For the media

‘Supplement Your Knowledge’ about dietary supplements

By The Health News Team | July 17, 2022
Woman reviewing information on bottle of vitamins

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been busy lately. Along with the agency’s work to ensure the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, the FDA has also focused on educating people on the safety of dietary supplements.

Through a new initiative called Supplement Your Knowledge, the FDA aims to inform people about how supplements are regulated and the benefits and risks of taking them. The program will also focus on educating health care providers and offer tools to advise patients about the use of these products.

What are dietary supplements?
Supplements are taken in the form of pills, powders, liquids, gummies and bars to complement a person’s diet. Some supplements can help improve or maintain overall health or meet daily requirements for essential nutrients.

Common dietary supplements include:

  • Vitamins and multivitamins

  • Minerals, such as calcium, magnesium and iron

  • Botanicals or herbs, such as echinacea and ginger

  • Botanical compounds, such as caffeine and curcumin

  • Amino acids, such as tryptophan and glutamine

  • Live microbials, commonly referred to as probiotics

According to research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 57% of adults over age 20 used a dietary supplement in the 30 days prior to taking a survey. The three most common types of dietary supplements used by adults were multivitamin-mineral, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.

How supplements are approved
While the FDA reports that some dietary supplements can be beneficial to your health, they can also lead to serious adverse reactions. What’s more, the FDA does not have the authority to approve dietary supplements or their labeling before they are sold to the public.

Instead, companies are responsible for ensuring the supplements they sell are safe and properly labeled. The FDA becomes involved only if it is believed or determined a supplement is not safe, illegal or improperly labeled.

“It’s important for consumers to have a comprehensive understanding of dietary supplements as well as the ability to identify and safely use supplements that are beneficial to their health,” says Douglas Stearn, deputy director for regulatory affairs in the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Taking some supplements can also involve health risks,”

The risks of dietary supplements
The risks of taking dietary supplements can include bad reactions and side effects ranging from uncomfortable to severe. These side effects may result from taking too much of some supplements, combining supplements, or using supplements with — or in place of — medications.

Bad reactions or side effects after taking supplements can include:

  • Rash

  • Fatigue

  • Severe and persistent vomiting and diarrhea

  • Difficulty urinating

  • Severe joint and muscle pain

  • Chest pain

  • Stroke

And according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine using data from 63 emergency departments obtained from 2004 to 2013:

  • 23,005 emergency department visits per year were attributed to adverse events related to dietary supplements, resulting in 2,154 hospitalizations annually

  • 31.8% of adverse events involved micronutrients (vitamins and minerals)

  • Energy or weight-loss products caused 71.8% of supplement-related adverse events involving palpitations, chest pain or tachycardia (an abnormally fast heartbeat)

  • Among adults 65 and older, choking caused 37.6% of all emergency department visits for supplement-related adverse events

Guidelines for taking supplements
The FDA advises anyone considering taking dietary supplements to carefully read the product labels and always talk with a doctor before taking them. The labels are required to include the serving size, number of servings per container, each dietary ingredient in the product and the amount of certain ingredients per serving.

If you think you are having an adverse reaction to a supplement, stop taking it and contact your doctor immediately. Report any side effects or adverse events to the FDA online or by calling 1-888-SAFEFOOD.

You might also like:

Get the best of Sharp Health News in your inbox

Our weekly email brings you the latest health tips, recipes and stories.