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Frequently Asked Questions

Dietary supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals, enzymes, amino acids, or other dietary ingredients. You take these products by mouth in pill, capsule, tablet, or liquid form to supplement your diet.

Many products are marketed as dietary supplements, and it is important to remember that supplements include not only vitamins and minerals, but also herbs and other botanicals, probiotics, fish oil, and other substances.

Supplements ensure that you get adequate amounts of essential nutrients or help promote optimal health and performance if you do not consume a variety of foods, as recommended by MyPlate and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Use common sense when taking any dietary supplement. These simple tips can help you stay on track:

  • Follow the directions on the package and your doctor’s instructions exactly.
  • Keep a list of all supplements and other medications you’re taking.
  • Write down how much of each product you’re taking and at what time of day. It’s easy to forget that you’ve taken a supplement, which can lead to accidentally taking too much.
  • Also write down how the supplement affects you, and whether you have any side effects.

Manufacturers are required to follow “good manufacturing practices” (GMPs), which means their supplements have to meet certain quality standards. However, it has been found that some products may contain more or less of the ingredient than is stated on the label. Or, in some cases they may contain ingredients not listed on the label, including prescription drugs.

To be sure you’re getting a good-quality product, look for a seal of approval from an organization that tests supplements such as the U.S. Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab or NSF International. Products that carry these organizations’ seal must be manufactured properly, contain the ingredients listed on the label, and not include any harmful contaminants.

You can also call the product’s manufacturer to find out what research they’ve done to confirm the supplement’s benefits, what production standards they use, and what side effects have been reported from their product. Find out if the supplement hasn’t been recalled, by checking the FDA’s website.

The term “botanical” or “herbal” means “plant,” so botanical supplements contain one or more parts of plants, like the roots of black cohosh or the flowers of echinacea. Botanical supplements, which are often called herbal supplements, are all classified as dietary supplements and they are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) differently than over-the-counter or prescription medicines. Medicines must be approved by FDA before they can be sold or marketed, but dietary supplements do not require this approval.

Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is the amount of a certain nutrient you should get each day based on your age, gender, and whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding. On a supplement label, you’re more likely to see the acronym DV, which stands for Daily Value. This represents how much of a nutrient the supplement provides in regards to a total daily diet. For example, if a calcium supplement is labeled “50% DV,” it contains 500 mg of calcium per serving, because the DV for calcium is 1,000 mg per day. Sometimes the DV contained in a supplement will be higher than the RDA for certain people. In many cases, there is no DV for a supplement, so the label will reflect that. Check with your doctor to make sure your supplement doesn’t contain too much of any nutrient.

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