The dietary supplement industry is booming with reported sales reaching $13 billion in 2013, but there is a common public misperception on how these supplements really affect human bodies.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, dietary supplements are intended to add further nutritional value to the diet and can be in tablet, capsule, softgel, liquid or powder form.
Vitamins, weight loss supplements, and herbs and botanicals are classified as dietary supplements.
“Dietary supplements don’t necessarily need to be taken unless there is a deficiency in an area, such as iron deficiencies in anemics,” said Paul Alvarez, director of the athletic training education program and professor of kinesiology.
In 2012, 17.7 percent of adults used nonvitamin, nonmineral dietary supplements, making it the most popular “natural” health method in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More than four percent of children ages four to 17 are consuming dietary supplements, according to a second CDC survey.
Vitamin overdose is a risk not many people think about when taking vitamins.
“There are two types of vitamins: water-soluble and fat-soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in our system, while water-soluble pass through,” said Sarah Dunn, assistant professor of kinesiology. “When we overdose on fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E or K, toxicity can occur.”
Multivitamins are most commonly taken to fill nutrient gaps, but they do not add much to our diets that we already get from the foods we eat daily, Dunn said.
“I take multivitamins everyday; I always have,” said Justin Pierce, junior international business major. “It’s a lot easier, and I take it as a backup to make sure I get all my vitamins everyday.”
Sports nutrition supplements such as creatine and protein formulas meant to increase muscle mass do not necessarily increase muscle weight, Alvarez said.
“Protein shakes should be taken if you’re deficient in protein. Protein outside of the realm of health has more to do with performance,” he said.
Consuming high levels of additional protein is unnecessary and can lead to kidney and liver damage.
Marketing plays a vital role in enticing consumers and inviting them to buy their products.
“We let marketing tell us what to do without really considering all of it,” Alvarez said.
Consumers should be aware of weight loss supplements promising miracle weight loss. They may have hidden ingredients in them.
Many over-the-counter supplements affect water weight but do not attack the actual fat.
“A majority of people are looking for a magic pill for weight loss and getting benefits they are looking for by increasing their daily vitamin and mineral intake,” Dunn said.
“Medications are highly regulated and so the public has the perception that the (supplement) industry is regulated, but it’s not.”
The dietary supplement industry has not been regulated since the Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act of 1994, which took control and oversight of these products away from the Food and Drug Administration.
Alvarez advises people to consult a doctor before using weight loss supplements.
“It’s all about educating yourself and the public,” Dunn said.
The best way to get all the necessary nutrients is to have a well-balanced diet.
Erum Jaffrey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.