The consumer advisory, released this week in video and text format, comes at a time of increased pressure on the supplements industry, with media outlets repeatedly questioning the usefulness and safety of dietary supplements.
“Supplements can be useful when they fulfill a specific identified nutrient need that can’t be met by food or is not being met through normal food intake,” said Barbara Schneeman, PhD, director of FDA's Office of Nutritional Products, Labeling, and Dietary Supplements.
The message is one that dietary supplement trade groups have consistently tried to get across, with campaigns such as CRN’s Life…supplemented set up to communicate the importance of vitamins as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.
Vitamins for the right reasons
According to FDA’s consumer update – Fortify Your Knowledge About Vitamins – there are many good reasons to consider taking vitamin supplements, which could be recommended by a doctor in a number of situations, including:
- For certain health problems
- When following a vegetarian or vegan diet
- When pregnant or breastfeeding
Iron and folic acid are important for pregnant women or women of childbearing age, to be consumed via a varied diet or from fortified foods and supplements, says FDA. People over 50 should consume vitamin B12, and those with darker skin or with insufficient exposure to sunlight should consume extra vitamin D, again via fortified foods or supplements.
Overall Schneeman stresses that “it’s really important to remember that supplements can’t displace a healthful diet – that’s the important nutritional strategy.”
Cautious vitamin strategy
FDA says people should “develop a vitamin strategy that ensures sufficient vitamin intake”.
Those who choose to consume supplements should keep some key points in mind before purchasing them, says the agency. These include:
- Think twice about chasing the latest headlines and be wary of a quick fix
- Take only the recommended amounts: Some products can be harmful when consumed in high amounts, or for a long time, or with certain other substances
- Learn to spot false claims: If something is too good to be true, it probably is.
To access FDA’s consumer update, click here.