Guidelines for Taking Dietary Supplements

Suggested Citation: Garko, M.G. (2012, July).   Guidelines for taking dietary supplements to enhance, ensure and enjoy good health over the lifespan. Health and Wellness Monthly. Retrieved (insert month, day, year), from




Michael Garko, Ph.D.

Host of Let’s Talk Nutrition


According to a nationwide online survey conducted by the National Marketing Institute, 85% of the American population believes taking dietary supplements will help them to stay healthy (National Marketing Institute, 2005). Specifically, the study, called the Dietary Supplement Barometer Survey, revealed consumers take supplements to help them feel better, prevent from getting sick, get better when they become sick, live longer, build strength and muscle and manage weight. The Barometer Survey also showed that 36% of Americans take dietary supplements for a specific health reason, while 24% take them for sports nutrition purposes (see National Marketing Institute, 2005).


On the flipside of the supplement coin, the Dietary Supplement Barometer Survey determined that while a majority of consumers regularly take dietary supplements, they lack the necessary information about how to use them and the kinds of benefits associated with taking them. Furthermore, 67% of those surveyed agreed that conflicting news stories caused them to be confused about the dietary supplements they take and 70% believed their doctor was not informed enough about dietary supplements (see National Marketing Institute, 2005).


In a more recent study, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics (Gahche, J., Bailey, R., Burt, V., et al., 2011) reported that the use of dietary supplements is common among adults in the United States. Specifically, in 1988-1994, 40% of men and women used supplements, while over 50% used in 2003-2006.


In light of the findings from the National Marketing Institute (2005) and Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics (Gahche, J., Bailey, R., Burt, V., et al., 2011), the July, 2012, issue of Health and Wellness Monthly focuses on seven basic guidelines for taking dietary supplements, whether on a daily or intermittent basis. If dietary supplement use is as prevalent as studies indicate, then it seems prudent for health consumers to follow guidelines, which increases their understanding and use of dietary supplements.


Know Why It Is Important To Take Supplements


Before taking dietary supplements, it is recommended that a basic understanding be gained as to why taking dietary supplements is a necessary condition to enhance, ensure and enjoy good health. Taking dietary supplements for the sake of taking them will not in the long run create the requisite motivation to learn about them and put into practice that which is learned.


In a nutshell, dietary supplements improve and protect one’s physical and mental health in that they help rebuild, repair and regenerate the cells, tissues, organs and systems of the human body. They fill in and offset the nutritional gaps created by health threatening farming and manufacturing methods. They fortify nutrient deficient diets and moderate the deleterious effects of such lifestyle factors as tobacco and alcohol use, physical inactivity and stress. The reader is directed to the November, 2011 issue of Health and Wellbeing Monthly (archived at to learn more about the reasons why taking dietary supplements is essential to good nutrition and good health.


Also, the reader can gain valuable information and insight on the principles, practices and possibilities of dietary supplements from the following online sources: Office of Dietary Supplements – National Institutes of Health at, National Center of Complementary and Alternative Medicine at, Mayo Clinic at, National Standard – The Authority on Integrative Medicine at, Wellness Guide To Dietary Supplements at, National Institute on Aging at and Council For Responsible Nutrition at


Consult With A Health Care Provider


Before taking any dietary supplement it is always wise to consult with a health care provider who is knowledgeable about nutrition and dietary supplementation. Although they are a form of food, dietary supplements possess the potential to affect the bio-chemical processes occurring in the cells, tissues, organs and systems of the body. Furthermore, some dietary supplements can interact with certain prescription and over-the-counter drugs, yet, another reason to always check with a physician or healthcare provide who knows about nutrition and dietary supplements before taking specific dietary supplements.


Integrate Supplements With Daily Diet and Lifestyle   


Supplements are supplemental. They are not intended to be used as meal replacements for a healthy, nutrient rich, balanced diet. Moreover, dietary supplements are most effective when tailored to fit the dietary, bio-chemical, health and lifestyle related needs of the individual taking them. In short, nutritional supplements need to be integrated into a person’s daily nutrition and lifestyle. The more the taking of dietary supplements becomes part of a person’s daily nutrition and lifestyle the greater health benefit that can be gained from them and the greater the chances of taking them on a long term basis and not just in a brief moment of well-intentioned inspiration.





Avoid Junk Supplements


Not all dietary supplements are created equal. Buying cheap, off-brand supplements to save money ends up more often than not being a waste of money because they are not manufactured with the better raw materials and bio-available Furthermore, they often contain refined or artificial sweeteners, flavorings, fillers colorings, additives, preservatives, making them difficult to digest and assimilate. The old adage, “You get what you pay for” applies to supplements as does to other consumer purchases. Just as there are junk foods there are junk supplements. Both are deleterious to a person’s health.


