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What is a Dietary Supplement?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated Feb 05, 2024
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Dietary supplements are any type of compounds that are consumed in addition to food as a means of ensuring that the daily minimum requirements for various vitamins and minerals are ingested each day. In the best situations, a dietary, or nutritional supplement is not seen as a substitute for eating a balanced diet. Rather, the supplement is viewed as a means to augment the nutrients consumed during meals and not a license to load the daily diet with all sorts of empty calories.

There are many different ways to implement a dietary supplement program. The most common strategy adopted by people is to make use of a multi-vitamin product. In general, multi-vitamins provide a full day’s worth of essential nutrients, and normally additional amounts of each vitamin included in the formula. A dietary supplement of this type can easily be purchased at most supermarkets as well as many pharmacies and chemist shops.

Other people make use of a dietary supplement in order to deal with a temporary health issue. For example, people dealing with the effects of stress are often counseled by doctors to include larger amounts of various vitamins and minerals on a daily basis. When the stress is manifested as anxiety, mild depression, or an inability to sleep well, a physician may recommend a regimen of Vitamin C and a complete round of B vitamins. To support the vitamins, the doctor may also recommend the inclusion of such mineral supplements as calcium and magnesium in a balance of two parts calcium to one part magnesium. As the ailment subsides, the dosage of the supplements may be lowered back to maintenance levels.

Another type of dietary supplement that is preferred by many people is fresh herbs. This option is particularly attractive to people who wish to stay away from vitamin products that may contain artificial binders and other ingredients. Herbs are often a great way to add nutrients to the diet without the presence of additives. The herbs can also sometimes can be used to season food as well as brewed into healthy teas. Most herbs contain a number of different types of nutrients in varying quantities, so it is often helpful to consult an herbalist in order to identify the best herbal options for adding vitamins and minerals to the daily diet.

While most vitamins and minerals contained in a dietary supplement are perfectly safe within a given dosage range, it is important to note that consuming larger amounts may actually be harmful to the body. In some cases, the high dosages of one vitamin or mineral may interfere with the body’s ability to properly absorb another nutrient. There are also many vitamins and herbs that are beneficial in reasonable doses but can become toxic when larger quantities are consumed. For this reason, it is normally a good idea to consult a medical professional before attempting to use a dietary supplement as a way to deal with any health ailment.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WiseGeek, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By stoneMason — On Oct 18, 2014

@ysmina-- Oh yea, definitely. Although excess water soluble vitamins are excreted through urine, it takes a while for that to occur. So large doses of vitamins and minerals can cause toxicity and lots of side effects. Confusion, nausea, vomiting, and headaches are a few side effects of vitamin and mineral overdose. I suggest stopping your supplement for a few days. See if the headache goes away.

Some people think that the more vitamins one takes, the better but that's not the case at all. One should never go above the recommended dose. And when it comes to herbal supplements, start with the lowest dose and check for side effects before taking the recommended amount. Depending on the weight of the person and whether their organs are functioning optimally, even the recommended doses may be too much at times.

By ysmina — On Oct 17, 2014

Is it possible to overdose on water soluble mineral supplements like magnesium?

I'm taking a magnesium supplement regularly and have been getting an awful headache recently. Could it be the supplement?

By donasmrs — On Oct 17, 2014

Dietary supplements are just that, supplements. They cannot replace a balanced diet. My sister has an awful diet and she tries to make up for it by regularly taking multivitamins. Although I'm glad she takes her vitamins, I do wish she would eat better and add more fruits and vegetables to her diet.

I actually think that a perfectly healthy individual on a healthy, balanced diet with foods from all food groups doesn't need any dietary supplements. But most of us have some health condition or another, so supplements help. I mostly take vitamins in winter because I'm a teacher and exposed to many viruses at school. Vitamins help keep my immune system strong and I get sick less often.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
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