Advantages & Disadvantages of Food Supplements

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Close-up of vitamin pills and other dietary supplements. (Image: ratmaner/iStock/Getty Images)

Dietary supplements are often promoted for their health benefits. But you need only limited amounts of the vitamins, minerals and other substances that supplements provide, and excessive amounts of some vitamins can be harmful. Always consult your doctor before taking a new dietary supplement, especially if you have any health conditions or take medications.

About Food Supplements

Food supplements, also known as dietary supplements, are meant to improve your diet by providing vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, enzymes and other beneficial substances. They come in a variety of forms, including capsules, soft gels, gel caps and tablets. Although the Food and Drug Administration must approve new ingredients before they are sold, it does not have to approve a product once its ingredients have been approved. For example, although vitamin C has been approved for sale in supplement form, this does not mean that every specific brand has been approved for safety or effectiveness.

Advantages

Supplements can contribute to improved muscular strength, endurance and overall physical performance, according to the website Military.com. For this reason, they are commonly taken by athletes to improve their performance. Food supplements can also prevent a variety of diseases and health conditions. For example, pregnant women are advised to take folic acid to prevent birth defects. Other supplements are used in combination with drugs as a method of complementary or alternative treatment for health conditions.

Disadvantages

Because dietary supplements are not as strictly regulated as drugs, their effectiveness may not be as dependable. Furthermore, when taken in dosages that exceed the recommended dietary intake, some supplements may be toxic and cause serious side effects. Vitamin A toxicity, for example, can cause liver damage, blurred vision, headaches, bone pain and swelling, drowsiness and nausea. Supplements can also interact with medications, which can cause unwanted side effects and decrease the efficacy of the medicine.

Considerations

For optimal benefit, consult your doctor about the right dietary supplements for you. Research the supplement ingredients before you purchase the product. Avoid dietary supplements with megadoses of any ingredient, particularly vitamin A, vitamin D and iron. A megadose is one that exceeds the recommended dietary intake. Although megadoses can be beneficial for the treatment of certain health conditions, they can also cause toxicity symptoms. Finally, stop taking any supplement if you experience an unpleasant side effect, and never combine supplements with medication or other supplements without your doctor's recommendation.

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