Learn the pros and cons of dietary supplements in detail (buying guidelines included!)

by | Oct 17, 2022 | Dietary Supplements

Dietary supplements have become quite popular in the last decade. You can find racks filled with dietary supplements in any supermarket. Hence, with so many options of supplements available in the market, I have formulated a buying guide so you can choose your product wisely. I have also listed some pros and cons of supplements here.

Pro tip: Read everything in detail before making your final decision!

Dietary supplements include minerals, vitamins, proteins, fatty acids, herbs, and botanical supplements. You must have seen social media influencers speaking volumes about these supplements. However, is this promotion justified?

Because the marketers and makers of dietary supplements make it seem like there is nothing wrong with the supplements.

Let’s review the cons and pros of dietary supplements and see if they are right or not.

Cons of Dietary Supplements

Learn the pros and cons of dietary supplements in detail (buying guidelines included!)

The disadvantages of dietary supplements are:

Lack of scientific research to support their benefits

The primary downside linked with dietary supplements is the absence of sound research.

Dietary supplements are being used for ages. Most of the knowledge of (herbal) supplements was passed on to us by our ancestors. The irony is that we have known about dietary supplements for quite a long time to not hold research trials to prove their effectiveness.

So why is that?

Why do the multimillionaire research institutes not invest their time and money to search about such widely consumed products?

The reason behind this lies in the game of patency.
The thing is anything that is found naturally cannot be patented. So even if the research firms invest billions of dollars to find the effectiveness of one supplement, they cannot patent that finding to their name. Therefore, anyone can come and present the benefits of such a supplement in his own words to the public and cash in on the research that they had no part in.

The research present at this stage on dietary supplements such as vitamins and minerals is small-scale, limited, and does not consider long-term effects. It is also necessary to take into account the combination of ingredients found in supplements and study their effects combinedly. All of this requires serious efforts and large investment, something not easy to commence or arrange. (Sadly enough, we have become so self-centered that we have stopped working for the greater good.)

Not regulated by the FDA

Dietary supplements are considered food by the Food and Drug Administration. They are not labeled as drugs; therefore, they do not come under the regulatory laws of the FDA as any medicine.

Now what is FDA and why is it so important?
The FDA is the main governing body over drugs present all over the world. When a drug claims to be FDA regulated, that means it has been quality assured, went through rigorous testing before the official release, and has also been approved by clinical trials.

Since dietary supplements are not FDA regulated, they do not need to go through any official preliminary testing to prove their quality. This brings you, the consumer, at a greater risk because you have to take their word for the supplement’s effectiveness.

The supplement makers have to follow certain guidelines by the FDA i.e., they can’t claim to treat, prevent, mitigate or cure any disease. And they also have to maintain their standard because if the FDA receives negative reviews about any supplements, it immediately pulls them back from the market.

Despite all of this, some dietary supplements do not pay heed to the official guidelines. They even use more than the allowed limit in each dose. For example, the official UL of vitamin D is 4000 IU but almost all the vitamin D supplements freely sell 10,000 IU per dose. You would have no other option than to take more than the recommended value in this case.

Mislabeling is very common

Learn the pros and cons of dietary supplements in detail (buying guidelines included!)

This is a very serious issue that needs addressing.

Do you know how common it is for dietary supplements to claim a component’s effectiveness when that specific ingredient is not even there?!
More common than you can think!
(Yes, you read it right.
It’s like taking a vitamin C pill with no vitamin C in it.
Infuriating, ain’t it?

This misguidance is not something you should take lightly. A few years back, when the FDA seized a supplement regarding mislabeling issues, serious concerns were raised by everyone involved. The FDA then started to consider if they should regulate dietary supplements as drugs. However, it did not happen as they faced a lot of opposition from the public.

And do you know what was the reason behind that pressure?
Because people were afraid that they would then require a doctor’s prescription for buying a supplement.
(This shows that people would go to any length to not break their habit, even if it’s useless or damaging to them!)

Well, all of that aside, some non-profit organizations such as US Pharmacopeia provide quality assurance seals to any supplement after inspection. Therefore, always be on the lookout for dietary supplements with a USP seal, they at least guarantee that the label is the same as the ingredients.

Chance of overdose

You are at a high risk of overdose if you do not take account of all the sources you are getting nutrients from. For instance, if you have fortified cereals for breakfast, consume an energy bar or two for a snack, eat a nutritious lunch and dinner and also take high doses of supplements, chances are you might be overdoing it with supplements!

While overdose of certain dietary supplements leads to mild toxicity (such as that of Vitamin C), overdosing on other vitamins and minerals can be deadly for you.

