Taking supplements has benefits and risks. Unfortunately, companies that make dietary supplements don't have to prove that they're safe or effective for treating or preventing any type of disease. You need to be careful with dietary supplements, especially as you age. So before you buy, I've got some tips for you.
Consult Your Healthcare Provider: Talk to your doctor or other healthcare provider if you think you need dietary supplements. This is especially important if you're currently taking any medications or have any health issues.
Know What's In the Supplement: Some formulas contain several different ingredients, which increases the chance you'll have some negative side effects. Read the label to make sure you're only getting the nutrients, herbs, or botanicals you want.
Be Aware of Possible Drug Interactions: Some dietary supplements can interfere with medications, even over-the-counter medicines. Vitamin E, for example, has a blood thinning effect and shouldn't be used if you're taking an anticoagulant.
Don't Replace Medications With Supplements: Certain dietary supplements can have drug-like effects on your body. For example, niacin in large doses can reduce cholesterol levels, but if you're currently taking medication to lower cholesterol, don't replace them with niacin (or any other supplement). Niacin can also cause an uncomfortable niacin flush.
Supplements Before Surgery: If you're going to have surgery, you must tell your doctor about all the dietary supplements you're taking. Some supplements, like vitamin E, can have negative effects if taken before or after surgery. You may have to stop taking your supplements at least two weeks before your operation.
Follow Label Directions: Some supplements, like calcium carbonate, are best taken with food, and others, like iron supplements (frequently used to treat iron deficiency anemia), may be best taken on an empty stomach. Don't take a larger dose than what's suggested on the label unless your health provider tells you to do so. Some vitamins are dangerous when taken in dosages much larger than directed on the label (here's a list of safe dosages of fat-soluble vitamins).
Don't Believe Any Hype: Avoid any dietary supplements that are advertised as miracle cures, scientific breakthroughs, or are sold by websites or companies that make health and anti-aging claims that seem too good to be true (there is no dietary supplement fountain of youth). Legitimate supplement companies won't make those types of claims -- it might help to know dietary supplements are regulated.
If you choose to buy any dietary supplements online, the website should have contact information, including a phone number, so you can contact them with any questions. You may want to ask them what proof they have that the product is effective, and what types of testing and quality control procedures they have in place. If the website doesn't have any contact information, or makes it difficult to speak to an actual human being, then don't buy their product.
American Cancer Society. "Dietary supplements: How to know what is safe." Accessed May 1, 2012. http://www.cancer.org/Treatment/TreatmentsandSideEffects/ComplementaryandAlternativeMedicine/DietarySupplements/dietary-supplements-choosing-safely.
United States Food and Drug Administration. "Overview of dietary supplements." Accessed May 1, 2012. http://www.fda.gov/Food/DietarySupplements/ConsumerInformation/ucm110417.htm
United States Food and Drug Administration. "Tips for older dietary supplement users." Accessed May 1, 2012. http://www.fda.gov/Food/DietarySupplements/ConsumerInformation/ucm110493.htm
United States Food and Drug Administration. "Tips for the savvy supplement user: making informed decisions and evaluating information. Accessed May 1, 2012. http://www.fda.gov/Food/DietarySupplements/ConsumerInformation/ucm110567.htm#tips