Are supplements good for health?

Living in a world where millions rely on a daily dose of multivitamins or other forms of supplements to stay healthy is nothing new.

Perhaps this is one reason the dietary supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar business. Catering to people who would rather swallow supplements than eat healthy foods, the dietary supplement industry is worth nearly $200 billion USD. That’s a lot of capsulized vitamins and minerals.

The dietary supplement industry includes much more than just vitamins and minerals, however. It also includes herbs and other products in a variety of forms including pills and powders, drinks, and energy bars.

It’s important to understand that supplements do not have the same testing as drugs before being approved for consumer use. While many dietary supplement companies have a clean history, some manufacturers have been found with labels that do not match the product.

Since 1994, the FDA has found some herb supplements to contain pesticides, germs or toxic heavy metals, while others simply do not contain what’s listed on the label or contain ingredients that are not listed on the label at all.

In 2013, a group of researchers published a report after sampling 44 herbal products and 50 leaf samples from 12 companies using DNA barcoding. The products, which were sold in both the US and Canada, showed that 59 percent of the products contained plant species not listed on the labels. One third of those products also contained fillers and/or contaminants not listed on the label.

Their report also showed that 30 of 44 of the products tested resulted positive for product substitution, with only two of the 12 companies passing the barcode test without any detection of fillers, contaminants or substitutions.

There are side effects to overdosing on dietary supplements. What are the side effects of taking supplements? Depending on the vitamin or supplement, side effects can include nausea and/or vomiting to diarrhea and stomach cramps. Other effects, of taking too much selenium for example, can include fatigue, intestinal upset, hair loss and even mild nerve damage.

Half of American adults, including 70 percent of people aged 65 and over, take vitamins or supplements on a regular basis. Studies reviewed by John Hopkins Medicine showed that taking multivitamins did not improve mental decline, reduce the risk of heart attacks, heart disease or cancer.

According to WebMD, just because a product’s label says all natural, doesn’t mean it’s safe or effective. They recommend reading through their list of questions and answers about products before buying something that will harm you rather than help.