Learning Center

CaliAura is committed to providing accurate information from trustworthy sources. The information is compiled from United States government health agencies, including the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Office of Dietary Supplements of the National Institute of Health (ODS), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The information provided on this page comes from sources that do not profit from the sale of dietary supplements.

What is a dietary supplement?

According to Office of Dietary Supplements of the National Institute of Health, a dietary supplement is a product that:

  • is intended to supplement the diet;
  • contains one or more dietary ingredient (including vitamins; minerals; herbs or other botanicals; amino acids; and other substances) or their constituents;
  • is intended to be taken by mouth as a pill, capsule, tablet, or liquid; and
  • is labeled on the front panel as being a dietary supplement. [1]

[1] https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/ DietarySupplements-HealthProfessional/#h1

What are the benefits of dietary supplements?

According to the FDA, some supplements can help assure that you get enough of the vital substances the body needs to function; others may help reduce the risk of disease. But supplements should not replace complete meals which are necessary for a healthful diet – so, be sure you eat a variety of foods as well.

Unlike drugs, supplements are not intended to treat, diagnose, prevent, or cure diseases. That means supplements should not make claims, such as “reduces pain” or “treats heart disease.” Claims like these can only legitimately be made for drugs, not dietary supplements.

Are there any risks in taking supplements?

Yes. Many supplements contain active ingredients that have strong biological effects in the body. This could make them unsafe in some situations and hurt or complicate your health. For example, the following actions could lead to harmful – even life-threatening – consequences.

  • Combining supplements
  • Using supplements with medicines (whether prescription or over-the-counter)
  • Substituting supplements for prescription medicines
  • Taking too much of some supplements, such as vitamin A, vitamin D, or iron

Some supplements can also have unwanted effects before, during, and after surgery. So, be sure to inform your healthcare provider, including your pharmacist about any supplements you are taking.

Who is responsible for the safety of dietary supplements?

The manufacturers and distributors of dietary supplements are responsible for making sure their products are safe BEFORE they go to market.

Manufacturers are required to produce dietary supplements in a quality manner and ensure that they do not contain contaminants or impurities, and are accurately labeled according to current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) and labeling regulations.

If a serious problem associated with a dietary supplement occurs, manufacturers must report it to FDA as an adverse event. FDA can take dietary supplements off the market if they are found to be unsafe or if the claims on the products are false and misleading.

FDA is not authorized to review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed.

How can I find out more about the dietary supplement I’m taking?

Dietary supplement labels must include name and location information for the manufacturer or distributor.

If you want to know more about the product that you are taking, check with the manufacturer or distributor about:

  • Information to support the claims of the product
  • Information on the safety and effectiveness of the ingredients in the product. [2]

[2] https://www.fda.gov/Food/DietarySupplements/ UsingDietarySupplements/ ucm109760.htm

Are you considering taking vitamin or mineral supplements? Do you think you need them? Or that they “can’t hurt” so you may as well take them? Here are some questions to ask before you decide to take them.

1. Do I really need them?

First and foremost, nutritional needs should be met by eating a variety of foods as outlined in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In some cases, vitamin/mineral supplements or fortified foods may be useful for providing nutrients that may otherwise be eaten in less than recommended amounts. If you are already eating the recommended amount of a nutrient, you may not get any further health benefit from taking a supplement. In some cases, supplements and fortified foods may actually cause you to exceed safe levels of intake of nutrients.

(Note that fortified foods are those to which one or more essential nutrients have been added to increase their nutritional value.)

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans makes these recommendations for certain groups of people:

  • People over age 50 should consume vitamin B12 in its crystalline form, that is, from fortified foods (like some fortified breakfast cereals) or as a supplement.

(Note that older adults often have a reduced ability to absorb vitamin B12 from foods. However, crystalline vitamin B12, the type of vitamin B12 used in supplements and in fortified foods, is much more easily absorbed.)

  • Women of childbearing age who may become pregnant and adolescent females should eat foods that are a source of heme-iron (such as meats) and/or they should eat iron-rich plant foods (like cooked dry beans or spinach) or iron-fortified foods (like fortified cereals) along with a source of vitamin C.
  • Women of childbearing age who may become pregnant and those who are pregnant should consume adequate synthetic folic acid daily (from fortified foods or supplements) in addition to food forms of folate from a varied diet.
  • Older adults, people with dark skin, and people who get insufficient exposure to sunlight should consume extra vitamin D from vitamin D-fortified foods and/or supplements.

