Behind the popularity of food supplements, there is, in particular, the idea that they can only do us good… This is to forget that there are potential dangers in taking more vitamins herbal mixture and other minerals. And consumers are not always well informed.
Indeed, unlike drugs, to see their marketing authorized, dietary supplements are not required to inform the Australian drug regulatory body, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), about this point. (Note: TGA is Australia’s FDA).
I have identified six ways in which taking these now so common supplements could be harmful. These findings were published in the trade journal Australian Prescriber.
What are dietary supplements?
These products may contain plant extracts, multivitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, algae (herbal), etc. They are intended to supplement our diet. They are intended to supplement our diet, not to provide any therapeutic effect.
In Australia, dietary supplements largely dominate the so-called complementary medicine industry, of which they are apart. Sales of dietary supplements reached A$4.9 billion in 2017, a doubling in a decade. A 2018 national survey showed that 63% of people used them regularly.
The most used food supplements are those containing vitamins and minerals: vitamin D, vitamin C, vitamin A, and calcium or magnesium. According to a study published in the journal Nature, they are used by 47% of consumers.
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What to watch out for?
Many say they have never heard of any risks regarding dietary supplements. This is not surprising, as communication about them mainly highlights the benefits of taking them; there is little mention of potential risks.
The information leaflet is often limited and rarely mentions the risks of side effects.
However, there are well-known nuisances caused by the ingredients used in food supplements. This is a well-established fact in pharmacology, especially when these ingredients are consumed in high doses.
For these reasons, in Australia, the high dose intake of certain vitamins and minerals is regulated and can only be received by a pharmacist or on a medical prescription.
- If side effects are the potential risks that come to mind first, dietary supplements can have other consequences. I’ve identified six of these, different kinds:
- Undesirable side effects can result from both brief and long-term use. Too high a dose is often the cause, but not always. Some supplements are not recommended in case of allergy, pregnancy, breastfeeding, etc.
- Drug interactions: mixing with certain treatments can cause toxicity or reduce their effectiveness.
- The cost: multiplying supplements is not trivial.
- Delayed prescription: supplements are not drugs. However, it happens that taking them is considered sufficient for a health problem, thus delaying the medical consultation and the implementation of an effective treatment.
- Fraud and false hopes: some supplements can make fraudulent claims.
- Inappropriate mixtures: by multiplying medicines and food supplements, we multiply the risks of error: accidental overdose, unexpected side effects, etc.
How to choose the best dietary supplements?
Nowadays, it is hard to find a trustworthy supplement. This is why the FDA decided to not approve any Male Enhancement supplements on Amazon. Too many brands were flooding the market with dangerous ingredients and fake claims.
To make sure you choose the best and safest supplement for your need, we suggest you check the FCER’s Supplement Ratings and Reviews List from their Nutritionists and Health experts.
Always monitor daily doses
Many supplements are taken safely for medical purposes. For example, during pregnancy, women may be prescribed folic acid or iodine. They help treat deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, iron, etc.
The key to your safety is the dosage. The maximum doses for good effectiveness are known, but may not be followed in case of self-medication… especially if the products have been purchased on the Internet. Consumers may then not stop at the doses considered safe, find themselves with unreliable indications… or do as they please.
For example, many people overlook the risk of overdosing on a given nutrient, mainly vitamin B6 or vitamin A, which can occur with multiple supplements.
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When assessing the potential benefit or risk of a dietary supplement, it is important to look beyond the most well-known or main ingredient: it is important to determine what all the compounds are, at what dose they are present, in order to avoid overdoses when taking other supplements where they are also present, etc. Health professionals can assist everyone, explaining why it is important to respect this or that dosage for reasons of risk and optimal effectiveness.
Sometimes it is necessary to go further than the information provided by the manufacturers, who should make their information more accessible. As widespread as they are now, food supplements are not harmless.