Examination of the Efficacy of Dietary Supplements

What has led to the popularity of dietary supplements and is their success deserved?

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The definitions of dietary supplements are varied from different countries which specify the scope of the term differently, and this essay presents a logical common definition of dietary supplements. Dietary supplements, the forms of which are usually tablets, pills, powders, capsules or liquid preparations, are oral products taken at recommended dosage in addition to normal food intake. It contains one or more kind of nutrient which is derived from food products such as vitamins, minerals and trace elements. Additionally herbs or other botanicals are included in US definition.

The sales of dietary supplements show that the popularity of dietary supplements among all fields and all ages of people has been rising dramatically in a few decades. In the US, sales of dietary supplements in 2001 were about $17.8 billion (Nutrtion Journal. 2011), and as reported by the latest statistics, dietary supplements annual sale has increased to approximately $30 billion (MD, 2014).

In this essay, first of all, I will illustrate the reason why food supplements become so popular among general public, followed by a detailed illustration of the benefits of dietary supplements as supporting. Then some controversial issues raised by such popularity will be revealed, and the risks of taking dietary supplements are shown subsequently. In the end, I will give some suggestions to consumers when taking dietary supplements.

The popularity of food supplements

There are many factors accounting for the popularity of food supplements. Ransley et al. (2001) argue that four main driving forces cause this popularity. Firstly, the modern diet seems can hardly meet the strict requirement of health and life of people today especially in terms of nutrition, and the lack of the categories and quantities of nutrients can be supplied by taking dietary supplements. Secondly, eating dietary supplements are considered to be a remedy or precaution of aging-related diseases, which makes them quite popular among old people. Thirdly, in consideration of the increasing price of medicines and the inconvenience of seeing a doctor, taking dietary supplements directly is more attractive to consumers. Lastly, with the improvement of living standard, people are more concerned about their own health. Therefore he desirable features of food supplements can get people’s attention successfully.

The benefits of taking dietary supplements

Taking right amount of food supplements can assure an adequate dietary intake of essential nutrients. Although we can get all the vitamins and minerals we need as long as we keep a well-balanced diet every day, it is not easy to follow this good habit strictly especially among commuters and teenagers. Therefore, Webb (2006) claims that using dietary supplements, such as multivitamins and cod liver oil, usually helps ensuring the adequacy of nutritionally diet. As Walji (1995) and Mason (2001) point out, having irregular meals is quite common and this may cause nutritional deficiency. Besides, improper methods of preserving and cooking food may result in the loss of some nutrients from food, particularly those delicate and unstable vitamins, which may cause a phenomenon that people eating a lot but still undernourished (Walji, 1995). Additionally, the amount of nutritional requirements vary from person to person, even the nutrient containing in the standard diet may still be either exceed or inferior to some people. Therefore having a wholesome diet with the addition of supplements personally is a good way to ensure the correct amount of nutrients keeping our body in optimum condition. Besides, food supplements do have a powerful psychological effect on consumers. This is shown in a research that many consumers use supplements occasionally and take them only when the spirits are low or when they are stressful (Ransley, et al., 2001).

Another benefit of taking dietary supplements is the efficacy of preventing deficiency diseases (Webb, 2006; Mason, 2001). In order to cure some diseases, people may need to increase demand for a particular nutrient in certain medical conditions or other circumstances. Take vitamin D deficiency as an example, vitamin D has the function of promoting intestinal tract absorption of calcium. Webb (2006) points out that the main source of vitamin D inside body comes from exposing the skin to the ultraviolet rays in the sunshine. People who spends less than the necessary amount of time under the sunshine, seems to be more vulnerable to vitamin D deficiency. Webb (2006) also notes that the lack of vitamin D is an essential contributing factor in the development of osteoporosis among old people. Combining with the fact that the ability of converting sunlight into vitamin D in the elderly will decrease as they grow older, taking related supplements become more necessary and functional. COMA (1991) recommended that vitamin D supplements should be taken by all aged people only if they are regularly exposed to the sunlight with reasonable amount of time (Webb, 2006).

The usage of dietary supplements also contributes to avoiding other diseases or illness such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers or skin problems. Differentiating from the supplements treating nutritional deficiencies, food supplements for other diseases may have long-term positive effects on physical condition (Webb, 2006). For instance, fish oil supplement is well known for its effect on heart diseases. A conclusive study demonstrating the function of fish oil has been done by Burr et al. (1989). He tested “the effects of dietary intervention in the secondary prevention of myocardial infarction (MI)” (Burr et al. 1989, p757). The result shows a nearly 30% decrease in total mortality among the tested men who were suggested to eat oily fish (or fish oil capsules if some people did not eat fish) during the two years study (Burr et al. 1989). Although some variables may have not considered in the study, it is still a comparatively successful experiment verifying the efficacy of fish oil which is the main effective ingredient in fatty fish.

