When you think about taking vitamins or fish oil pills, you might wonder if they’re safe and if they really work. The first thing to think about is whether you actually need them.

Many Americans take dietary supplements every day or sometimes. These supplements come in different forms like pills, powders, or liquids, and they include things like vitamins, minerals, and herbal products.

People take these supplements to make sure they get enough important nutrients and to stay healthy or make their health better. But not everyone needs to take them.

You can get all the nutrients you need by eating healthy foods, so you might not need supplements. But supplements can help fill in the gaps in your diet.

Supplements are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as foods, not medicines. They might claim to have health benefits on the label, but they can’t claim to cure, treat, or prevent diseases like medicines can.

While some supplements might help in different ways, there’s not much proof that any supplement can cure chronic diseases. So don’t expect supplements to fix serious health problems.

Some popular supplements include multivitamins, calcium, and vitamins B, C, and D. Calcium is good for bones, and vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. Vitamins C and E are antioxidants, which means they help keep your cells healthy.

Pregnant women need iron, and babies who breastfeed need vitamin D. Folic acid is important for women who might get pregnant—it helps prevent birth defects. Vitamin B12 is important for your nerves and blood cells. It mostly comes from meat, fish, and dairy, so if you don’t eat those, you might need a supplement.

Research shows that fish oil can be good for your heart. Out of all the supplements that aren’t vitamins or minerals, fish oil has the most evidence that it works.

5 Things You Need to Know About Dietary Supplements

1. Different Forms:
Dietary supplements come in many forms like pills, powders, or liquids. They’re meant to add to your diet and help you get enough nutrients. Some common ones include calcium, fish oil, and vitamins like D and A.

2. Are They Worth It?
Some supplements can be helpful, like vitamin B12 for healthy cells and fish oil for a healthy heart. However, not all supplements have clear benefits. Many studies haven’t proven that they make you live longer or prevent diseases like cancer or diabetes.

3. Safety:
While most supplements are safe, some can be risky, especially if you’re on other medications or have certain health conditions. For example, St. John’s wort can make some drugs less effective, and too much vitamin A can be harmful.

4. Talk to Your Doctor:
Before taking any supplements, talk to your doctor. They can help you choose the right ones for you and make sure they’re safe. Also, make sure to follow the instructions on the label and be careful of any extreme claims.

5. Healthy Diet First:
Remember, supplements are meant to add to a healthy diet, not replace it. Eating a balanced diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is still the best way to get the nutrients your body needs. Supplements can help if you need an extra boost, but they’re not a substitute for real food.

Benefits of Supplements:

For most people, eating a balanced diet should give them all the nutrients they need. But sometimes, your diet might not cover everything, especially if you have certain health issues like cancer or diabetes. That’s where supplements can help. They give you extra nutrients when your diet is lacking.

For example, runners might need specific nutrients that are harder to get from just plants. In such cases, supplements can fill in the gaps.

A multivitamin/mineral supplement usually has all the tiny nutrients your body needs. They’re safe because they only have a little bit of each nutrient.

Sometimes, you might need a bigger dose of a certain nutrient, like iron, to treat a deficiency. Or you might take a higher dose to lower the risk of a health problem, like high blood pressure.

For instance, taking a lot of vitamin B3 can raise the “good” cholesterol in your blood. And folic acid can lower the risk of birth defects like spina bifida.

Some supplements, like antioxidants found in vitamins C and E, can even help reduce the bad effects of chemotherapy drugs.

But if you eat well and exercise, you probably don’t need supplements unless your doctor tells you otherwise. Women might need special supplements at different times in their lives, like during pregnancy or menopause.

Using supplements the right way can help you avoid any bad side effects.

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