When it comes to dietary supplements, there is literally something for everything and then some. But with all of the different supplements available to you, it can very easily become confusing and overwhelming when it comes to the best way that you should be using those supplements. Should you get your doctor’s permission before you even think about starting with a new dietary supplement? Should you follow the recommended manufacturer’s ‘one size fits all’ directions or try to cater the supplement’s use to your individual needs? Should you be doing anything else differently while you are taking the dietary supplement that you want to start taking? The questions go on and on and all are really good questions that should be answered prior to starting any type of dietary supplement you may be thinking about taking. With that being said, here is everything that you need to know about using dietary supplements wisely.
What Exactly is a Dietary Supplement?
A dietary supplement is going to be anything that is considered to aid you by providing additional nutrition to your diet when you consume it. For example, some of the more common types of dietary supplements include minerals, vitamins, protein supplements, and herbal products. Dietary supplements must be taken orally, but can come in a few different forms, those including a pill or tablet, a powder, an energy bar, capsules, and even in the form of a drink. What has made dietary supplements so popular, is the fact that you do not need any type of prescription in order to purchase them. Since most dietary supplements are readily available at pharmacies and grocery stores around the country (not to mention the wide variety that are available online, often times being a much better deal for the same item when compared to the instore price, all you need to do is simply buy them over-the counter and you now have yourself a dietary supplement.
With that being said however, before you go out and start buying every dietary supplement that promises to give you the weight loss or health results that you are seeking, you are going to need to keep in mind that just about every over-the-counter dietary supplement is not going to be regulated in any way, shape or form by any real accredited agency. Since the Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) does not regulate any of the claims or ingredients that go into dietary supplements, the manufacturers are able to make any claim that they see fit and put anything they want onto the package label, even if there is no scientific evidence backing up that claim. For example, somebody can put out a pill claiming that if you take this for two weeks, you will grow 5” taller. Is it true, more than likely not. Are they able to make that claim, absolutely as they have no real regulating agency that they need to get verification from. With that in mind, just be careful when it comes to the dietary supplements that you do decide to take.
Why Take Dietary Supplements?
There are going to be several different reasons that people decide to use dietary supplements on a regular or even occasional basis. While everyone is going to have their own reasons for using the supplements that they use, at the end of the day, the real answer to that question is to help solve some type of problem. For example, there are some people who are going to rely on dietary supplements in order to get all of the nutrition that they require on a regular basis, but they don’t feel as though they are getting all of them through the food that they are eating. This means that if you are not feeling as though you are getting enough nutrients through your daily diet, taking a multivitamin or some type of nutritional supplement is a great insurance plan to make sure that you do get all the nutrients that you need.
There are other supplements that can potentially help to decrease the development of a number of certain risky diseases or that can even help to treat and improve the symptoms that are caused by a certain medical condition or medication. For example, there are many women who believe that taking a calcium supplement is going to help them reduce their risk for developing the bone disease, osteoporosis. This is especially going to be true if they are post-menopausal, have a lower body weight or are currently taking a steroid based medication like prednisone. Since calcium is believed to help prevent the decrease of bone mass, by taking a calcium supplement, you will be helping to prevent that from happening.
When you do decide to take a dietary supplement, however, just be sure that you keep in mind that fact that none of the supplements you may take have been designed to treat, cure, or even prevent diseases. While they can be very beneficial to your health, it is always best to speak with your primary health care provider in regard to how much you should be taking and for how long.
Are Dietary Supplements Regulated?
While for the most part dietary supplements are not going to be regulated, there are some ‘rules’ that the manufacturers do need to follow. The FDA does somewhat regulate the dietary supplement industry, it is under a completely different set of rules when compared to the foods that you consume and the medications that you take. The FDA will monitor the ingredients that are used in the dietary supplements, they will allow claims to be made that have not necessarily been backed by hard evidence. For example, it is believed that green tea has some potential weight loss properties, although it has never been proven. Because of this, the manufacturers are able to claim that since their supplement contains green tea, it can be used to help you lose weight.
Besides just that, the FDA will check the product’s packaging label to make sure that there are no claims being made about the efficacy of a particular ingredient in the supplement that are not true. But as outlined above, there is a lot of gray area when it comes to this and the manufacturing companies are able to get away with a lot of speculative claims about their product.
Fortunately, there are actually some manufacturing companies who volunteer for an increased amount of scrutiny when it comes to good manufacturing practices. If a company meets all of these much stricter requirements, they will get to special symbol that they will be able to put onto their product packaging. This symbol, or GMP, means Good Manufacturing Practices, and simply means that what is listed on the nutrition label is verified as accurate and there are not going to be any potentially harmful substances within the product. But even with meeting the stricter requirements, it does not mean that the supplement is going to work any better than one that has not gone through the verification process.
What to Consider When Selecting a Dietary Supplement
If you feel as though you are starting to have some symptoms or have noticed any changes to your overall health, before you go out and buy a supplement to try and fix it, you should always be sure that you make a visit to your primary health care provider or even pharmacist, so that you are able to get the proper recommendation on which dietary supplement would be best for you to start taking. In some of the more serious situations, you may actually require some type of medication or medical treatment as opposed to simply taking a dietary supplement.
When it comes to dietary supplements and any medication that you may be taking, your pharmacist is going to be of great help as they will know how your medication and dietary supplement will interact with each other, also being able to help you better understand any benefits you can expect, or even any potential harmful side effects. Just be sure that you tell your pharmacist about any allergies that you may have, the medications that you are currently taking, which includes over-the-counter products, prescription medications, as well as any health condition like diabetes or high blood pressure.
At the end of the day, dietary supplements are a great tool available to you to make sure that you are getting all of the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that you require on a daily basis. While they are going to be readily available as they are all over-the-counter, it is always going to be in your best interest to speak with your primary health care provider about it, if not to just make sure that there are not going to be any interactions with any other medications or supplements that you are currently taking. Once you have your doctor’s ok, be sure that you follow their recommended use and you should have no problems at all.