Date: March 9th, 2016
As National Nutrition Month gets into full swing, the emphasis on a healthy diet is stronger than ever. And with good reason: A well-balanced diet has proven health benefits like weight loss or maintenance as well as a reduced risk of cancer, cardiovascular events, and other diseases and conditions.
Most people can get the nutrients they need from eating foods such as fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. However, as we age, the amount of nutrients we need, and our body’s ability to process them, can change. Some people with nutritional deficiencies and chronic diseases, or who take certain medications, may turn to dietary supplements to get adequate amounts of essential nutrients.
Supplements can include vitamins, minerals, herbals and botanicals, amino acids, enzymes, and bioactives. While supplements can't replace a healthy diet, science has shown that some may be beneficial for improving overall health and managing chronic conditions. For example, calcium and vitamin D support bone health, and fiber promotes a healthy digestive system.
An estimated two out of three adults over the age of 50 take a dietary supplement of some kind. Despite being commonly used, supplements are not as strictly regulated as drugs, which must be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they can be marketed to consumers. Dietary supplements do not require premarket review or approval by the FDA, and companies don’t have to provide evidence to support their claims about their product.
There are many safe dietary supplement options out there that can benefit your health, but there are others that may not be so safe. For instance, it’s important to remember that the term “natural” doesn’t always mean “safe.” Talk to your health care team before choosing and taking a new supplement. Also be sure to mention all the supplements and prescription and OTC medications you currently take, so your health care providers can advise you on their safety, as well as how they might interact with your medications.
If you still have questions, ask someone from your health care team or visit the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health at www.ods.od.nih.gov. To learn more about the nutrients that are critical to your health, and how to safely choose and take supplements, watch our new pocket film series on nutrition and visit www.agingresearch.org/nutrition for more information.