Controversial problems following with the popularity

With the growing popularity of taking food supplements, many controversial problems arise subsequently. What is the standard direction of taking dietary supplements? Are there adequate regulations of dietary supplements market especially in terms of herbs and mineral? whether dietary supplements make a worthwhile contribution to a healthy dieti?Y All these issues point to the risks of taking dietary supplements.

The risks of taking dietary supplements

There are so many unknown risks of eating dietary supplements, one of the main risks is that it may be harmful if people taking supplements in wrong dosage. If people take over-dose of specific supplements in the diet, such behavior may trigger the food-drug interactions (Hans, et al., 2001). Both the FDA (Food and Drug Administration in the US, 2014) and Webb(2006) state that the excessive use of some supplements, such as vitamin and iron, may cause some health risks and needless effects before, during and after surgery. For example, large ?-carotene supplements are known for the efficacy of preventing heart disease and cancer, but some studies show that such supplements may have counteractive. “Rapala et al. (1997) reported increased death rates from coronary heart disease in those subjects (smokers) given ?-carotene supplements compared with those receiving either the placebo or vitamin E supplements” (Webb, 2006). In addition, the ‘inverse supplement hypothesis’ claims that some people who already have sufficient nutrition are more likely to taking supplements (Ransley, et al., 2001). Here is the evidence provided by the Women’s Cohort Study. In this study, one of the informants took 9g of vitamin C from supplements and an extra 90mg from another vitamin preparation. The intake of these two was more than 200 times than the RNI (Recommended Nutrient Intakes) and this is the amount without taking her dietary intake into account (SFL, et al., 1998). The above-mentioned evidence illustrates that consumers taking wrong dosage of food supplements may also be harmful.

Another risk of taking dietary supplements is the lack of informed advices. As Blendon et al. (2001) indicate that, there is a lack of connection and trust between physicians and consumers. Because consumers do not believe in the information about supplements from physicians, likewise when physicians notice some problems about dietary supplements, they do not inform the consumers. Therefore, consumers prefer to take self-meditation, such as using dietary supplements to treat their illness, which is more convenient and have private space. However, when consumers need to ensure the daily intake, they have to search sources of advice from some unidentified places, such as internet, dietary supplement shop or the media. “This approach to self-meditation will carry risks and corresponding proof is that intakes of some supplements can be toxic to health and will cause serious adverse effects such as diarrhea (vitamin C) and flushing (niacin) ” (Ransley, et al., 2001, p12).

Furthermore, many benefits of dietary supplements are still unknown and unproved, so taking dietary supplements should be very cautious. The FDA (2014) illustrates that many supplements contain active ingredients which may cause strong biological effects in the body and increase risks of health in some cases. Therefore, the behavior of some consumers, using dietary supplements instead of prescription medicines, is obvious unwise (U.S.FDA, 2014). Since dietary supplements are neither food additives nor drugs, they are in a special status which was established by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (Hunrer and Trum, 1999). Obviously, it is not sensible to replacing the prescription medicines to supplements. In terms of herbs, herbal products do have some clinically proven benefits, but there are more facts illustrate its potential of containing toxic substances, especially regarding to the interaction with drugs (Halsted, 2003).


From what the essay has mentioned above, dietary supplement has a close relationship with our daily health. It is clear that the benefits of dietary supplement contribute to its popularity mainly. Various number of food supplements added in our daily intakes suitably enable us a nutritional-balanced diet. However the risks of taking dietary supplements are non-ignorable, which not only imply the room of the improvement of dietary supplements but also remind us necessity of taking supplements cautiously. In addition, some benefits of eating food supplements as well as the risks may be missing in this essay.

It is not objective to say the popularity is good or not directly. In my view, the increasing number of people taking dietary supplements reflects a high awareness of personal health among publics. Meanwhile eating dietary supplements wisely is also necessary.

To keep the balance of dietary supplement, several measures should be taken by the government. Such as strengthen the supervision of the production and sales of dietary supplements, establish detailed guideline of the usage of supplements and cultivate specialists in the field of food supplements. Apart from some regulations should be improved by the authorities, what we should do is be a savvy supplement user, thinking twice when purchase food supplements, reading the instructions of the supplements carefully before taking these products, finding out the relevant benefits of them in order to deepen the understanding of preparations and noticing the deficiency symptoms and following the measurement with cautious.


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