By Janelle R. Smith, DO, Springfield Clinic
Dietary supplements are a booming industry in America, with 57.6 percent of US adults over age 20 having used a dietary supplement in the past 30 days, according to the CDC.1 Making bold promises of feeling great, and leading longer, healthier lives, supplements are very appealing to consumers and health care professionals alike. But not all supplements are necessary or even safe.
Multivitamins and minerals are the most used dietary supplements in America. Most adults who eat a well-balanced diet rich in fresh vegetables, fruits, healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, nuts), lean meats, and whole grains do not need dietary supplementation through a daily multivitamin. It is even possible to overdose on some vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins A, D, K, E, and zinc. Your doctor can help guide you to the vitamins and minerals that are appropriate for your specific medical needs.
Herbal supplements are another commonly used over-the-counter item that has potential benefits, but also potential risks. Turmeric, for example, can help with joint inflammation, and many people use it for arthritis pain. It can also cause inflammation of the stomach lining leading to nausea and diarrhea. Benefit claims made by manufacturers and online forums are not always backed by well controlled studies, while some supplements have good evidence for their use. Your pharmacist can help guide you to a reliable source of supplements from a well-known brand or retailer that engages in independent testing of their products. Always tell your doctor if you are taking an herbal supplement so they can discuss the evidence behind potential benefits, side effects, and medication interactions with you.
In recent years, the use of essential oils has also increased dramatically. These oils are derived from concentrating the naturally occurring oils in plants. Science backs the use of these oils for some purposes and properties (e.g., lavender can help reduce stress). Essential oils should be used for aroma therapy and, if applied directly to skin, diluted in a carrier oil to reduce their concentration. It is not safe to ingest essential oils. Even if the oils are a natural product, they are un-naturally concentrated which can harm the lining of the gut and disrupt the endocrine or nervous systems.
Bottom line: Be open and honest with your health care providers if you are using or planning to use a dietary supplement of any kind. We are happy to help guide you to safe practices tailored to your individual medical needs.
Janelle Smith is a board certified internal medicine physician who has been practicing primary care for 6 years in central Illinois. She enjoys working with her patients in preventative care, management of chronic medical conditions, and managing medications. In her free time she enjoys baking, hiking, and spending time with her family.
1. Mishra S, Stierman B, Gahche JJ, Potischman N. Dietary supplement use among adults: United States, 2017–2018. NCHS Data Brief, no 399. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2021. DOI: https://doi.org/10.15620/cdc:101131external icon