Dietary supplements are used to support good health and as alternative forms of medicine. They include, but are not limited to, vitamins, minerals, botanicals and amino acids. Many people choose to take vitamins, minerals and amino acids as supplements because they do not get enough through their diets. Botanicals are taken in a variety of forms and often used to address specific health issues. Because there are negative side effects linked with some dietary supplements, consult a health care provider before using them.
Vitamins are nutrients that your body needs for proper health. You need 13 different types of vitamins for your body to control processes such as digestion, cell division and nerve function. If you are not getting enough of a certain type of vitamin through your diet, you can take it in the form of a dietary supplement. Water-soluble vitamins, such as the different B vitamins and vitamin C, are absorbed into your system and the extra concentrations eliminated through your kidneys. Fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins D, E, A and K, are stored in your body to be used when you need them. Taking high doses of vitamins can be toxic.
Minerals are types of nutrients that are essential to your health. You can get them through your diet and by taking dietary supplements. Your body uses minerals to produce the hormones and enzymes that control your metabolism and as electrolytes to balance body fluids. Macrominerals, such as calcium, magnesium, chloride, phosphate, potassium and sodium, are minerals that your body needs large amounts of. Trace minerals, such as chromium, fluoride, iron, iodine and selenium, are nutrients that your body only needs small concentrations of. Just like having a mineral deficiency, taking too much of a mineral can cause health problems.
Botanicals, also called herbs and phytomedicines, are parts of plants that are used to promote good health or as alternative forms of medicine. Various botanicals have a history of use in traditional medicine and are linked to specific cultural practices. As dietary supplements, botanicals can be sold in the form of powders, capsules, teas, liquid extracts, tablets and as raw material. Ginger and garlic are examples of botanicals whose root extracts are sold as dietary supplements in the form of tablets. Many botanicals have side effects and should be used under the guidance of your health care provider.
Your body uses amino acids to make the proteins that it needs to grow and repair cells. Amino acids that your body cannot produce by itself are called essential because they need to come from your diet. You can get amino acids from plant and animal based foods, as well as through dietary supplements. Many amino acids supplements are commonly marketed to athletes to improve athletic performance. For example, tryptophan is promoted as an amino acid that suppresses pain and glutamine to enhance immune function. Currently, there is limited information available to support these functions.
- Stanford Medicine: Dietary and Herbal Supplements
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Fortify Your Knowledge About Vitamins
- The Merck Manual of Medical Information: Minerals and Electrolytes
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Botanical Dietary Supplements
- “Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition”; Dietary Supplements and Sports Performance: Amino Acids; Melvin Williams; December 2005