HomeHealth articlesdietary supplementsWhat Are the Pros and Cons of Dietary Supplements?

Dietary supplements include many food products, including vitamins and minerals, herbs, and enzymes. Read the article below to know more.

Written by

Dr. Sophia. S

Medically reviewed by

Neha Suryawanshi

Published At January 12, 2023
Reviewed AtMay 15, 2023


Dietary supplements are food products that work as a supplement to the regular diet. A regular diet might not provide enough nutrients for a body to be healthy and disease-free. Dietary supplements fill in gaps where the body lacks certain nutrients. It can increase exercise performance, increase muscle mass, alter body composition, and delay fatigue. They can harm overall health.

What Are the Differences Between Supplements and Whole Foods?

Supplements are not a substitute for whole foods, as they cannot replicate all of the nutritional health benefits of whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables.

When compared to dietary supplements, whole foods have three key advantages:

  • Greater Nutrition - Whole foods are complex, containing various micronutrients your body needs.

  • Essential Fiber - Whole foods, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, provide dietary fiber that helps to lower the risk of diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and colorectal cancer.

  • Other Protective Substances - Many whole foods contain chemicals that promote health, such as antioxidants that slow down a natural process leading to cell and tissue damage.

What Distinguishes Dietary Supplements from Prescription Drugs?

  • The strict safety and effectiveness standards for medications do not apply to dietary supplements because they are treated more like special foods.

  • New medicines must undergo extensive testing to prove they are safe and effective before being approved by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) to sell them legally in India.

  • On the other hand, as long as the manufacturer does not claim that the dietary supplement can treat, diagnose, prevent, or cure diseases, it can be sold without proving it is safe and effective.

  • However, the supplements should not contain anything that poses a known risk of illness or injury when used as recommended on the label or with regular use. When a supplement is dangerous, the CDSCO can ban its sale.

Who Requires Dietary Supplements?

A healthy adult who consumes various foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, and fish, probably does not need supplements. However, dietary supplements or fortified foods may be suitable for the following:

  • Pregnant women or who are trying to get pregnant.

  • People who are 50 years or older.

  • People have poor appetites or trouble getting nutritious foods.

  • People who are following a diet that excludes entire food groups.

  • People with a medical condition that affects the body's digestion of nutrients, such as food allergies, chronic diarrhea, food intolerance, or a disease of the liver, pancreas, intestines, or gallbladder.

  • People with a previous history of surgery on the digestive tract.

Consult a doctor or dietician to know whether to take vitamin and mineral supplements, but be sure to ask about dosage, side effects, and possible interactions with any medications taken.

What are the Most Commonly Used Dietary Supplements?

  • Calcium Supplements - Fulfill the need for calcium in the body for stronger bones and teeth.

  • Vitamin D Supplements - Many people cannot take them from the sunlight.

  • Vitamin C Supplements - For producing collagen and a more robust immune system.

  • Fish Oil Supplements - To prevent diseases, especially heart and blood system conditions.

  • Cod Liver Oil - To prevent diabetes, high cholesterol levels, depression, and autoimmune disorders.

  • Zinc Supplements - For the growth of young children, boosting the immune system, and preventing many other diseases.

  • Multivitamins - It helps grow hair and nails and obtain glowing skin.

  • Other Supplements - To help with weight loss, depression, and mood disorders.

What are the Advantages of Dietary Supplements?

Having supplements is much easier and more convenient than eating whole foods, and they help in numerous ways, including:

To Prevent Diseases:- A regular diet might not provide enough essential nutrients for some people. For example,

  • Only a few foods contain vitamin D, which is necessary for calcium absorption and for developing strong bones. Taking a supplement could prevent diseases like arthritis, osteoporosis, etc.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids can prevent heart diseases, anxiety and depression, skin disorders, and asthma in children. However, vegetarians might miss out on them because they are abundant in fish like salmon and tuna. Therefore, it is essential to take an omega-3 supplement.

To Supplement a Poor Diet:-

  • Many people lack time to prepare and consume healthy food. However, taking a pill or capsule might be much simpler. Therefore, for these individuals, nutritional supplements may be a good idea.

  • Many people aware of the deficiencies in their diet may supplement their diet by taking the appropriate nutrients.

To Enhance Physical Performance:-

  • Dietary supplements can improve a person's physical performance during exercise and weightlifting.

  • Since weight training involves breaking down the muscle and building it up again, taking protein supplements may help delay muscle fatigue.

What Are the Disadvantages of Dietary Supplements?

Supplements Cannot Replace the Nutrients in Natural Foods:

  • Supplements support food habits but do not substitute for the nutritional gaps completely, and they may hinder the body’s ability to absorb nutrients when taken regularly.

  • They also have side effects, like nausea, headaches, liver damage, and dizziness.

Overdosing of Supplements:

  • Taking too many supplements may increase toxicity. So it is always better to consume nutrients naturally than in synthetic forms.

  • Sometimes the body might not absorb these supplements, and they could also be washed away in the urine, which could be a waste of money.

Interaction with Other Drugs:

  • Supplements can interact with other prescribed drugs and can be harmful to health. Hence it is always advised to take supplements on the advice of a medical expert.

What are the Potential Problems with Dietary Supplements?

While most dietary supplements are safe as long as the product instructions are followed, large doses of certain nutrients can have adverse effects, namely:

  • High dosages of beta-carotene have been associated with an increased risk of lung cancer among smokers.

  • Excess calcium and vitamin D may increase the risk of kidney stones.

  • High vitamin E dosages can accelerate the effects of blood thinners, making it easier to bruise and cause nosebleeds.

  • The anti-clotting properties of blood thinners can be interfered with by vitamin K.

  • High doses of vitamin B6 taken for a year or longer have been linked to nerve damage and impaired body movements.

  • Supplements containing iron and calcium can lessen the effectiveness of antibiotics like Fluoroquinolones and Tetracyclines.

What to Do While Selecting Dietary Supplements?

When choosing a supplement, it is important to

  • Check the label for active ingredients, the serving size, and the number of nutrients in each serving.

  • Consume the recommended dosage; overconsumption can increase the risk of side effects.

  • Avoid interaction with other drugs to prevent their effects with certain prescription drugs or before surgery or other procedures.

  • Stop taking the dietary supplement if it causes a serious reaction or illness, and consult doctor.


Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and a balanced diet is advised to prevent diseases. Supplements can help fulfill nutritional needs but cannot provide the benefits of natural food. Natural nutrients are always better in the long run. These can be taken as complementary foods or unavailable after weighing their risks and benefits.

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Dr. Sophia. S
Dr. Sophia. S


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