Supplements That Heal
Is it really important for everyone to take supplements? According to doctors at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, the answer is “yes it is.” Based on their research and expertise, a daily multivitamin “makes sense for most adults.”
Vitamins and Minerals: Which Do What?
We know that Vitamins are essential to good health. Supplements like Vitamin A helps develop and maintain body tissues like bone and skin; it also helps vision, nervous system functioning, reproduction, and growth. The B vitamin supplements are key in increasing the production of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates as well as assisting with metabolism, building red blood cells, and maintaining the protective covering of the nervous system.
Vitamin C supplements help form tissues, cells, bones, teeth, heal wounds and improve the immune system’s performance. Vitamin E supplements protect the outer cell membranes, and assisting the immune system in fighting off diseases. Vitamin K helps the body’s clotting in wounded areas.
Mineral supplements also have a broad range of functions. As many as 20 different mineral supplements play significant roles in the body. Supplements called “Micro minerals,” or minerals that the body only needs traces of, can fight off serious illness. These supplements include copper, iodine, chromium, iron, fluorine, tin, zinc, nickel, vanadium, manganese, silicon, molybdenum, and selenium. Minerals that the body needs large amounts of include magnesium, sodium, potassium, chlorine, phosphorus, calcium, and sulfur.
The supplement zinc is responsible for helping metabolize proteins and keep enzymes functioning. Copper is needed by enzymes for metabolizing. Iodine supplements assist the thyroid gland in working properly. Calcium and phosphorus build bones and teeth. Iron delivers oxygen to the body’s cells. Potassium aids muscle contraction, maintains the fluid balance of cells, helps transmit messages through the body’s nerves, and even keeps the kidneys and heart working correctly.
How these supplements interrelate. Vitamins and minerals not only help the body function, but they work to strengthen each other. The body absorbs iron through the help of vitamin C. Vitamin D helps the body absorb phosphorus and calcium. Vitamins D and K are the only vitamins the body can supply for itself. The skin creates vitamin D when it’s exposed to sunlight. Vitamin K is produced by intestinal bacteria. Supplemental sources must supply the body with all the other vitamins.
Vitamins are divided into two categories by the substance that carries them throughout the body.
- Water-soluble vitamins are carried and stored all through the body by water. These vitamins need daily replacement because they are expelled in body fluids like sweat and urine. Water-soluble vitamins include folacin (folic acid), biotin, pantothenic acid, thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6), and cyanocobalamin (B12).
- Fat-soluble vitamins – These vitamins, like A (retinol), D (calciferol), E (d-alpha-tocopherol), and K (menaquinone), are carried by fats located in the bloodstream. Since fat stores better than water, it’s less critical when the intake of these vitamins is interrupted, than when water-soluble vitamin intake is interrupted. Only when extreme amounts of these vitamins are taken, do toxic levels become present in the body.
Minerals and Vitamin as Supplements
Americans spend over 6 billion dollars annually on vitamins. A marketing firm specializing in natural products took a poll in 1998 that showed 71% of Americans take at least one form of vitamin or mineral supplement.
Some dieticians don’t like the idea of taking pills to replace a healthy diet. Vitamins should not be used as a substitute for eating a healthy diet, but only as supplementation. Experts don’t recommend vitamins in pill form despite the beneficial effects. They fear that people will use them to replace healthy eating habits.
Most Americans don’t eat balanced diets. According to a national survey, over half of all Americans don’t drink a glass of juice, eat one serving of vegetables, or eat a piece of fruit daily. Only 40% eat 3 to 5 servings of vegetables daily, the recommended amount. Only 20% eat the recommend 2 to 4 servings of fruit each day. For those not eating and getting the nutrition they need, supplementation is better than nothing.
According to the Dietary Supplement Health and
Education Act, dietary supplements are products (other than
are intended to supplement the diet
contains one or more dietary ingredients
(including vitamins; minerals; herbs or other botanicals;
amino acids; and other substances) or their constituents
is intended to be taken by mouth as a pill,
capsule, tablet, or liquid
is labeled on the front panel as being a
Whether or not a product is classified as dietary,
conventional food, or drug is based on its intended use. Most
often, classification is determined by the information that
the manufacturer provides on the product label or in accompanying
The types of claims that can be made differ. Drug
manufacturers may claim that their product will diagnose, cure,
mitigate, treat, or prevent a disease. Such claims may not legally
be made for dietary supplements. (Even though in reality, they
perform very effectively.) The label of a dietary supplement
or food product may contain one of three types of claims:
nutrient content claim
How does FDA regulate dietary supplements?
In addition to regulating label claims, FDA regulates in other
ways. Ingredients sold in the United States before October 15,
1994, are not required to be reviewed by FDA for their safety
before they are marketed because they are presumed to be safe
based on their history of use by humans. For a new dietary ingredient
(one not sold as a dietary supplement before 1994) the manufacturer
must notify FDA of its intent to market a dietary supplement containing
the new dietary ingredient and provide information on how it determined
that reasonable evidence exists for safe human use of the product.
