Fast Facts: Dietary Supplements
Category - Health and Safety
Knowledgeable LifeSmarts participants know that while dietary supplements are often a good self-care option for consumers, some have ingredients that make them unsafe for persons with certain health conditions or taking certain medications.
Dietary supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbs and other botanicals, and amino acids. They have become especially popular in recent years as mainstream consumer products, however many have been used for a long time as components of traditional remedies. It is important to learn all you can about these products before you take them, as well as informing your doctor or pharmacist about dietary supplement use.
This fact sheet will help you understand what dietary supplements are, the claims manufacturers make about the products, and the information listed on product labels.
For More Information
The National Consumers League has published a brochure entitled "A Consumer Guide: Dietary Supplements"
- The US Food and Drug Administration's Dietary Supplement Guide
- Federal Trade Commission on Drugs and Dietary Supplements
- National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
- NIH International Bibiographic Information on Dietary Supplements Database
Healthfinder.gov: links to numerous sources of information ahout health, including dietary supplements
Dietary Supplement Mini-Quiz
a) Over-the-counter drugs
b) Prescription drugs
a) Health claim
b) Structure/function claim
c) Nutrient content claim
a) Preapproved for safety by the FDA
b) Preapproved for effectiveness by the FDA
c) None of the above
a) Are authorized by the FDA
b) Carry a disclaimer
c) Describe the relationship of an ingredient to a health condition
a) Are safer than synthesized dietary supplements
b) May interact with OTC drugs and causes complications
c) Are approved by the FDA
c) The company that makes them
9. Name one common reason why a person may not be able to take a certain medicine or dietary supplement.
b) Psyllium fiber
1. a) FDA
2. c) Food
3. b) Structure/function claim
4. c) None of the above
5. b) Carry a disclaimer
6. b) May interact with OTC drugs and causes complications
7. c) The company that makes them
8. b) Vitamins
9. Pregnancy; existing health-related condition; risk of interaction with other medication, supplement, food, or beverage.
10. b) Psyllium fiber
Important Terms to Know
Amino Acid: Amino acids are building blocks of protein and make other important contributions to biological processes; there are twenty standard amino acids.
Contraindication: a reason NOT to take a medicine or dietary supplement. Reasons may include pregnancy, an existing health-related condition, or risk of interaction with another medicine, supplement, or conventional food or beverage.
Dietary Ingredient: The specific ingredient in a dietary supplement that provides the effect.
Dietary Supplement: A product that contains one or more dietary ingredients such as vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, or other ingredients used to supplement the diet.
DSHEA: Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. The federal law that defines dietary supplements and explains what types of product claims manufacturers can make.
DSHEA Disclaimer: Statement required by the FDA to inform consumers that the FDA has not evaluated a claim being made on the product and to notify consumers that the product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This disclaimer must appear on all dietary supplement product labels that make structure/function claims.
Enzyme: Protein that speeds up chemical reactions in the body.
FDA: U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The federal agency responsible for oversight and regulation of food, drugs, and cosmetics. Dietary supplements are regulated like a type of food.
FTC: U.S. Federal Trade Commission. The federal agency responsible for regulating the advertising practices of businesses. The FTC ensures that companies do not provide false or misleading advertising of their products.
Health Claims: Describe the connection between a nutrient or food substance and a disease or health-related condition. FDA must authorize a claim based on a review of scientific evidence or an authoritative statement from certain scientific bodies.
Herb: Plant with no permanent woody stem
Interaction: An action between dietary supplements, prescription drugs, OTC medicines, and other medications and/or foods that may change how the supplement or drug is absorbed, metabolized and/or excreted, thereby causing a potentially harmful effect. An interaction also can cause a medication to be less effective because of another medication taken at the same time.
Minerals: Natural, inorganic substance with characteristic chemical composition and crystalline structure.
Natural/All-Natural Label: Signals that product has not been chemically synthesized. Not always safe or better than products that have been synthesized. Products with this label may have similar side effects as products produced in a laboratory.
Nutrient Content Claims: These claims describe the level of a nutrient in a food or dietary supplement. For example, a supplement containing at least 200 milligrams of calcium per serving could carry the claim high in calcium.
OTC Medicines: Over-the-counter medicines are medications that are available without a prescription, such as aspirin and certain cold remedies. These products make drug claims and do not have a DSHEA disclaimer.
Other Ingredients: Ingredients used as additives for color, flavor, binding, or bulk.
Statement of Identity: Describes what the product is, such as ginseng or St. John's wort.
Structure/Function Claims: Statements that describe the role of dietary supplements in supporting wellness (promoting and maintaining health), and refer to the structural part or function of the body they support. Because FDA does not evaluate structure/function claims, they must be accompanied by a disclaimer.
Vitamin: Organic substance required in small quantities for bodily activity and growth. Sources are plants and animals.