Supplements: Health or Harm?

Photo Credit: Kristel Irvine

Written by April Irvine

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey or NHANES reports that in an effort to adopt a healthier lifestyle, about two-thirds of adults in the US are using dietary supplements. Although, acquiring our nutrients from a pill may be convenient and easy, supplements don’t necessarily deliver the promise of better health.

Supplements are not regulated by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). This means that there is no guarantee that the labeling on the package, it’s purity and strength are true. For example, dietary supplements may claim to make you faster, stronger, or slimmer but the manufacturers don’t have to prove that its safe or if it even works. Be careful, some supplements could contain illegal substances.

Although in some situations, supplements may help to improve health. A supplement may be recommended if you are on a restrictive diet, an older adult (age 50+), vegetarian or vegan, pregnant or lactating women, or a medical condition that limits your food choices. For example, a pregnant woman should take a prenatal vitamin to prevent deficiencies and improve fetal outcomes. Check with your doctor or dietitian to see if a supplement is recommended for you.

Remember, real food contains healthy things a pill can’t give us. Eating a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods is the best way for most people to get the nutrients they need to be healthy and reduce their risk of chronic disease. Healthy food choices include grains/legumes, dairy, lean meats, fruits, and vegetables).

USPMost people don’t need supplements however, if you choose use them its important be well informed. The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) is a third party organization that sets standards for the identity, strength, quality, and purity of dietary supplements and NSF sets standards for accurate ingredient labeling and testing for contaminants. NSF have different labeling and certification processes, be sure to do your research beforehand. Look for the NSF or USP mark on the supplement bottle to know that it’s been tested and approved.


Even though some supplements have been tested by third part organizations, supplements can have powerful biological effects. When we take a nutrient out of a food and concentrate it in a pill, it’s not quite the same thing so consider your individual situation and consult a doctor or a registered dietitian before taking a supplement.


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