FDA can either refuse to allow new ingredients into or remove
existing ingredients from the marketplace for safety reasons.
Manufacturers do not have to provide FDA with evidence
that dietary supplements are effective or safe; however, they
are not permitted to market unsafe or ineffective products. Once
a dietary supplement is marketed, FDA has to prove that the product
is not safe in order to restrict its use or remove it from the
market. In contrast, before being allowed to market a drug product,
manufacturers must obtain FDA approval by providing convincing
evidence that it is both safe and effective.
The label of a dietary supplement product is required
to be truthful and not misleading. If the label does not meet
this requirement, FDA may remove the product from the marketplace
or take other appropriate actions.
What information is
required on a dietary supplement label?
The FDA requires that certain information appear on the dietary
Name of product (including the word "supplement"
or a statement that the product is a supplement)
Net quantity of contents
Name and place of business of manufacturer,
packer, or distributor
Directions for use
Serving size, list of dietary ingredients, amount
per serving size (by weight), percent of Daily Value (%DV),
If the dietary ingredient is a botanical, the
scientific name of the plant or the common or usual name standardized
in the reference Herbs of Commerce, 2nd Edition (2000 edition)
and the name of the plant part used
If the dietary ingredient is a proprietary
blend (i.e., a blend exclusive to the manufacturer), the total
weight of the blend and the components of the blend in order
of predominance by weight
Nondietary ingredients such as fillers, artificial
colors, sweeteners, flavors, or binders; listed by weight in descending
order of predominance and by common name or proprietary blend.
The label of the supplement may
contain a cautionary statement but the lack of a cautionary statement
does not mean that no adverse effects are associated with the
Does a label indicate the quality of a dietary supplement
It is difficult to determine the quality of a dietary supplement
product from its label. The degree of quality control depends
on the manufacturer, the supplier, and others in the production
FDA is authorized to issue Good Manufacturing Practice
(GMP) regulations describing conditions under which dietary supplements
must be prepared, packed, and stored. FDA published a proposed
rule in March 2003 that is intended to ensure that manufacturing
practices will result in an unadulterated dietary supplement and
that dietary supplements are accurately labeled. Until this proposed
rule is finalized, dietary supplements must comply with food GMPs,
which are primarily concerned with safety and sanitation rather
than dietary supplement quality. Some manufacturers voluntarily
follow drug GMPs, which are more rigorous, and some organizations
that represent the dietary supplement industry have developed
Are dietary supplements standardized?
Standardization is a process that manufacturers may use to ensure
batch-to-batch consistency of their products. In some cases, standardization
involves identifying specific chemicals (known as markers) that
can be used to manufacture a consistent product. The standardization
process can also provide a measure of quality control.
Dietary supplements are not required to be standardized
in the United States. In fact, no legal or regulatory definition
exists in the United States for standardization as it applies
to dietary supplements. Because of this, the term "standardization"
may mean many different things. Some manufacturers use the term
standardization incorrectly to refer to uniform manufacturing
practices; following a recipe is not sufficient for a product
to be called standardized. Therefore, the presence of the word
"standardized" on a supplement label does not necessarily
indicate product quality.
What methods are used to evaluate the health
benefits and safety of a dietary supplement?
Scientists use several approaches to evaluate dietary supplements
for their potential health benefits and safety risks, including
their history of use and laboratory studies using cell or animal
studies. Studies involving people (individual case reports, observational
studies, and clinical trials) can provide information that is
relevant to how dietary supplements are used. Researchers may
conduct a systematic review to summarize and evaluate a group
of clinical trials that meet certain criteria. A meta-analysis
is a review that includes a statistical analysis of data combined
from many studies.
The mission of the Office of Dietary Supplements
(ODS) is to strengthen knowledge and understanding of dietary
supplements by evaluating scientific information, stimulating
and supporting research, disseminating research results, and educating
the public to foster an enhanced quality of life and health for
the U.S. population.
General Safety Advisory
* The information in this document does not replace
* Before taking an herb or a botanical, consult a doctor or other
health care provider-especially if you have a disease or medical
take any medications, are pregnant or nursing, or are planning
to have an operation.
* Before treating a child with an herb or a botanical, consult
with a doctor or other health care provider.
* Like drugs, herbal
or botanical preparations have chemical and biological
activity. They may have side effects. They may interact
with certain medications. These interactions
can cause problems and can even be dangerous. (Click the interactions
link above to learn more about the possible dangers of combining
supplements with drugs.)
If you have any unexpected reactions to an herbal or a botanical
preparation, inform your doctor or other health care provider.
Interactions from Herbs and Foods May Lead to Complications If
You Take Them with Drugs. Find out how to safely use them.
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