A dietary supplement, also known as food supplement or nutritional supplement, is defined as a substance intended to provide nutrients that may otherwise not be consumed in sufficient quantities.
Supplements as generally understood include vitamins, minerals, fiber, fatty acids, or amino acids, among other substances. U.S. authorities define dietary supplements as foods, while elsewhere they may be classified as drugs or other products. There are more than 50,000 dietary supplements available. More than half of the U.S. adult population (53% - 55%) consume dietary supplements with most common ones being multivitamins.
According to the U.S FDA, dietary supplements are products which are not pharmaceutical drugs, food additives like spices or preservatives, or conventional food, and:
- The product is labeled as a dietary supplement.
- The product is intended to supplement a person's diet, despite it not being usable as a meal replacement.
- The product is or contains a vitamin, dietary element, herb used for herbalism or botanical used as a medicinal plant, amino acid, any substance which contributes to other food eaten, or any concentrate, metabolite, ingredient, extract, or combination of these things.
Capsules and pills of various colors in foil blister packs lay on a round wooden table along with a glass of water and a brown glass tablet bottle.
Some countries define dietary supplements as foods, while in others they are defined as drugs. The hormones DHEA (a steroid), pregnenolone (also a steroid) and the pineal hormone melatonin are marketed as dietary supplements in the US.
Food fortification is the public health policy of adding micronutrients - essential trace elements and vitamins - to foodstuffs to ensure that minimum dietary requirements are met as simple diets based on staple foods with little variation are often deficient in certain nutrients.
Several ranges of food supplements are recognized:
- Additives which repair a deficit to "normal" levels.
- Additives which appear to enhance a food.
- Supplements taken in addition to the normal diet.
Main Groups of Supplements
- Vitamins and co-vitamins
- Essential minerals
- Essential fatty acids
- Essential amino acids
In the United States, a dietary supplement is defined under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act as a product intended to supplement the diet and contains any of the following dietary ingredients:
- A vitamin
- A mineral
- A herb or other botanical (excluding tobacco)
- An amino acid
- A dietary substance for use by people to supplement the diet by increasing the total dietary intake
- A concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract, or combination of any of the above
Furthermore, it must also conform to the following criteria:
- Intended for ingestion in pill, capsule, tablet, powder or liquid form
- Not represented for use as a conventional food or as the sole item of a meal or diet
- Be labeled as a "dietary supplement"
Interesting Supplement Facts
- In the early 20th century there were great hopes for supplements, but later research has shown these hopes were unfounded.
- Dietary supplements are unnecessary if one eats a balanced diet.
- According to University of Helsinki food safety professor Marina Heinonen, more than 90% of dietary supplement health claims are incorrect.
- The intended use of dietary supplements is to ensure that a person gets enough essential nutrients.
- The number of incidents of liver damage from dietary supplements has tripled in a decade.
- Supplements may create harm in several ways, including over-consumption, particularly of minerals and fat-soluble vitamins which can build up in the body.
- Bodybuilding supplements are dietary supplements commonly used by those involved in bodybuilding and athletics.
- The European Union's Food Supplements Directive of 2002 requires that supplements be demonstrated to be safe, both in dosages and in purity.
- The regulation of food and dietary supplements by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is governed by various statutes enacted by the United States Congress and interpreted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).