The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that there are currently more than 29,000 different dietary supplements available to consumers and that an average of 1,000 new products are introduced each year (Sarubin, 2000). Many adults and children in the United States take one or more vitamins or other dietary supplements. In addition to vitamins, these supplements may contain minerals, herbs or other botanical ingredients, amino acids, enzymes, and many other ingredients. Dietary supplements come in a variety of forms, including tablets, capsules, gummies and powders, as well as energy drinks and bars.
Popular supplements include vitamins D and B12; minerals such as calcium and iron; herbs such as echinacea and garlic; and products such as glucosamine, probiotics and fish oils. According to the Council for Responsible Nutrition, 77 percent of adults in the United States take some form of dietary supplement. Vitamin B12 is found only in animal foods, so strict vegetarians may need to take a supplement. Additionally, many older people don't produce enough stomach acid to absorb vitamin B12 from animal products.
However, vitamin B12 is also added to fortified cereals and other foods, making it easy to absorb even without stomach acid. It's important to be careful when taking dietary supplements. Beyond a standard prenatal supplement, pregnant or breastfeeding women should consult their healthcare provider before taking any additional supplements. The same goes for children - parents should consult their healthcare provider before giving any supplements to their child.
It's also important to note that supplementation is not a substitute for a healthy and balanced diet and usually provides little benefit. If you think you've had an adverse reaction to a dietary supplement, tell your health care provider. The FDA and Federal Trade Commission are responsible for overseeing the dietary supplement industry. Unfortunately, due to the lack of information and the poor quality of information in the few reports submitted, it is nearly impossible for the FDA to find and eliminate dangerous supplements.
Adults between 35 and 54 years old consume dietary supplements the most - 81 percent according to the Council for Responsible Nutrition. Many products considered dietary supplements are an important part of patients' health care, including products to treat vitamin and mineral deficiencies and supplements during pregnancy. Adulteration of dietary supplements is often economic adulteration - when a less expensive ingredient is used instead of a more expensive ingredient listed on the label - or pharmaceutical adulteration - when a product includes an active drug but is not listed on the label. If you need supplemental fiber, consider psyllium which has the added benefit of reducing cholesterol levels.
The second most popular category of dietary supplements are specialty supplements (40 percent), followed by herbal and botanical products (39 percent), sports nutrition supplements (28 percent) and weight management supplements (17 percent). Dietary supplements are only intended to supplement the diet; they are not therapeutic drugs and are not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent or cure diseases. This fact sheet from the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) provides information that should not replace medical advice. Be sure to consult your healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement.