The term “dietary supplement” describes a broad and diverse category of products that you eat or drink to support good health and supplement the diet.
Dietary supplements are not medicines, nor should they be considered a substitute for food.
Dietary ingredients can be one or a combination of any of the following:
- Meal supplement
- Herb or other botanical
- Amino acid (the individual building blocks of a protein)
- Concentrate, metabolite, constituent, or extract
Nutritional supplements are used for many purposes – they can be added to the diet to boost overall health and energy; to provide immune system support and reduce the risks of illness and age-related conditions; to improve performance in athletic and mental activities; and to support the healing process during illness and disease.
Considering average dietary needs and the prevalence of certain health conditions, some basic guidelines may provide the foundation for the effective use of nutritional supplements.
First, a high quality, broad-spectrum multivitamin and mineral supplement, taken once per day, is recommended to provide a range of nutrients. This should contain the B-complex vitamins (B6, B12, and folic acid), which may help prevent heart disease, and the minerals zinc and copper, which aid immunity. In addition to a multivitamin, antioxidants can be added to a supplementation routine. These include vitamin A (or beta-carotene), vitamin C, and vitamin E, and the mineral selenium.
Antioxidants may have several positive effects on the body, such as slowing the aging process, reducing the risks of cancer and heart disease, and reducing the risks of illness and infection by supporting the immune system. Coenzyme Q10 is another antioxidant in wide usage, as studies have shown it may improve the health of the heart and reduce the effects of heart disease. Essential fatty acids, particularly omega-3, are also recommended as they are involved in many important processes in the body, including brain function. Calcium supplementation is recommended for the elderly and for women, to strengthen bones and prevent bone loss. Calcium supplements that are balanced with magnesium have a less constipating effect and are better absorbed.
After basic nutritional requirements are supported, supplements may be used to target specific needs and health conditions. For instance, athletes, men, women, children, the elderly, and vegetarians have differing needs for nutrients, and an informed use of supplements would take these differences into account.
People suffering from health conditions and diseases may use specific supplements to target their condition and to support the body’s healing capacity by providing optimal amounts of nutrients.