Note: The following overdosage reactions are listed for healthy individuals. If you are already suffering from a disease, you can have an even worse reaction.

Some of the overdosing side effects include:

  • Taking high doses of Vitamin C for a long time can cause gastrointestinal problems i.e., diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, and migraines.
  • Folic acid overdose can affect your brain function, hamper your immune response and mask a severe vitamin B12 deficiency (this deficiency leads to irreparable nerve damage)
  • Vitamin A toxicity (caused by taking Vitamin A supplements more than the requirement) leads to nausea, pressure build up in your skull, coma, and even death.
  • Vitamin D overdose is also lethal. It can make you lose your appetite and your weight. Irregular heartbeat and serious organ damage due to high levels of calcium in the blood are also seen.
  • Iron, boron, and even selenium supplements can be toxic if you are overdosing on them for long periods.
  • Vitamin B6 overdose for over 12 months can seriously damage your nerves.

They adversely interact with some drugs

Cross reaction with a drug is a grave concern regarding dietary supplements.

If you are prescribed medicines for diseases such as diabetes, heart problems, or disorders such as depression, acne, or others, there is a high possibility that you will be told to avoid certain dietary supplements. This is because they interfere with the proper functioning of the medicines by increasing or decreasing their effectiveness in your body

Some examples of the possible harmful interactions are:

  • Iron supplements hamper the action of antibiotics by almost 40%
  • Vitamin A should be avoided when you are using retinoid acne medications such as Accutane and Soriatane as this can cause Vitamin A toxicity.
  • Calcium supplements also reduce the function of antibiotics, especially tetracyclines and fluoroquinolones, by greater than one-third percentage.
  • Vitamin K can decrease the effectiveness of blood thinners such as Coumadin (warfarin)
  • Vitamin E augments the blood thinners’ action, making you prone to easy bruising and recurrent nose bleeds
  • Vitamin B6 affects the strength of the drug prescribed for seizures i.e., Dilantin, and also reduces the efficacy of levodopa (a drug prescribed to Parkinson’s disease patients).
  • St. John’s wort promotes the breakdown of multiple drugs such as antidepressants and birth control pills, thereby reducing their effectiveness.

Do not act as a food replacement

I Cannot Stress This Point Enough!

I can’t understand why people, especially the young ones, of our generation have this notion that popping a pill is the same as eating food. There is a HUGE difference between eating whole foods and taking food supplements.

Natural foods have protein, carbohydrates, fats, dietary fibers as well as multiple micronutrients in them. On the other hand, a dietary supplement simply provides you with two or more nutrients. It doesn’t cover the entire range, nor does it provide us with the dietary fibers we need for proper digestion.

It’s high time that the government should raise awareness campaigns that eating a balanced diet is the key to healthy living. It’s also necessary that the popular celebs and sportspersons should stop promoting these dietary supplements to achieve unrealistic body standards.

You should remember that there are many things involved in making famous people look fit and slim. Besides insane workouts and crazy diets, a lot of makeup is involved to enhance the body’s features.

Your primary goal should always be to get healthy from within. And taking dietary supplements as a food replacement will take you nowhere near that.

Pros of Dietary Supplements

Learn the pros and cons of dietary supplements in detail (buying guidelines included!)

The advantages of dietary supplements include:

Fill in nutrition gaps

Dietary supplements function effectively in providing you with nutrients that your body may lack.

Even the people who are taking a wholesome diet can face a nutritional deficit at some point in their lives. This is because, with the low soil quality and increasing pollution, the nutritional value of food is being decreased.

Did you know? According to studies, our food is 50% less nutritious than it was 50 years ago. And for some foods, the situation is even worse. For instance, you need to eat 21 oranges in the present to get the same amount of Vitamin A you could get from 1 orange in the past.

Besides this, the rise in the consumption of calorie-rich but nutrient-deficit junk food in America and other countries have added more to the problem. All of this has given rise to ‘Hidden hunger’, i.e., deficiency of nutrients in our body.

The best way to combat this is by consuming a balanced diet, exercising, and taking a dietary supplement to make up for the occasional nutrient slip-up.

Note: Always ask your doctor before starting any dietary supplement.

Effective for making up the certain nutritional deficiency

Some dietary supplements have become an inevitable part of our lives. Our busy routine and new research findings have deemed certain dietary supplements compulsory for us. While consuming good food and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is always a positive attitude, there are times you would have to take dietary supplements to gain back the nutrients you lack.

For instance, if you are a middle-aged homemaker and spend most of your morning inside the house, it’s highly possible that you are not getting enough sun exposure for Vitamin D. Since vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption, you need to take a vitamin D supplement for strong bones.

Also, if you are a vegan or vegetarian, you are prone to have a vitamin B12 deficiency as this vitamin is primarily found in meat and meat products. In such a case, dietary supplements containing vitamin B12 will help you to continue your vegan lifestyle without facing the side effects of vitamin B12 deficiency.

Not only this, but there are also some conditions in which the use of dietary supplements becomes inevitable. For example, it was discovered that folic acid promotes normal brain and skeletal development in unborn babies and reduces the chance of miscarriage in pregnant women. Therefore, almost always, pregnant women are prescribed folic acid during their first trimester.

Buying guidelines for Dietary supplements

Learn the pros and cons of dietary supplements in detail (buying guidelines included!)

Following are some of the important points you must consider before buying any dietary supplement.

Do your research

Cross question yourself a lot to know whether you truly need a supplement. Read about the dietary supplement you are going to have in detail to know what it has and what effects it has on your body.

Ask yourself questions such as
Why do I need this supplement?
Why am I feeling that my diet is not enough?
Do I really have a nutritional deficiency or am I just overthinking?
How early should I book an appointment with a health professional to get myself evaluated?

Such questions will help you align your plan of action and will assist in asking the right questions from the right person.

Always discuss with your doctor

This goes without saying.

Your healthcare provider should be notified before you start any dietary supplement. He will see your family history, and your risk of infections and check you for any possible allergic reaction before giving you approval.

Most of the time, people who are taking medicines for conditions such as diabetes, depression, or others, are not recommended certain dietary supplements. This is because certain supplements can decrease, augment or simply interfere with your prescribed medicines.

Not only this but if you’re scheduled for surgery or any other medical procedure, talking to your doctor is a must. He will tell you whether to continue with the supplement or stop it entirely.

Buy from reputed brands

Reputed brands are those who have been in the supplement industry for years. Such companies have established their name in the market by selling trustable products. You might have heard some names of such companies too.

And if you don’t, search the Internet for that brand’s authenticity and longevity. Chances are the longer a company has survived, the more genuine its products are. And if you still find yourself at a cross in a health food store, ask the employee’s there to single out products that are from genuine and reputed companies. This will help you narrow down the best option from hundreds of products of similar ingredients.

Note: Trustable products are not those that will be effective. Rather they are those who list all their ingredients and do not claim to sell something that’s not even there.

Third-party certifications are more important than you think

Yup. They are.

As I told you earlier, dietary supplements are considered foods by the FDA. Therefore, dietary supplements are exempt from preliminary scrutiny by the FDA as they are not considered drugs.

Therefore, in this case, look out for certifications from global organizations such as ConsumerLabs, NSF International, or USP (US Pharmacopeial Convention). Only genuine companies put their reputation at stake by going for these certifications.

But what do these organizations do?
These associations thoroughly test that specific dietary supplement to see whether they have listed all their ingredients or not. They also make sure that there are no fillers in the pills (as most substandard dietary supplements have).

However, make one thing clear: these organizations do not guarantee that the supplement is either safe or effective. They only test the quality of the products.

Only buy legal products

Learn the pros and cons of dietary supplements in detail (buying guidelines included!)

More often than not, companies compel you to buy their illegal dietary supplements by using catchphrases such as

  • “Barely legal but works just fine”
  • “Limited stock only”
  • “Won’t be available for much longer!”

These are nothing more than click baits. Once you land on their product’s page, they will convince you with every bogus claim possible to state their point. All they want is that you start believing their lies and waste your hard-earned money on their worthless item.

Remind yourself in such times that there is always a strong justification behind banning a product by the official bodies. Be a smart shopper. Do not get tempted by illegal items at all. They will always do more harm than good.

Learn to read labels

There is a general rule about marketing: Attract the consumer’s attention at all costs. The manufacturers of dietary supplements also use this strategy when designing the label. You will see the front label of dietary supplements to be full of positive claims and views.

Well, don’t fall for it.

Because what you need to do is to look at the back of the label and check out the ingredients and dosages mentioned there.
You should also get a checklist for doubtful or damaging ingredients in dietary supplements BEFOREHAND from the FDA’s official website. This will further help you understand and analyze the ingredients list without getting confused.

Using this tactic will help you get the hang of the scientific terms used in the ingredients list of such supplements. It will also make you aware of the things that you are putting in your body without your knowledge.

Note: This wholesome advice will benefit you for the rest of your life. (Trust me, I have done it) I implemented this technique when deciding which formula milk to buy for my toddler. I decided not to follow the herd and get to know all the important information beforehand.
And you know what?
Surprisingly enough, the one most advertised (and recommended by my friends) had the least amount of essential elements in it! Reading the ingredients list helped me choose a better (and more affordable) option for my kid.

Buy moderately dosed supplements

This is important when you are starting a new dietary supplement.

Do you feel like your diet is not enough and you need multivitamins to revitalize your body? Well then, go for a moderate dose of that dietary supplement rather than loading up on extra nutrients! (And that too after consulting your doctor).

Beginning the cycle with a moderate amount of supplements acts as a safe pick for you. This allows your body to clear up the drug more quickly in case of an adverse reaction. Starting with a heavy dose of dietary supplements can also upset your digestive system. Therefore, it is better to adjust to average doses first and then increase the quantity, after your doctor’s approval.

Do not fall for over-the-top claims

Let’s assume you go to the market to buy a vitamin C dietary supplement.

The first bottle you see simply contains Vitamin C. The next one claims it works better than the former and has vitamin C and some supposedly immune-boosting herbal component in it. The third one makes the same claim and has three or four additional ingredients in it!

So, which one will you go for?

You should, without a doubt, choose the first one. Remember, the smartest choice in terms of dietary supplements is the one that offers just the ingredient you need. Loading up on surplus ingredients can increase your chances of side effects.

Also, dietary supplements can claim all kinds of things. They usually use phrases such as ‘works better than a drug’ or ‘100% safe’ etc.

They can guarantee to work wonders for you without any proper research or trials. Therefore, if the claims sound too good to be true, they probably are. Never fall into the trap of extraordinary promises by dietary supplements.

Evaluate the website in detail when buying online

You are more likely to get scammed when buying dietary supplements online.

If it’s your first time purchasing a dietary supplement online, I would suggest you stay away from third-party online retailers as much as possible. Also, be cautious of low-standard websites whose cheap interface speaks volumes about the owner’s professionalism.

Your chances of receiving the wrong product or no supplement at all are very high if you take such risks. Therefore, be very thorough in evaluating the forum from which you are purchasing your dietary supplement.

Your priority during online purchase should be that dietary supplement manufacturer’s official website. And in that too, evaluate the web pages closely to see the genuinity and commitment of the company. A good website of a dietary supplement company should write straightforwardly what their product can do (Remember: no over-the-top claims!). They should also back their views with sound research (links should be given) so that you can make an informed decision without any pressure.

Any website, which is designed otherwise, cannot be trusted fully.

Look out for genuine reviews

Learn the pros and cons of dietary supplements in detail (buying guidelines included!)

Reviews are very important to know whether the product even works or not. Finding genuine reviews is a PLUS, it saves your time and money when it comes to supplements.

Considering the plethora of online reviews of dietary supplements, I know this is something very hard to do.
But trust me, my friend, it’s not impossible either.

There are some tips and tricks that you can use to get around the fake ones and identify a trustable opinion, such as

  • Visit acclaimed review sites and articles for an unbiased review
  • An all-praise article is up to no good. There are always two sides to a coin. Stay away from such websites that have no downside to tell you about any specific dietary supplement.
  • Some companies also allow their users to publish their reviews on their official sites. But beware, this is where scam happens the most! My go-to trick in such a case is to look out for short, to-the-point reviews that mention their personal experience along with the pictures. Lengthy comments filled with praises for the company and the product are not something I rely on. Also, check out the dates on which the reviews are given. If you can see a pattern, such as consistent positive reviews published each day for the last 2 months, then the greater chance is that the reviews are paid.

Search their authenticity on noncommercial sites

Non-commercial websites such as those of the FDA, USDA, and NIH publish unbiased reviews about dietary supplements. They also mention the ingredients present in them as well as the scientific research backing their effectiveness. You can find the entire detail by simply writing in the dietary supplement’s name or any specific component you want to know about. This will help you make an informed decision about any dietary supplement you are willing to take.

(It might take you a while to get the hang of the scientific terms and all, but with all due respect mate, take all the time in the world to know that the things you are putting in your body will only benefit you!)

Always remember: ‘natural’ does not mean ‘safe’

Yup. This is a strategy that marketers use to lure innocent people into their scams.

They publicize their dietary supplement as an “all-natural” product that is safe and effective for everyone.

However, is it true what they say?
Well, not always.

Most of the time, natural ingredients can elicit a side effect or damage your health in the long term, leaving you weaker than before. For instance, comfrey, a common herbal supplement, seriously damages your liver.

Whether you are taking dietary supplements to build up muscle mass, improve your nutrient count or increase your libido, always check the ingredients for their safety and appropriate doses to use.


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