Supplements Nutritional

Nutritional supplements are increasingly popular for maintaining good health. Fueled by an increased interest in personal health, nutrition, and diet, nutritional supplements in the United States bring in over $56 billion in annual sales. With so many different nutritional supplements on the market, choosing a supplement requires careful consideration, especially as no two individuals have the same health issues or dietary needs.

What are Nutritional Supplements?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines nutritional supplements as products that are taken by mouth to supplement a healthy diet. “Nutritional supplements” is a broad term for a range of products that include:

  • amino acids
  • botanical supplements
  • enzymes
  • glandulars
  • herbal supplements
  • metabolic supplements
  • mineral supplements
  • vitamin supplements.

Nutritional supplements come in many different forms depending on the ingredients and nature of the supplements. Forms of nutritional supplements include capsules, concentrates, edible bars, extracts, liquids, powders, soft gels, and tablets.

Why Are Nutritional Supplements So Popular?

A number of factors account for the popularity of nutritional supplements. The population in most industrialized countries is aging: With age, people focus more on healthy nutrition, diet, and disease prevention. These people see nutritional supplements as a convenient and effective way to maintain their health and keep medical costs low.

Other people use nutritional supplements because they are aware their diet lacks adequate nutrition. In today’s fast paced culture, prepackaged food and fast food often dominate diets and don’t provide sufficient nutrition. Nutritional supplements help fill nutritional “gaps” in diets.

And of course, there are also medical reasons for using nutritional supplements. For pregnant women, additional iron and folic acid is needed even when following a healthy diet. Hence the nutritional supplements. Just remember to get the “ok” from your doctor before starting any supplement.

Nutritional Supplements and Alternative Medicine

Nutritional supplements can’t claim to treat or cure health problems, but certain conditions do seem to respond to specific supplements, including allergies, insomnia, fatigue, digestive problems, and respiratory conditions. The effectiveness of nutritional supplements as health treatments varies with each person, and medical research has not spent much effort verifying the medicinal qualities of supplements. Here are a few examples of nutritional supplements that do appear to have health benefits:

Health Condition Nutritional Supplements Cautions
  • Vitamins A and C (aids immune system)
  • Nettle (helps prevent sneezing and itching)
  • Quercetin (found in apples: inhibits histamine release)
  • Avoid vitamin A with acne medication.
  • Do not take Quercetin if taking felodipine, a hypertension medication.
  • Valerian (a relaxant)
  • Chamomile
  • Melatonin (a pineal gland hormone)
  • Avoid valerian if taking muscle relaxants, tranquilizers, or sleeping pills.
  • Melatonin may interact with corticosteroids, relaxants, and antidepressants.
  • Panax ginseng
  • Flaxseed oil
Avoid ginseng if pregnant, or if taking any of the following medications:

  • antipsychotics
  • corticosteroids.
  • diabetes medications
  • diuretics
  • heart disease medications
  • hypertension medications
  • MAO inhibitors.
Digestive disorders
  • Peppermint oil (relaxes digestive muscles)
  • Psyllium (high fiber seed-based supplement)
Avoid peppermint oil if taking felodipine for hypertension or simvastatin for high cholesterol.
Colds and flu
  • Garlic
  • Zinc lozenges
Garlic capsules may interact with anticoagulants and medication that lowers blood sugar.

Control of Nutritional Supplements

In America, dietary and nutritional supplements fall under different FDA regulations than food or drug products. With the enactment of the U.S. Dietary Supplement Act of 1994, manufacturers of nutritional supplements are legally responsible for ensuring the safety of nutritional supplements before they reach the open market.

What this means is that dietary supplement manufacturers do not require FDA approval before marketing dietary, health, or nutritional supplements. Manufacturers are also responsible for ensuring that the labeling on nutritional supplements is not misleading. If the company knowingly provides erroneous information or sells an unsafe product, the FDA is responsible for taking action against the manufacturer.

Health Concerns of Nutritional Supplements

The majority of nutritional supplements have few side effects and can be taken safely, but all supplements should be treated with the same caution given to conventional medicine. Despite the FDA’s insistence that nutritional supplements are not medicinal, many people use supplements as alternative treatments to pharmaceutical medicine. Use of nutritional supplements to treat ailments certainly has some validity, but should never be used to treat serious medical conditions.

The primary goal of nutritional supplements is to provide nutrients to complete a healthy diet. However, nutritional supplements are not a replacement for a healthy diet. Eating a well-rounded diet remains the best way to prevent many health problems and to provide your body with essential nutrients.

Nutritional Supplements and Conventional Medicine

Many nutritional supplements are labeled as containing all-natural ingredients. People tend to equate “natural” with “safe,” especially when nutrition, diet, and health are involved. This can be a dangerous misconception, especially when supplement dosage and interactions with pharmaceuticals are considered.

While nutritional supplements work slower than conventional pharmaceuticals, supplements can have a powerful effect on health. These effects are not always positive: Many supplements include ingredients that, while essential for a healthy diet, can be toxic in large quantities. “Megadosing” (taking ten times more than the Recommended Daily Allowance) with supplements can result in overdoses that cause health risks, so it’s advisable to consult a health professional to determine proper dosage for nutritional supplements.

Nutritional supplements can also interact with pharmaceuticals (after all, many pharmaceuticals originate from natural sources). When prescribed new medication or asked to list current medication, remember to include any nutritional supplements you take.

Nutritional Supplements and Quality

One final note of caution: Remember that the FDA does not monitor the quality of nutritional supplements. Individual supplements may range widely in quality, purity of ingredients and additives. People with food allergies should read the ingredients list on nutritional supplements carefully to avoid adverse reactions. If in doubt, ask a health professional to recommend brands of nutritional supplements.