Introduction to Dietary Supplements

There are significant differences between dietary supplements, and sports supplements. Sports supplements are designed to enhance physical performance in one way or another, either through superior recuperation and rebuilding of damaged muscles, or by promoting better energy delivery to muscle cells during effort or training.

Dietary supplements, on the other hands, are designed to supplement a regular normal diet, with the goal of bringing to the body acceptable levels of all essential nutrients. They will not enhance sports performance, for example, but may allow the body to maintain itself at a normal level, depending on age, fitness and level of activity.

Depending in which category they are, dietary supplements can contain vitamins, minerals, botanicals or other substances. In terms of marketing, supplements are not allowed to make specific claims as to how they may cure or prevent a disease, but are rather allowed to make general statements as to their benefits – for example, “Calcium is essential to bone and dental health”, or “Glucosamine may help maintain healthy joints”.

Use of Dietary Supplements – They are used to ensure that the body gets all the essential nutrients it needs and that it may not be getting in its normal diet. For example, people need more calcium as they grow older, as calcium is essential to maintaining good bone health. Calcium supplements are often prescribed to older people to delay the onset or mitigate the progression of osteoporosis. Many professionals and supplement manufacturers also claim that Vitamin C is helpful in boosting the immune system, as well as being a powerful antioxidant.

In no instances are dietary supplements designed to cure, diagnose or treat any disease or condition, and they are certainly not meant to replace any part of a diet, for any reason. For example, someone who doesn’t like broccoli may be tempted to replace it with Vitamin A, C and B-complex supplements, but would miss out on everything else this wonderful vegetable has to offer, such as powerful anti-cancer nutrients, dietary fiber and selenium.

Risks of Dietary Supplements – Contrary to drugs, which are tested and approved by the FDA, manufacturers of dietary supplements are not required to prove the effectiveness or even the safety of their products before marketing them. It is, however, their responsibility to ensure the safety of their product and the truthfulness of their claims. For this reason, it is strongly recommended to purchase supplements from well-known and established companies, who have a reputation for providing quality products, and a care to maintain such a reputation.

Purchasing Dietary Supplements – These types of supplements can be purchased in a variety of establishments. General merchandise retailers, such as Costco and Wal-Mart, will carry the many of the leading brands but will often be unable to offer expert advice. Dietary supplements can also be bought in drug stores and specialized health food stores, where prices are often higher but buy a higher level of service and expert advice. Of course, it is always possible and often recommended to purchase supplements online, either directly from the manufacturer or from a large retailer.

In all cases, it is highly recommended to consult a health care professional before taking supplements of any kinds, particularly if you are already taking medication, or are planning on replacing a dietary element with a supplement.