Do You Need a Dietary Supplement?

They come in pill, powder, and liquid form. Their labels say they’re good for you. And chances are, you’ve taken them before, or will in the future.

Dietary supplements aren’t new. And they’re totally legal. People take them for a variety of reasons — maybe to get more protein, vitamin C, or iron.

But do you really need one or more supplements to be the healthiest you can be? It depends on your personal health status, age, and a few other factors. We’ll start by going over who probably doesn’t need them.

Most people can get all the nutrition they need from food

Salad

Salad | OksanaKiian/iStock/Getty Images

If you don’t eat a variety of nutritious foods on a daily basis, it’s likely you’re not going to be able to get all the vitamins and minerals you need from what you’re eating. But for most people, it’s possible to get adequate nutrition from food alone.

Not everyone needs to take a supplement to be healthy, even if many of them do claim to boost health. Fish oil supplements can reduce your heart disease risk, for example, but you can also take in fish oil from actual fish.

However, there are certain situations in which taking a supplement is highly recommended. You should always consult your doctor before taking a supplement for any reason, especially if you’re taking any prescription medications.

Certain people can benefit from dietary supplements

Health professionals aren’t against dietary supplementation. In fact, many recommend that their patients take supplements to improve their health in certain situations. Your doctor, for example, might recommend you start taking a certain supplement if:

  • You’re pregnant or may become pregnant (folic acid and iron)
  • You’re over the age of 50 (vitamin D, vitamin B12, multivitamin)
  • You have limited sun exposure (vitamin D)
  • You follow a vegan lifestyle (vitamin B12)
  • Your food allergy or intolerance is depriving you of essential nutrients.

Many claim taking a supplement can ease or even eliminate symptoms related to chronic disease. But thi isn’t necessarily true.

Supplements can’t cure or treat diseases

Dietary supplements

Dietary supplements | iStock.com/monticelllo

Dietary supplements are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration as foods, not drugs. This means that while their labels can claim health benefits, they can’t promise to treat medical conditions.

There isn’t much reliable evidence to support the assumption that dietary supplements can treat or somehow cure chronic disease. But manufacturers can get around that by saying one of their products can relieve a symptom someone might associate with a certain health condition.

You might pick up a supplement that claims it will boost your mood if you’re experiencing depression symptoms, for example. But that supplement can’t and shouldn’t take the place of legitimate treatment for depression or other mental health issues.

Plus, taking too many supplements can actually make you sick. You shouldn’t take a different supplement for everything just because it might be good for you. The phrase “in moderation” may be a cliche, but it’s overused for a reason. Sometimes, less is more.

In the end, it’s still up to you to decide if you invest in supplements for their health benefits. Just be aware of the possible dangers of taking them if you have certain health conditions, make your doctor aware of everything you’re taking, and remember that supplements are meant to add to healthy lifestyle habits, not replace them. That’s why they’re supplemental, not essential.

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