Choosing Dietary Supplements Wisely


A dietary supplement is any product that is intended to supplement the diet and that contains at least one of these ingredients: vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and substances such as enzymes, organ tissues, glandulars, metabolites, or a combination of these ingredients. If you choose to take a dietary supplement, read the supplement label carefully. The label will show how much of a specific vitamin, mineral, botanical, or other is in each dietary supplement. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and its Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition developed regulations for manufacturers in order to help consumers make informed choices when choosing dietary supplements. Manufacturers are responsible for ensuring that their supplements’ facts label and ingredient list are accurate, that the dietary ingredients are safe, and that the content matches the amount declared on the label.

Here is the information that must be on a dietary supplement label:

  • A descriptive name of the product stating that it is a supplement.
  • The name and address of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor.
  • A list of each ingredient contained in the product, listed in the order of predominance by common name or proprietary blend. Ingredients not listed on the facts panel must appear in the other ingredient statement beneath the panel.
  • The net contents of the product.
  • The manufacturer’s suggested serving size. There are no rules that limit a serving size or the amount of a nutrient in any form of dietary supplements.
  • Information on nutrients when they are present in significant levels, such as vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, and sodium, and the percentage Daily Value (% DV) where a reference has been established–this is similar to the nutrients listed in the Nutrition Facts panel on food labels. The Daily Value is essentially the same as the DRI (RDA or AI).
  • All other dietary ingredients present in the product, including botanicals and amino acids–those for which no Daily Value has been established.

Multiple and Single Nutrient Supplementation

When you choose a general multivitamin and multi-mineral supplement, consider those that offer the full nutrient spectrum, the full range of B-complex vitamins, and antioxidants like beta-carotene and vitamins C and E. A good rule of thumb is to look for daily value percentage ranges from 50 to 150 percent. If a multivitamin has some but not enough of the other vitamins, you can take additional doses of those particular single supplements. Typically, a multivitamin cannot hold enough calcium. In addition to this basic multivitamin and mineral supplement, you may want to take single supplements to boost your health for specific conditions. To be sure that you will not be taking excessive amounts over what is already in the basic supplement, subtract the amount in the basic supplement from the larger amount listed for that single supplement. The difference is the amount of the single supplement you need to add. For example, if your basic supplement provides 200 milligrams (mg) of calcium, you would only take 800 mg of single supplement calcium to receive 1,000 mg of calcium daily.

Botanicals Common in High-Potency Supplements

Common herbal supplements are sometimes found in the formulation of high-potency or a health-benefit specific multivitamin and mineral supplement. Some herbs are used as specifics and are taken for brief periods or only when symptoms are present. Some herbs are used as tonics and are taken long term, sometimes with short breaks in between. For more information on using herbs and their health benefits, read about them from a reliable source and then discuss them with your health practitioner. Become informed!

Here are a few common herbs and their unique properties that you may find in your supplements:

  • Ginkgo Biloba (Ginkgo Bilobais an antioxidant and improves circulation and memory. It may interact with monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors and blood-thinners and may cause gastrointestinal upset and headaches.
  • Ginseng (Panax ginseng, P. quinquefolius) helps increase energy, and is used as a tonic for fatigue and athletic performance. It may worsen the side effects of stimulants, such as caffeine. Some people experience over-stimulation or stomach upset when taking this herb. Avoid this herb if you have high blood pressure, heart palpitations, insomnia, asthma, or a high fever.
  • Siberian Ginseng or Eleuthero (Eleuthero senticosus) helps increase energy and is used as a tonic for fatigue and stress. Its use may increase the effectiveness and side effects of some antibiotics.
  • Saw Palmetto (Sernoa repens) is effective in the treatment of prostate enlargement or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Some people experience stomach upset when taking this herb.
  • Echinacea (Echinacea augustifolia, E. pallida, E. Purpurea) is known for its ability to stimulate the body’s defenses against minor vial and bacterial infections such as colds and the flu. Persons allergic to the pollen of other members of the aster family, such as ragweed, may also be allergic to echinacea. Its use may counteract immune-suppressive drugs.
  • Green Tea Extract (Camellia Sinensis plant extract) has antioxidant properties, particularly the phytochemical epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) and is used as a tonic.
  • Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) is considered a liver protector and healer and is used as a liver tonic.
  • Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) has been shown to be effective for premenstrual and menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes. It may cause stomach upset. Pregnant and nursing women should avoid using this herb.