Supplements are simply nutrients that may be added to the diet to increase that nutrient intake. The US law defines dietary supplements in part as products taken by mouth that contain a “dietary ingredient.”


In our busy modern life, sometimes we may not consume the required nutrients from our diet. In such cases, we may take the help of dietary supplements. However, only a certain amount of nutrients are necessary for our body to function, and higher doses of the nutrients may instead have adverse effects on our body.

Diet and Health

Humans have noticed the relation between diet and health for a long time. The case of sailors having a deficiency of Vitamin C and suffering from scurvy disease is famous.

Another example of the relation between diet and health is the spread of the ‘beriberi’ disease among sailors in the 1880s. Symptoms included mental confusion, high blood pressure, and heart disturbances, among others. The cause of this disease was linked to rice processing, which removed the outer vitamin-rich layer and caused deficiency of Vitamin B12 among sailors. A Polish-born biochemist in 1912 named the outer layer of the rice’ vital amine’, which was shortened into the familiar term ‘vitamin.’

Soon enough, doctors and scientists were able to isolate vitamins and minerals in pills to help people supplement their dietary intake.

Types of supplements

Many of the substances currently marketed as dietary supplements fall into the following categories:

● Vitamin supplements

Vitamins are organic compounds that are necessary for an organism’s effective metabolism. Vitamins are fragile and can be easily broken down by heat, acid, or light. The very act of processing food can even reduce vitamins.

● Mineral supplements

On the other hand, minerals are inorganic compounds, and they have more hold over their chemical structure. We can intake minerals through consuming fluids, animal and animal products, fish, and plants.

● "Botanical" or herbal products

These come in many forms and may include plant materials, algae, macroscopic fungi, or a combination of these materials.

● Amino acid products

Amino acids are the chemical building blocks of proteins and play a role in metabolism.

● Enzyme supplements

Enzymes are complex proteins that speed up biochemical reactions in the body.

How to know which supplement to take?

There are many dietary supplements in the market, and you might get confused by their sheer amount. If you want to receive maximum effectiveness from dietary supplements, you should consult a doctor or dietician to help you. 

A laborious way

If you want to personalize your nutrient intake by yourself, then you can follow the guidelines set by the US Food and Drug Administration. It has released the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI), which recommends essential nutrients to help people manage their nutrition.

The RDI is simply how much of each nutrient is needed each day for healthy adults. It is typically measured and listed using one of three different units: milligrams (mg), micrograms (mcg), or international units (IU). The nutrition labels on foods will list the nutrients they contain and the percentage of your RDI for each particular nutrient.

One way to figure out by yourself what vitamins and supplements to take is to look carefully at the nutritional value of all the foods in your diet and see how close you come to the RDI recommended by the FDA for each essential vitamin and mineral.

One way to figure out by yourself what vitamins and supplements to take is to look carefully at the nutritional value of all the foods in your diet and see how close you come to the RDI recommended by the FDA for each essential vitamin and mineral.

Special considerations for taking supplements

There are some special cases where it is recommended to take supplements. In these cases, you should exercise caution and not exceed the recommended dosage as it can cause unintended side effects. Some special considerations are:


During pregnancy, you may not get enough iron from food, especially if you get morning sickness, so pregnant women and women trying to be pregnant are recommended to take folic acid. Prenatal vitamins are also available, which might add an extra layer of nutritional security.

Infants and young children

Infants and children are fussy eaters and sometimes may not intake the required nutrients. If they do not have a balanced diet, they might need vitamin D and iron supplements.

Restricted or limited diet

If you leave certain food groups (if you are vegan or have a dairy allergy), you might not receive the recommended amount of nutrients like vitamin B12 or calcium.

Old age

As you get older, your body becomes less effective at absorbing nutrients from food. Nutrients like vitamins D and B12 may become insufficient in your body, and you might need to take special care and take supplements if necessary.

Gastric bypass surgery

Your gut may not absorb nutrients as well as it should if you have gastrointestinal surgeries and may require supplements to reach the daily recommended dosage.

Too much of a good thing

If the RDI represents the low end of the amount you need for a particular nutrient, the UL (“Upper Limit”) describes the high end. According to the National Institutes of Health, it is only advisable to begin taking a supplement if you are confident that you are not presently meeting the RDI and unlikely to exceed the UL.

Our body consists of cells and organs which are interconnected with each other. An imbalance of one nutrient might harm different organs and even the whole body. Popular dietary supplements like vitamin D and calcium also have adverse effects if they cross the UL. The main consequence of vitamin D excess in our body is a buildup of calcium in our blood (hypercalcemia), which can cause nausea and vomiting, weakness, and frequent urination. Excess calcium intake can cause constipation and even kidney problems, formation of kidney stones, and even kidney failure.

Minerals (especially taken in large doses) can also cause side effects. Tooth staining, increased urination, stomach bleeding, and uneven heart rate are just some of them.

Safety mechanisms for supplements

There are also some safety mechanisms for US consumers to reduce the unintended side effects of dietary supplements. Products sold as dietary supplements come with a ‘Supplement Facts’ label that lists the active ingredients, the amount per serving (dose), and other ingredients, such as fillers, binders, and flavorings.

The FDA has also established good manufacturing practices (GMPs) that companies must follow to help ensure the identity, purity, strength, and composition of their dietary supplements. These GMPs can prevent adding the wrong ingredient (or too much or too little of the correct ingredient) and reduce the chance of contamination or improper packaging and labeling of a product. The FDA periodically inspects facilities that manufacture supplements.

The best way to get all your needed nutrients

Dietary supplements are just what the term supplement refers to – a secondary source. The key to a healthy body is to have a balanced diet, first and foremost. If you suffer from some condition or do not have access to a balanced diet, you should only turn towards dietary supplements. Dietary supplements are not be-all and end-all to your nutritional requirements. They can have serious side effects if taken without care. So, do your due diligence and take dietary supplements when and only if you need them.

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