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Definition Supplements

Supplements are – as the name suggests – products, which supplement the regular diet. These products are offering in the form of tablets, capsules, powders, liquids, and – lately – plasters. The products contain nutrients, such as vitamins or minerals. You can find them in regular foods but in much lower concentrations. The synthetic food supplements, on the other hand, score points for their high dosage of active ingredients. A dietary supplement might contain herbal substances, such as St. John’s wort and garlic, but also animal substances such as fish oil.

Dietary supplements are freely available, not just in pharmacies. Some Supplements also offered in the context of (alternative) medical treatments. They are not allowed by law to have the same effect as drugs, for example, to lower blood pressure or blood sugar levels. If a product had such a result, it would have to approve as a drug.

Food supplements can contain the following substances, for example:

  • Vitamins and Provitamins – These include vitamins C and E, folic acid, and Beta Carotene.
  • Minerals and trace elements, such as calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc
  • Vitamin-like substances, such as coenzyme Q10
  • Fatty acids, such as omega-3, omega-6 fatty acids
  • Protein components, such as L-cysteine, L-carnitine
  • Carbohydrates, such as the fiber oligofructose
  • Other ingredients, such as brewer’s yeast, algae, probiotic cultures

Through these supplements, the body may absorb many more nutrients than is possible with a regular diet. Unfortunately, such overdoses are still possible, as the legislator has not set any legally binding maximum amounts.

A food supplement must label as such. The label must contain the following information:

  • Declaration of identity ( The general) name of the element
  • brand message
  • indication of the net quantity of ingredients
  • nutrition labeling
  • list of ingredients
  • the name and address of the manufacturer, packer or distributor

What are the quality and safety requirements for dietary supplements?

According to the law, food supplements are classified as foods and not as medicines. Pharmaceuticals are pharmacologically active substances that influence the body and its functions uniquely. They are used to alleviate or prevent complaints and diseases.

A food supplement must not have a pharmacological effect; it should only supply the body with nutrients. In terms of quality and safety, food supplements are therefore subject to different regulations than chemical or herbal medicinal products.

As with other foods, responsibility for the safety of food supplements lies with manufacturers and distributors. A dietary supplement must registrant with the Office of Nutritional Products, Labeling, and Dietary Supplements, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and Food and Drug Administration. The FDA then conducts a safety assessment with the product.

That means dietary supplements don’t have to go through as rigorous a testing and quality assurance process as is required for drugs before they released to the market. Therefore, one cannot always be sure that all commercially available products have the same quality. That means for example, that there are not still precisely the ingredients in a bottle that the label promises.

Buy only on trusted sites

Particularly with orders on the Internet, caution is necessary! Trust the best-known suppliers here, such as Amazon or Vitamin World. When ordering abroad, you must also assume that the products do not necessarily comply with American food law.

For example, a product may contain such high doses of ingredients that it is considered a medicinal product. It is because other countries do not have the same regulations for the manufacture of food supplements as the USA. It may also contain substances in quantities not recommended by the US authorities.

As dietary supplements are generally not medicines, the manufacturer may not promote the elimination, alleviation, or prevention of disease. It also applies to the suitability for a particular area of application. Therefore, the products often advertised with general statements such as “supports the immune system,” “has a balancing effect on the hormone balance” or “to support healthy joint function.” However, such claims are usually not proven and say nothing about an actual health benefit of the remedies.

Do you need dietary supplements to stay healthy?

If you eat a balanced and varied diet, you will usually get all the nutrients your body needs. Taking additional vitamins and minerals is typically unnecessary. Under certain circumstances, however, the short intake of dietary supplements can be useful to compensate for specific deficiencies.

For some diseases, however, it has been proven that a dietary supplement does not affect. For example, studies show that vitamin C – contrary to popular belief – does not prevent colds. Vitamin preparations also do not protect against cancer or cardiovascular diseases.

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Do dietary appendices cause harm?

Since manufacturers are not obliged to prove that their products are harmless to health, harmful effects cannot always be ruled out. However, certain dangerous or risky substances may not be present in food supplements. That does not mean, however, that vitamins and other materials cannot be harmful. For example, research indicates that supplements containing vitamins A, E, and beta-carotene may increase the risk of certain diseases if you take them longer and in higher doses.

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Besides, dietary supplements can interfere with medicines. Anyone who prescribed a drug should, therefore, tell their doctor whether they are taking nutritional supplements regularly.

Anyone considering taking dietary supplements should ask themselves beforehand:

  • Why should I take this medicine?
  • What other ways can I improve my health?
  • Do I have a disadvantage if I do not take the product?
  • Are there any scientific studies that show that this drug has a benefit?

Information on dietary supplements is also available from the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS).

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Bjelakovic G, Nikolova D, Simonetti RG, Gluud C. Antioxidant supplements for preventing gastrointestinal cancers. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2008; (3): CD004183.

Bjelakovic G, Nikolova D, Gluud LL, Simonetti RG, Gluud C. Antioxidant supplements for prevention of mortality in healthy participants and patients with various diseases. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2012; (3): CD007176.

Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung (BfR). Gesundheitliche Bewertung von Nahrungsergänzungsmitteln. Berlin: BfR.

Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung (BfR). Bewertung der stofflichen Risiken von Lebensmitteln. Berlin: BfR.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Dietary supplements: What you need to know. Rockville, Maryland: US Food and Drug Administration. Juni 2016.

Michaud LB, Karpinski JP, Jones KL, Espirito J. Dietary supplements in patients with cancer: risks and key concepts, part 1. Am J Health Syst Pharm 2007; 64(4): 369-381.

Michaud LB, Karpinski JP, Jones KL, Espirito J. Dietary supplements in patients with cancer: risks and key concepts, part 2. Am J Health Syst Pharm 2007; 64(5): 467-480.

EUR-Lex. Richtlinie 2002/46/EG – Sichere Nahrungsergänzungsmittel in der EU. 03.02.2016.

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