Dietary Supplements – What Are They and Why Should I Be Concerned?


A dietary supplement is any product taken by mouth that contains a so-called "dietary ingredient".  These dietary ingredients may include vitamins, minerals, herbs, and amino acids as well as substances such as enzymes, organ tissues, metabolites, extracts or concentrates. Dietary supplements can be found in many forms such as pills, tablets, capsules, liquids or powders and must be identified on the label as a dietary supplement.


Canadians spend an estimated $1 billion dollars annually in dietary supplements (also known as alternative therapies).  The reasons why many people have turned towards dietary supplements are:


·        A lack of faith in traditional/conventional medicine

·        A desire to manage or be in control of their own health

·        A belief that conventional medicines have too many side effects

·        A belief that herbal remedies or other dietary supplements are “natural” and therefore safer

·        Testimonials about the effectiveness of the dietary supplement from people that they know


Unfortunately, many people taking dietary supplements are reluctant to discuss them with their physician or other health professionals.  They may fear disapproval or feel that the conventional care they are receiving will change, particularly if they have experienced an adverse reaction.  Because of this lack of reporting, no one knows how many negative effects are really occurring with dietary supplements.


There is evidence that some dietary supplements may provide some health benefits.  However, they should not be used in place of conventional medicines but rather in conjunction with them.  Nevertheless, it is important for a physician to know what dietary supplements are being taken to assess the risk of possible side effects of the supplement as well as interactions with drugs that the person may be taking.







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