver, gallbladder, intestines, or pancreas.

  • Have undergone surgery on the gastrointestinal tract and have compromised digestion of food.

Are Dietary Supplements Safe?

Most dietary supplements are safe for all people and have been proven so. The multivitamins consumed by many people do not pose side effects for anyone.

However, the exceptions to these supplements are as follows:

  • High amounts of beta carotene cause increased chances of lung cancer in smokers.

  • Additional calcium and vitamin D may lead to a high risk of developing kidney stones.

  • High quantities of vitamin E may give rise to stroke because of bleeding in the brain.

  • Vitamin K hampers the anti-clotting effects of blood thinners.

  • Taking high doses of vitamin B6 for a year or longer may cause nerve damage leading to impaired body movements (the symptoms are relieved after discontinuing the supplement).

Some dietary supplements have health benefits in specific conditions like in adults 50 years of age, and above, whose capability to absorb naturally occurring vitamin B12 gets reduced. The crystalline form of vitamin B12 supplements is necessary for them to prevent its deficiency. However, having supplements incorrectly can be dangerous. Taking several supplements together and using or replacing them with prescribed medicines could have deleterious effects on health, even leading to life-threatening results.

Some supplements have been reviewed due to their possible adverse effects and disregarded as safe.

The reasons for their recalls include the following:

  • Presence of microbiological, pesticide, or heavy metal contamination.

  • Missing dietary ingredients claimed to be a part of the product.

  • Existence of more or less than the quantity of the dietary ingredient declared on the label.

  • Additionally, unethical manufacturing and selling of bogus products.

Therefore, before starting a dietary supplement, assure that the supplement is safe and suitable for the planned use. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S.A, recommends consulting a health care professional before adding any dietary supplement. Many supplements contain ingredients with intense biological effects, and similar items may not be safe for everyone. In certain health conditions, adopting supplements puts oneself at risk. The health care professional can assess, discuss and give the appropriate advice.

How to Choose and Use Supplements?

It is essential to take the following measures before grabbing a supplement:

  • Checking the Label: The product's labels should be carefully read, and the included ingredients and nutrients, the serving size, and the quantities of nutrients in each serving should be checked.

  • Avoid Overdose: Do not take more than the recommended daily values, which can eventually increase the risk of side effects.

  • Watch the Diet: Vitamins and minerals are being added to a large number of foods which are called fortified foods. Supplements along with the fortified foods may not be required and even pose serious adverse effects.

  • Visit the Doctor: Supplements can have harmful effects if taken in specific blends, with some prescribed medicines, before or after surgery, so the doctor should be informed.

  • Look Out for Alerts and Recalls: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S.A does not monitor supplements to the same extent as it does with prescription drugs. But, the FDA does control their safety, so the FDA protocols should be periodically checked for warnings and reviews.

  • Report Problems: If any of the supplements cause any reaction or problem, their use should be discontinued, and the doctor should be consulted. Further, a safety report to the regulatory organization should be submitted.How to choose and use dietary supplements?


Usually, supplements are taken not to compensate for what has been missing in the diet but to give an extra boost to the health and a preventive measure to keep diseases at bay. But, the supplements are not necessary for all and are recommended only under exceptional circumstances. The required fulfillment of the body should be taken from the diet. However, before commencing any supplement, it is imperative to know whether the possible benefits of the product outweigh its risks.

Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop
Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop



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