Use and Abuse

Could a pill, a drink, or a supplement bar replace your dinner? For all those who enjoy the pleasure of eating, there's good news. The answer is unequivocally "no"!

Only food can provide the mixture of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and other substances for health—qualities that can't be duplicated with dietary supplements alone. Fortunately for most Americans, there's plenty of quality, quantity, and variety in the food marketplace.

Despite this fact, more than half of Americans take dietary supplements, making it a business of $20.8 billion per year in 2005—and growing! Some people are prudent with their use, limiting the potency of their supplement to 100 percent or less of the Daily Values (DVs) and taking just the recommended dose. For others, supplements are part of or a complement to their medical care—as guided by their healthcare providers. Others self-prescribe high, potentially dangerous dosages of supplements, often at the advice of a friend or the media—not their healthcare provider.

Why do many consumers take dietary supplements? The reasons are varied—many times medically valid, sometimes not. In low or appropriate dosages, some supplements offer health benefits under some circumstances. Some people use supplements with good intention: perhaps in search of protection from or a remedy for health problems such as depression, aging skin, cancer, or arthritis. Still others seek added benefits: perhaps better athletic performance or sexual prowess. Too often, supplement use is based on scientifically unfounded marketing promises.

Supplement use is still largely a "world of the unknown": unknown benefits . . . unknown interactions with food, medicines, and other supplements . . . undetermined standards . . . unknown levels of safety and effectiveness, making dosages on package labels confusing. Steps are under way to gather scientific evidence for answers about their safety and effectiveness.

Regardless, no supplements provide a quick, easy road to health—a way that appears easier than making wise food choices and staying physically active. Good nutrition depends on overall healthful eating and active living, not supplements. Good health requires much more than a supplement or two, or more.

What, then, is appropriate—and inappropriate— use of dietary supplements?

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