Dietary supplements can enhance your diet, but there are possible risks that are also important to consider when selecting whether a supplement is right for you. This is because dietary supplement manufacturers market products in a variety of methods from testimonials, commercials, health claims, to structure/function claims, but manufacturers are not responsible for ensuring their product is safe before it is sold. Additionally, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) is not responsible for ensuring the safety or efficacy of a product before it hits the market. In fact, the FDA does not generally get involved with a supplement unless it is found to have dishonest or misleading advertising or marketing claims or if a problem with a product has been reported. Here is a list of five things to consider when selecting a quality dietary supplement.
- Look at the percent daily value of the supplement you are considering and compared it to your current diet. How essential is it to incorporate the supplement you are considering? Do you already take a multivitamin that offers the nutrient present in the supplement, or do you regularly incorporate foods that contain the nutrient you are looking to supplement? The percent daily value is listed to the right of the nutrient on the supplement facts panel and tells you how much of that nutrient is in a serving. For example, if you are considering taking a vitamin C supplement that is a 1000mg tablet, then the percent daily value will show that one tablet is 1111% of the recommended amount of vitamin C you should take each day.
- Evaluate the quantity of the supplement you are taking. This is especially important because there are upper limits for some vitamins and minerals, meaning if an excessive amount of a nutrient is consumed it could be more harmful and result in unwanted side effects. For example, the upper limit for vitamin C is 2000mg. Therefore, if you regularly take over 2000mg of vitamin C you may experience common gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps, or even fatigue and headache. If you are interested in looking more into the upper limits for vitamins and minerals, the Dietary Reference Intake upper limits for vitamins is available here and the Dietary Reference Intake upper limits for minerals is available here.
- Does the supplement interact with other medications or supplements you are currently taking? Talk with your health care provider or ask for a referral to a dietitian to help you navigate supplement and medication interactions.
- Does it sound too good to be true? If so, do your research. Speak with a medical professional who may be able to access databases like Consumer Lab or Natural Medicines that provides the most up-to-date evidence-based information that is made available in a nice, comprehensive summary format. You can also view journal articles or trusted organizations to see if the supplement you are considering has been shown to be safe and effective.
- Has the supplement been verified by a third party? A third-party verification is used when a dietary supplement manufacturer pays for an organization that is not affiliated with the company to evaluate their product. USP and NSF are some of many options of third-party verification organizations that evaluate the ingredients within a supplement.
Dietary supplements can enhance your diet, but there are possible risks that are also important to consider when selecting a quality dietary supplement. Looking at the percent daily value, evaluating the quantity offered in the supplement, determining if the supplement interacts with other medications or supplements you are taking, doing some research on the safety and efficacy of a product, and seeing if the supplement has been verified by a third-party are five steps to consider when selecting a quality supplement. To learn more about how to select quality supplements, view the National Institute of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements or the FDA For more information on supplements for diabetes, please view this blog from Cecelia Health titled “Supplements for Diabetes: What’s Safe and What Works?” If you have experienced a problem with a dietary supplement, it can be reported through this safety portal to the FDA.