A dietary supplement is a vitamin, mineral, or herb that you take to improve your health or wellness. These supplements are generally not intended to cure or treat diseases or medical conditions, unless they have been approved for a health claim by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
Vitamins, Minerals, and Dietary Supplements
Vitamins and minerals, also called micronutrients, nourish your body and help to keep you healthy. You can get most of your micronutrients by eating a variety of foods in your daily diet. Getting your micronutrients through food ensures that your body is able to absorb them properly.
If you don’t eat a variety of healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats and fish, you may not be getting all the micronutrients your body needs. A multivitamin or supplement may be able to help. Other people who may benefit from taking a multivitamin or supplement include:
There is no current evidence that shows that taking multivitamins can help reduce your risk of cancer or cardiovascular disease.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), adult Americans may not get enough of the following nutrients:
|Nutrient||Recommended Daily Amount (RDA)|
|Calcium||1,000 milligrams (mg)|
|Fiber||25 grams (g) for women|
|38 g for men|
|Magnesium||320 mg for women|
|420 mg for men|
|Vitamin A||2,310 international units (IU) for women|
|3,000 IU for men|
|Vitamin C||75 mg for women|
|90 mg for men|
|Vitamin E||15 mg|
|Nutrient||Recommended Daily Amount (RDA)|
|1,200 mg - Women >51 years|
|1,200 mg - Men >70 years|
|18 mg - Women (19-50 years)|
|Vitamin B12||2.4 mcg|
|Vitamin D||600 IU
|800 IU - Men and women >70 years|
Other Dietary Supplements
Hundreds of dietary supplements are available. They are advertised to treat just about any symptom. However, trustworthy evidence to support these advertising claims is often missing.
Some of the most popular supplements include glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, probiotics, digestive enzymes, echinacea, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), garlic, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, kava, melatonin, phytoestrogens (such as black cohosh, dong quai and soy), saw palmetto, and St. John’s wort.
If you are concerned that you are not getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet, talk to your doctor about ways to get the micronutrients you need. Depending on your overall health and the vitamins or minerals your diet lacks, your doctor might suggest a dietary supplement. If you are interested in taking another type of supplement, talk to your doctor about why you want to take it and what you hope it will do for you.
While foods that are rich in vitamin E and beta-carotene are very healthy and help reduce cancer risk, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommend against taking vitamin E or beta-carotene for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. People who smoke or have a high risk for lung cancer should not take beta-carotene because it can increase the risk of lung cancer.
Your doctor can also help you figure out if a dietary supplement will interact with any medical conditions you have, or any prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medicine you are taking. Supplements can also cause problems with cancer treatments or surgery, including bleeding and problems with anesthesia.
All manufacturers of prescription and OTC medicines that are regulated by the U.S. FDA follow high-quality standards when making these products.
Some manufacturers of dietary supplements follow the U.S. Pharmacopeial (USP) Convention quality standards. Those manufacturers of dietary supplements who follow the USP quality standards volunteer to have their supplements tested for quality and purity by an outside company before they are sold. These supplements often display additional quality credentials on their labels, such as “USP Verified” or “ConsumerLab.com Approved Quality.”
Choose your supplements carefully, and talk to your family doctor and/or your pharmacist if you have questions.
Vitamins, minerals, and dietary supplements are generally considered safe as long as they are not used in excessive amounts. This is particularly true for the fat-soluble vitamins A and E. Check the recommended daily allowance (if there is one) and be careful not to take too much.
Although herbs have been taken for many years, some herbal supplements may not be pure. They might contain other unlisted ingredients that could make you sick. Sometimes they contain drugs that aren’t listed on the label, such as steroids, or estrogens. Some of these products may even contain toxic (poisonous) substances, such as arsenic, mercury, lead, and pesticides. If dangerous ingredients are discovered after the supplement has been sold, the supplement must be recalled.
You should never take more of any dietary supplement than the recommended dosage on the label, unless your doctor tells you to do so. Taking too much of a vitamin, mineral or herbal supplement can cause unwanted or dangerous side effects.
This content was developed with general underwriting support from Nature Made®.
American Cancer Society. Dietary Supplements: How to know what is safe. Accessed May 12, 2010
Iowa State University Extension. Supplements. Accessed May 12, 2010
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Dietary Supplements: Nutrition in a pill?. Accessed May 12, 2010
MedLine Plus. Dietary Supplements. Accessed May 12, 2010
United States Food and Drug Administration. Dietary Supplements. Accessed May 12, 2010
National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Dietary Supplements: Background information. Accessed May 12, 2010
United States Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005: Adequate nutrients within calorie needs. Accessed May 12, 2010
United States Food and Drug Administration. Tips for the Savvy Supplement User: Making informed decisions and evaluating information. Accessed May 12, 2010
United States Food and Drug Administration. Fortify Your Knowledge About Vitamins. Accessed May 12, 2010
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff