Bill is retired and lives alone. Often, hes just not hungry or is too tired to fix a whole meal. Does he need a multivitamin, or should he take one of those dietary supplements he sees in ads everywhere? Bill wonders if they workwill one help keep his joints healthy or another give him more energy? And, are they safe?
Dietary supplements are substances you might use to add nutrients to your diet or to lower your risk of health problems, like osteoporosis or arthritis. Dietary supplements come in the form of pills, capsules, powders, gel tabs, extracts, or liquids. They might contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, amino acids, herbs or other plants, or enzymes. Sometimes, the ingredients in dietary supplements are added to foods, including drinks. A doctors prescription is not needed to buy dietary supplements.
Eating a variety of healthy foods is the best way to get the nutrients you need. However, some people dont get enough vitamins and minerals from their daily diet, and their doctors may recommend a supplement. Dietary supplements may provide nutrients that might be missing from your daily diet.
Talk with your doctor before taking any supplements. Some supplements can change how medicines you may already be taking will work. If your doctor recommends a dietary supplement for you, make sure youre getting the brand recommended by the doctor and that you take it as directed.
Do you wonder if you need a dietary supplement? Maybe you do, but usually not. Ask yourself why you think you might want to take a dietary supplement. Are you concerned about getting enough nutrients? Is a friend, a neighbor, or someone on a commercial suggesting you take one? Some ads for dietary supplements in magazines, online, or on TV seem to promise that these supplements will make you feel better, keep you from getting sick, or even help you live longer. Often, there is little, if any, good scientific research supporting these claims. Supplements may cost a lot, could be harmful, or simply might not be helpful. Talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian for advice.
People over age 50 may need more of some vitamins and minerals than younger adults do. Your doctor or a dietitian can tell you whether you need to change your diet or take a vitamin or mineral supplement to get enough of these:
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020 recommend how much of each vitamin and mineral men and women of different ages need. Sometimes, too much of a vitamin or mineral can be harmful. Most, if not all, of your daily vitamins and minerals should come from food.
Vitamin B122.4 mcg (micrograms) each day. If you are taking medicine for acid reflux, you might need a different form, which your healthcare provider can give you.
CalciumWomen over age 50 need 1,200 mg (milligrams) each day. Men need 1,000 mg between age 51 and 70 and 1,200 mg after 70, but not more than 2,000 mg a day.
Vitamin D600 IU (International Units) for people age 51 to 70 and 800 IU for those over 70, but not more than 4,000 IU each day.
Vitamin B61.7 mg for men and 1.5 mg for women each day.
When thinking about whether you need more of a vitamin or mineral, think about how much of each nutrient you get from food and drinks, as well as from any supplements you take. Check with a doctor or dietitian to learn whether you need to supplement your diet.
You might hear about antioxidants in the news. These are natural substances in food that might help protect you from some diseases. Here are some common sources of antioxidants that you should be sure to include in your diet:
Right now, research results suggest that large doses of supplements with antioxidants will not prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease or diabetes. In fact, some studies have shown that taking large doses of some antioxidants could be harmful. Again, it is best to check with your doctor before taking a dietary supplement.
Herbal supplements are dietary supplements that come from plants.
A few that you may have heard of are gingko biloba, ginseng, echinacea, and black cohosh. Researchers are looking at using herbal supplements to prevent or treat some health problems. Its too soon to know if herbal supplements are both safe and useful. But, studies of some have not shown benefits.
Scientists are still working to answer this question. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) checks prescription medicines, such as antibiotics or blood pressure medicines, to make sure they are safe and do what they promise. The same is true for over-the-counter drugs like pain and cold medicines.
The FDA does not have authority over dietary supplements in the same way it does prescription medicines. The Federal Government does not regularly test what is in dietary supplements, and companies are not required to share information on the safety of a dietary supplement with the FDA before they sell it. The companies are responsible for making sure the supplement is safe, but the FDA does not evaluate the safety of the product before the supplement is sold. So, just because you see a dietary supplement on a store shelf does not mean it is safe, that it does what the label says it will, or that it contains what the label says it contains.
If the FDA receives reports of possible problems with a supplement, it will issue warnings about products that are clearly unsafe. The FDA may also take these supplements off the market. The Federal Trade Commission looks into reports of ads that might misrepresent what dietary supplements do. A few private groups, such as the U.S. Pharmacopeia, NSF International, ConsumerLab.com, and the Natural Products Association, have their own seals of approval for dietary supplements. To get such a seal, products must be made by following good manufacturing procedures, must contain what is listed on the label, and must not have harmful levels of ingredients that dont belong there, like lead.
If you are thinking about using dietary supplements:
When she turned 60, Pearl decided she wanted to stay healthy and active as long as possible. She was careful about what she ate. She became more physically active. Now she takes a long, brisk walk three or four times a week. In bad weather, she joins the mall walkers at the local shopping mall. On nice days, Pearl works in her garden. When she was younger, Pearl stopped smoking and started using a seatbelt. Shes even learning how to use a computer to find healthy recipes. Last month, she turned 84 and danced at her granddaughters wedding!
Try following Pearls examplestick to a healthy diet, be physically active, keep your mind active, dont smoke, see your doctor regularly, and, in most cases, only use dietary supplements suggested by your doctor or pharmacist.
Read about this topic in Spanish. Lea sobre este tema en espaol.
Office of Dietary Supplements National Institutes of Health301firstname.lastname@example.org
Department of AgricultureFood and Nutrition Information Center301-504-5414FNIC@ars.usda.govwww.nal.usda.gov/fnic
This content is provided by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health. NIA scientists and other experts review this content to ensure that it is accurate, authoritative, and up to date.
Content reviewed: November 30, 2017
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