It is always better to purchase top name national and house brands made by reputable manufactures. Also, it is a better choice to go supplement shopping at a vitamin/health store than a wholesale, discount house where such things as lawn mowers, appliances and paint are sold.


Read The Label


Always read the label of the dietary supplement for (1) directions on how much to take and when, (2) ingredients, (3) any warning statement, (4) storage instructions, (5) name and address of manufacturer, batch/lot number and date of manufacture and (6) expiration date.  Know what you are taking before putting it into your body. It is a good idea to see if “USP” (United States Pharmacopeia) is printed on the label. Finding this acronym on the label ensures the consumer that the dietary supplement meets the standards for safety, strength, production purity, disintegration and dissolution.


Avoid Overdosing


While taking a certain vitamin and mineral supplement may good, taking more of it may not necessarily be better. For example, mega doses of niacin (Vitamin B-3) can have harmful effects on the liver. High doses of Vitamin A over a long period of time can undermine the liver health and weaken bones, especially in women. Taking excessively high doses of Vitamin C can cause diarrhea. Vitamin E taken in mega doses can potentially interfere with the intended effect of anticoagulants, causing too much of a blood-thinning effect in the patient. In terms of minerals, mega doses of calcium can cause drowsiness and lethargy, as can high doses of magnesium. Excessive levels of iron can even be fatal. Excessive doses of iodine can interfere with the proper functioning of the thyroid gland. Too high a daily dose of selenium can cause nausea, diarrhea and hair loss.


There are other examples of more not necessarily being better when it comes to taking dietary supplements and how unsafe doses of vitamins and minerals can lead to all sorts of health problems. Again, the reader can refer to the web sites mentioned above to gain further guidance on what are safe and unsafe dosages of vitamins and minerals.



Start With A Multiple Vitamin-Mineral Formula


Beyond taking a particular dietary supplement for a particular nutritional deficiency, a health related problem or to help create, sustain and reclaim good health over the lifespan, including dietary supplements as part of a nutritional regimen should begin with choosing a broad spectrum daily multiple vitamin-mineral formula (MVM) containing at least 100% of Daily Value (DV) or the U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance (USRDA) and ideally optimum levels of essential and non-essential micro-nutrients (i.e., vitamins & minerals). The reader can refer to the earlier mentioned online references to learn about the optimum levels for vitamins and minerals.


A MVM formula serves as the foundation of a dietary supplement protocol. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics (Gahche, J., Bailey, R., Burt, V., et al., 2011), “multivitamins/multiminerals are  the most commonly used dietary supplements, with approximately 40% of men and women reporting use during 2003-2006 (p. 1).


The MVM formula can be augmented with additional supplements to address particular nutritional and health related needs. For example, supplements can be added to address such health issues as hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, digestive disorders and diseases, arthritis and other auto-immune diseases, allergies, prostate disorders and diseases, overweight and obesity and bone and joint concerns, to mention a few.


By the way, taking a one-a-day MVM will not get the nutritional job done. It would be difficult to swallow a pill to satisfy all of the optimum micronutrient levels. Most, if not all one-a-day formulas do not include many important vitamins and minerals. Typically, depending on the formula, it can take anywhere from 3-6 and sometimes up to nine MVM tablets or capsules a day to ensure the intake of optimum levels. Of course, there is always the option of MVM formulas in powder form, a good option for those who do not like to take pills.




Taking dietary supplements is a useful nutritional and health strategy to assist in helping to prevent disease, while diminishing and delaying the effects of aging. Nevertheless, dietary supplements need to be taken responsibly. Seven recommendations were offered to ensure the safe and effective use of dietary supplements:


            1. Know why it is important to take supplements

            2. Consult with a health care provider

            3. Integrate supplements with daily diet and lifestyle

            4. Avoid junk supplements

            5. Read the label

            6. Avoid overdosing on vitamins and minerals

            7. Start with a multiple vitamin-mineral formula


Following these guidelines can help to enhance, ensure and enjoy good health through the daily and even intermittent use of dietary supplements.




Gahche, J., Bailey, R. Burt, V., Hughers, J., Yetley, E., Dwyer, J., Picciano, M.F., McDowell, M. & Sempos, C. (2011). Detary supplement use among U.S. adults has increased since NHANES III (1988-1994). NCHS data brief, no 61. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. Retrieved June, 11, 2012 from


National Marketing Institute (2005, October). Nutritional supplement barometer study.  Retrieved June,11, 2012, from  



Suggested Citation: Garko, M.G. (2012, July).   Guidelines for taking dietary supplements to enhance, ensure and enjoy good health over the lifespan. Health and Wellness Monthly. Retrieved (insert month, day, year), from