Are Supplements Safe?

a bowl of various herbal supplement pills next to a bundle of fresh herbs.

Nutritional supplements can be a beneficial way to add certain nutrients to your diet. However, it is important to be aware of the risks, and follow caution and quality assurance with the products that you choose and the dosages that you consume.

What are Supplements?

Supplements are any type of dietary supplement product containing ingredients such as vitamins, minerals, herbs, enzymes, probiotics, or other nutrients. 1 They are available in a variety of delivery methods, including tinctures, capsules, tablets, gummies, liquids, suppositories, topicals, inhalants, and powders. 

Many people choose supplements to boost their intake of certain nutrients that they may be lacking due to dietary restrictions, health conditions, lack of access to certain foods, or other reasons. 2 3 Supplements may also be prescribed to address specific health concerns and to rectify systemic imbalances. A growing body of evidence supports supplementation for numerous conditions. Because most supplements are available over-the-counter, many people assume that there are no safety risks to consider, but supplements can cause adverse health effects in certain cases, and they are not always produced equally.

Supplement Safety

It is important to understand that supplements are safe as long as you take the appropriate precautions. Just because something is naturally derived does not mean that you should not still be cautious about the dosage or brand. As an example, recently, there has been a higher incidence of melatonin poisoning in young children and teenagers who are taking higher doses of melatonin than recommended, or ingesting gummies without the supervision or direction of a parent. 4 

When using any kind of supplement, it is important to speak to your healthcare provider first in order to determine the right dosage and brand for you. Extra caution should be taken when giving supplements to children. Always keep supplements out of reach of small children, particularly those that come in sweet gummy and liquid varieties, like melatonin. 

The responsibility falls on the consumer to research a supplement product before using it. When choosing supplements, it is best to select those that have undergone third-party testing to confirm that the product does not contain any contaminants or unlisted ingredients, and does contain the ingredients stated on the label.

Supplements are not a Replacement for a Healthy Diet

In addition to following proper safety practices, it is important to maintain a nutritious diet, and not expect to get all of your nutrients from supplements. Supplements are meant to do just that: supplement a healthy diet, not replace one. They provide concentrated amounts of certain nutrients and do not offer the same nutritional value as healthy food sources. 6

Be sure to eat a balanced diet including fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, protein, and healthy fats. Speak to a naturopathic doctor to determine specific nutrients that you should be getting more of, what foods are good sources of these, and whether certain supplements may be beneficial to you.


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