Dietary supplement are products that contain a dietary ingredient and are consumed via the mouth. This dietary ingredient could include amino acids, vitamins, minerals, herbs or botanicals. It could also contain any other substance that can be used a supplement to one’s diet.
Dietary supplements come in tablets, powders, capsules, energy bars and liquids. They are typically labeled clearly as dietary supplements and include:
• Enzyme supplements – these complex proteins speed up biochemical reactions.
• Herbal products – this includes algae, macroscopic fungi, plant materials or a combination of all these substances.
• Vitamin and Mineral products – organic compound that your body needs in some quantity for maximum performance and health
• Amino acid products – these play a significant role in metabolism and are essential for building up proteins.
Dietary supplements are used for medical conditions, compensating diets or eating habits that lack sufficient amounts of nutrients and vitamins. Nutritional supplements can also help to get a good night’s sleep or boost energy levels. Women going through menopause also use them to counter sudden drops in estrogen levels.
Consult a Health Care Professional
Health Canada recommends that one consults with a healthcare professional before beginning any dietary supplements. This is because the ingredients in dietary supplements can have strong biological effects which are not safe for everybody.
Some factors to take into account include:
• Improper use of supplements can be harmful. Combining supplements with medication or using them in place of prescribed medications can lead to life-threatening complications.
• Some supplements have unwanted effects. Supplements can have unexpected effects before, during and after surgery. It is important to advise your doctor on all supplements that you are using before any surgery. For instance, the use of ginseng, garlic and Vitamin E supplements can lead to bleeding as a side effect.
• The purpose of dietary supplements is not to cure, treat or alleviate the effects of a disease. Supplements cannot prevent diseases. There are some supplements such as folic acid that is believed to reduce the risk of birth defects in the baby’s spinal cord and brain.
Regulation of Dietary Supplements
There exists a Health Canada Standard for dietary supplements that ensure what is in the bottle matches with what in on the label. Tests are also done to confirm there are no unsafe levels of pesticides, herbicides or heavy metals in the product.
Dietary supplements are classified as food products and not drugs. As a result, the Health Canada may not test a majority of dietary supplements or authorize their use before any marketing. They can, however, remove a dietary supplement from the market if they deem it unsafe for consumers.
How to be an informed and safe customer?
• Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional before taking any dietary supplements.
• Be aware of the supplement ingredients and their effects when used with together with certain substances, foods or other drugs.
• Do not presume that the term ‘natural’ in relation to dietary supplements means the product is safe.
• Never self-diagnose a health condition.
• Do your proper research and be wary of hyped products.