Home > Patients & Visitors > Health Library > Dietary Supplements (Herbal Medicines and Natural Products)
In the United
States, dietary supplements are substances you eat or drink. They can be
vitamins, minerals, herbs or other plants,
amino acids (the individual building blocks of
protein), or parts of these substances. They can be in pill, capsule, tablet,
or liquid form. They supplement (add to) the diet and should not be considered
a substitute for food.
Dietary supplements are widely available in
the United States in health food stores, grocery stores, pharmacies, on the
Internet, and by mail. People commonly take them for health-related reasons.
Common dietary supplements include vitamins and minerals (such as vitamin C or
a multivitamin), botanicals (herbs and plant products, such as St. John's
wort), and substances that come from a natural source (such as omega-3 fatty
Makers of dietary supplements cannot legally say that
dietary supplements can diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent disease. But they can
say that they contribute to health maintenance and well-being.
People have used the active ingredients in dietary supplements for
thousands of years to help health and to treat illness. Sometimes those
supplements are the basis for some of today's common medicines. For example,
people have used willow bark tea for centuries to relieve fever. Pharmaceutical
companies eventually identified the chemical in willow bark that relieved fever
and used that knowledge to produce aspirin.
The U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary supplements in the same way that
it regulates medicine. A dietary supplement can be sold without research on how
well it works.
dietary supplements for many health conditions.
Researchers have found that some supplements do not help prevent or treat certain health problems. For example, beta-carotene and vitamin E do not lower risk of heart disease or heart attack.
Not all herbs and
supplements are safe. If you are unsure about the safety of a supplement or
herb, talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or dietitian.
your doctor if you are using a dietary supplement or if you are thinking about
combining a dietary supplement with your conventional medical treatment. It may
not be safe to forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely only on a
dietary supplement. This is especially important for women who are pregnant or
When using dietary supplements, keep in mind the
Other Works Consulted
Reichenbach S, et al. (2007). Meta-analysis: Chondroitin for osteoarthritis of the knee or hip. Annals of Internal Medicine, 146(8): 580–590.
Rozendaal RM, et al. (2008). Effect of glucosamine sulfate on hip osteoarthritis. Annals of Internal Medicine, 148(4): 268–277.
Sawitzke AD, et al. (2008). The effect of glucosamine and/or chondroitin on the progression of knee osteoarthritis. Arthritis and Rheumatism, 58(10): 3183–3191.
Thomson CA (2012). Food and nutrient delivery: Bioactive substances and integrative care. In LK Mahan et al., eds., Krause's Food and the Nutrition Care Process, 13th ed., pp. 291–305. St Louis, MO: Saunders.
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (2014). Vitamin, mineral, and multivitamin supplements for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/uspsvita.htm. Accessed March 28, 2014.
Whitney E, Rolfes SR (2011). Vitamin and mineral supplements. In Understanding Nutrition, 12th ed., pp. 346–352. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerKathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Current as ofMay 26, 2016
Current as of:
May 26, 2016
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
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