A nutritional supplement can come in many forms and varieties and include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, some steroids, the pineal hormone melatonin as well as herbal supplements. They are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, which means the supplement manufacturer is responsible for ensuring that a dietary supplement is safe before it is marketed.
The FDA is responsible for taking action against unsafe nutritional supplements after they reach the market. The Food and Drug Administration regulates dietary supplements as foods, and not as drugs, so they are treated differently than prescription drugs.
Nutritional supplements in the US are defined under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, as any product that is intended to supplement the diet and contains any of the following dietary ingredients:
- A vitamin
- A mineral
- A herb or other botanical but excluding tobacco
- An amino acid
- A dietary substance for use by folks to supplement their diet by increasing the total dietary intake
- A concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract, or combination of any of the above
In addition, it must also conform to the following criteria:
- It is intended for ingestion in pill, capsule, tablet, powder or liquid form
- It is not to be represented for use as a conventional food or as the sole item of a meal or diet
- It is labeled as a dietary supplement
Although hormones are not included in the above list, it should be noted that some hormones are labeled as "dietary supplements".
Dietary supplements are permitted to make structure and/or functional nutritional value claims. These are broad claims that the product can support the structure or function of the body, as in "glucosamine helps support healthy joints", "the hormone melatonin helps establish normal sleep patterns". The FDA must be notified of these claims within thirty days of their first use, and there is a requirement that these claims be substantiated.
The possibility of interactions between a nutritional supplement and a prescription drug is something that should not be underestimated. A product may be from a "herbal" or "natural" source, but that alone does not ensure its safety. Combined with other drugs, supplements can produce unwanted pharmacological side effects. Though nutritional supplements may be available without a prescription, it is a good idea to seek medical counsel regarding possible adverse side effects before starting a new supplement regimen.
Before considering taking a nutritional supplement, keep in mind you may be getting the recommended daily allowances of most vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements through your daily dietary intake already. Eating a healthy balanced diet that is nutritious in itself is favorable over supplementation.
Upon further review, if you feel you are not getting the proper nutrition, talk to your doctor or nutritionist about the right nutritional supplements for you. It is highly recommended you thoroughly investigate any type of dietary supplement for its safety, effectiveness and nutritional value before you start a daily regimen.