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Posts Tagged ‘Dietary Supplements’

Dietary Supplements. By Our Student Pharmacist, Alexander Schlater.


What is the difference between the two bottles above?

Well, according to the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), one is a drug and one is a food.

That’s right, vitamins, herbals, and other products that you probably consider medicine are actually considered dietary supplements. What does that mean for you as a consumer? It means you might need to do a little more homework before purchasing these products. You see, dietary supplements are still regulated by the FDA, but they are held to a different standard.

Drug manufacturers have to conduct rigorous studies on a new drug, proving it is both safe and effective before it can go to market. And, if the FDA is not satisfied with the results, they can require further studies or deny the new drug entirely.

Dietary supplements, on the other hand, need only be proven safe, and the FDA does not have to approve the safety analysis ahead of time. So for most reputable companies, you can usually trust the product is safe to take at the recommended dose for a healthy adult. However, there have been cases of less reputable companies selling products that were dangerous, misbranded, and even contained illegal drugs. Always be wary of any suspicious products, particularly those sold online. Even with trusted products, they may not be safe for all individuals.

Here are some things to look out for:

Dietary supplements can be dangerous at high doses.

Supplements may not be considered drugs, but consume enough of anything and it can be dangerous. High doses of iron supplements, for example, could cause severe abdominal pain and vomiting, or even shock or death at high enough doses. Never take more than the recommended dose of a supplement. If you have a health condition, even the recommended dose may not be safe. Consult with your doctor or pharmacist to find out if a new supplement is safe for you as an individual.

Even natural products can be dangerous. 

Some people are under the misguided notion that natural equals safe. But there are plenty of things in nature that can kill you: leaves, flowers, fruits, mushrooms, etc. Just because a supplement is natural doesn’t mean it is safe. That is why there are safety trials. Ask your pharmacist to learn more about a particular supplement’s possible risks and side effects.

Dietary supplements can interact with your medications.

Depending on the interaction, some supplements could reduce the effectiveness of certain medications, or some could increase your likelihood of experiencing unwanted side effects. These interactions can be identified by your pharmacist, but only if they know you are taking them. Be sure to tell your pharmacist about any supplements you take so they can screen for interactions.


Dietary supplements do not have to be proven effective and are not intended to treat, diagnose, prevent, or cure diseases. 

Marketers will try to get around this with such taglines as “Immune Support” or “Promotes a Healthy Heart,” but that doesn’t mean the supplements necessarily work.

A point of advice, the one trying to sell you a product will always claim their product works. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if a particular supplement has been well studied and what the findings were.

Never use a dietary supplement in place of a medication your doctor prescribed you.

If the supplement actually worked better, your doctor would have prescribed it instead. You might think that supplements are safer than prescription drugs, but this is not necessarily true, and letting a condition such as high blood pressure go untreated or undertreated can be very dangerous.


Dietary supplements can be an important part of health care, but they are often overhyped. A well-balanced, healthy diet should always be your first line for getting your vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. Supplements should be just that… supplements, and they should not be used to replace foods or medicines.

Do your homework with supplements, don’t believe everything you hear, and when in doubt, ask your friendly neighborhood pharmacist.