It is important to note that vitamin/mineral supplements are not a replacement for a healthful diet. Remember that in addition to vitamins and minerals, foods also contain hundreds of naturally occurring substances that can help protect your health.

Here are some questions that the Food and Drug Administration recommends asking yourself and discussing with your doctor when considering whether you should take a vitamin/mineral supplement:

  • Do you eat fewer than 2 meals per day?
  • Is your diet restricted? That is, do you not eat meat, or milk or milk products, or eat fewer than 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day?
  • Do you eat alone most of the time?
  • Without wanting to, have you lost or gained more than 10 pounds in the last 6 months?
  • Do you take 3 or more prescription or over-the-counter medicines a day?
  • Do you have 3 or more drinks of alcohol a day?

2. Should I talk to my doctor about taking vitamin/mineral supplements?

Yes, you and your doctor should work together to determine if a vitamin/mineral supplement is right for you.

If you are already taking dietary supplements, you should inform your doctor. Research shows that many people do not let their doctors know that they are taking a dietary supplement or are considering taking one. You may think side effects happen only with prescription medicines, but some dietary supplements can cause side effects if taken with other medications or if certain health conditions exist. Even if you don’t take medication or have a chronic health problem, the wrong dietary supplement or the wrong amount, can cause problems. So check with your doctor before taking a dietary supplement.

 3. Where can I find scientifically sound information about vitamin/mineral supplements?

Your doctor is a good place to start. In addition, pharmacists and registered dietitians are helpful.

The NIH Office of Dietary Supplements has a series of Vitamin and Mineral Fact Sheets that provide scientifically-based overviews of a number of vitamins and minerals. They can provide a good basis for a discussion with your doctor about whether or not you should take a vitamin/mineral supplement.

MedlinePlus is another good source of information.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a variety of articles and consumer advisories to help consumers inform themselves about dietary supplements, including warnings and safety information, labeling, evaluation information, and FDA’s role in regulating dietary supplements.

For those interested in looking directly at scientific studies, the PubMed Dietary Supplement Subset is a good database to search.

 4. What should I do if I suspect I may be having a side-effect from a dietary supplement?

First, stop taking the supplement. Next tell your doctor or health care professional. The MedWatch Reporting Program also gives you information about how to report a problem to the Food and Drug Administration.

In summary, check with your doctor or a registered dietitian about which, if any, vitamin or mineral supplements might be right for you. And remember that while there are circumstances when it may be appropriate to take vitamin/mineral supplements, they are not a replacement for a healthful diet. [3][3] https://www.nutrition.gov/dietary-supplements/questions-ask-taking-vitamin-and-mineral-supplements



Build a Healthy Eating Style

All food and beverage choices matter – focus on variety, amount, and nutrition.

Choose an eating style low in saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars.

  • Use Nutrition Facts labels and ingredient lists to find amounts of saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars in the foods and beverages you choose.
  • Look for food and drink choices that are lower in saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar.
    • Eating fewer calories from foods high in saturated fat and added sugars can help you manage your calories and prevent overweight and obesity. Most of us eat too many foods that are high in saturated fat and added sugar.
    • Eating foods with less sodium can reduce your risk of high blood pressure.

Make small changes to create a healthier eating style.

  • Think of each change as a personal “win” on your path to living healthier. Each MyWin is a change you make to build your healthy eating style. Find little victories that fit into your lifestyle and celebrate as a MyWin!
  • Start with a few of these small changes.
    • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
      • Focus on whole fruits.
      • Vary your veggies.
    • Make half your grains whole grains.
    • Move to low-fat and fat-free dairy.
    • Vary your protein routine.
    • Eat and drink the right amount for you.

Support healthy eating for everyone.

  • Create settings where healthy choices are available and affordable to you and others in your community.
  • Professionals, policymakers, partners, industry, families, and individuals can help others in their journey to make healthy eating a part of their lives. [4]

[4] https://www.choosemyplate.gov/MyPlate