There are many good reasons to use dietary supplements including, but not limited to, herbs, vitamins, minerals, amino acids etc. Even the best eating plans can fall short of meeting all of the nutrients you need to sustain life and prevent many diseases each day.
Healthy eating remains the best source of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. A multivitamin is not a substitute for healthy food or a healthy lifestyle, but it can provide a nutritional back-up for a less-than-ideal diet. If your diet eliminates whole food groups or you don’t eat enough variety of foods, you would benefit from using supplements.
But strolling down the supplement aisles at health stores and pharmacies to choose the best multivitamin can be confusing. With so many different brands and varieties to choose from, it’s hard to know where to begin.
Given the abundance and conflicting nature of information available about dietary supplements, you may need help to sort the reliable information from the questionable.
- Check with your health practitioner or dietician before taking supplements. Dietary supplements may not be risk-free under certain circumstances. If you are pregnant, nursing a baby, or have a chronic medical condition, such as diabetes, hypertension or heart disease, be sure to consult your health practitioner, pharmacist or dietician before purchasing or taking any supplement. While dietary supplements are widely used and generally considered safe for children, you may wish to check with a health practitioner before giving these or any other dietary supplements to your child. If you plan to use a dietary supplement in place of drugs or in combination with any drug, tell your health care provider first. Many supplements contain active ingredients that have strong biological effects and their safety is not always assured in all users. If you have certain health conditions and take these products, you may be placing yourself at unnecessary risk.
- Some supplements may interact with prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. Taking a combination of supplements or using these products together with medications (whether prescription or OTC drugs) could under certain circumstances produce adverse effects, some of which could be life-threatening. Be alert to advisories about these products, whether taken alone or in combination. For example: Ginkgo biloba (a herbal supplement), aspirin (an OTC drug) and vitamin E (a vitamin supplement) can each thin the blood, and taking any of these products together can increase the potential for internal bleeding.
- Combining St. John’s Wort with certain HIV drugs significantly reduces their efficacy. St. John’s Wort may also reduce the efficacy of prescription drugs for heart disease, depression, seizures, certain cancers or oral contraceptives.
- Investigate before you buy a product off the shelf. There are many resources online. Look past the information that comes from the manufacturers of the products, which can be biased. Find materials from reliable third parties, such as researchers, government agencies or Natural Medicine World.
- Does the label provide a way to contact the company if you have questions or concerns about their product? Reputable manufacturers will give contact information on the label or packaging of their products.
- Avoid products that claim to be ‘miracle cures’ or ‘breakthroughs,’ as well as those that are based on a ‘secret ingredient’ or method. Such claims are almost always fraudulent, and the product may contain harmful substances, drugs, or contaminants.
- Start only one product at a time. Take note of any side effects you have while taking the product. If you have a rash, sleeplessness, restlessness, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation or severe headache, stop taking the supplement.
- If you have any surgery or procedure planned, including dental surgery, talk with your surgeon about when you should stop taking supplements. Some supplements need two to three weeks to completely leave your body, and a few can cause serious problems during or after an operation.
- During pregnancy, or if you are breastfeeding, take only dietary supplements prescribed or approved by your doctor. Few, if any, of these products have been studied for safety; and their effects on a growing foetus or infant are largely unknown.
- Do not take any self-prescribed remedy instead of the medicine prescribed by your doctor without talking about it with your doctor first.
- Do not depend on any non-prescription product to cure cancer, heart disease, or any other serious disease.
- Avoid products that claim to treat a wide variety of unrelated illnesses.
- Follow the dosage limits on the label. More is not always better.