What Are Dietary Supplements?

Whether you are looking to boost your energy levels, improve chronic health condition symptoms or simply add nutritional support, Supplements can be an essential part of your healthy lifestyle. But with so many options on the market, how do you know which ones to choose?

Dietary supplements are vitamins, minerals, herbs or amino acids that are taken as a pill, gel, capsule, softgel, tablet, gummy, powder or drink. Supplements can be made up of vitamins (such as multivitamins or individual vitamins like vitamin D or biotin), minerals (such as calcium or magnesium), botanicals or herbs (such as echinacea and ginger), amino acids, live microbials and more. Protein powders and weight loss products often fall into this category, too.

While the vast majority of dietary supplements are safe, some are not. Some supplements, including some herbal extracts and some microbial products, are not properly regulated by the FDA and may contain dangerous contaminants or unlisted ingredients. It is also important to buy supplements from a reputable source as some require special storage and handling conditions or adhere to dietary restrictions.

A healthy diet filled with whole foods is the best way to get all of your vitamins and nutrients, but that’s not always easy for everyone. Supplements can help bridge the gap between your daily nutrient intake and dietary recommendations, especially for those with specific nutrient deficiencies or who have a high nutrient need, such as pregnant women.

For example, folic acid can prevent birth defects, while the combination of vitamins C and E, zinc, copper, lutein and zeaxanthin might slow eye disease and vision loss. Vitamin D is another key nutrient for bone health, while fish oils can help lower the risk of heart disease.

One observational study found that a higher intake of nutrients, particularly omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil, was associated with a lower risk of death from heart disease, but other studies have not replicated these findings, perhaps because they did not control for factors such as exercise and dietary habits. Regardless of the evidence, it is important to talk to your healthcare professional about taking any supplements, especially those that claim to cure diseases or treat illnesses.

When it comes to weight loss, supplements should never be used as a substitute for a balanced diet and regular exercise. But when taken correctly, supplements can make your diet and workouts more effective by helping you burn more calories, speed up your metabolism or curb cravings.

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