- Vitamin Guide
- Health Conditions
- Health Centers
- Diet & Weight Loss
- Herbal Remedies
- Current News
- Food Guide
In an ideal world, food can supply all the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients you need for good health. Unfortunately, many of us don’t live in an ideal world, so food alone doesn’t always cover the bases as many people do not eat the quantities and variety of fresh whole foods needed for optimal nutrient intake. In the United States, for example, only about a quarter of us eat the recommended 3 to 5 servings of vegetables per day, and only 14% hit the target of 3 to 5 fruit servings daily. And for certain groups—the very young, the elderly, people with chronic diseases, and women of childbearing age—vitamin and mineral supplements can help make the difference between health and illness. In all these cases, vitamins may be effective and some of the benefits are supported by strong research. In fact, there are literally thousands of studies on a variety of nutrients found in supplements. Some of these are animal studies, others are observational studies, while others are the gold-standard of research, randomized controlled trials.
For all of these reasons, vitamin and mineral supplements can be a smart investment. A basic multivitamin can be a good place to start. Ask your doctor or dietitian about additional supplements that may help you meet your health and wellness goals.
While many vitamins, minerals, and herbs are known to safely prevent or treat a variety of diseases, they work similar to a medicine from your pharmacy—by altering your body chemistry. So before supplementing, it's important to learn about possible side effects and especially how each product might interact with medications you already take.
There are times when teaming up a specific supplement with a medication can benefit health, such as when a medicine is depleting vital nutrients from your body. In this case, an extra vitamin supplement may protect your health—but it's always a good idea to check. It’s also important not to discontinue or change a medication or dosages in favor of a natural treatment, unless supervised by a doctor.
You’ll need to do your own research to find out about the potential benefits and risks of a supplement. Start with a knowledgeable healthcare professional before taking any supplements, especially if you are already treating a medical condition. Also, special safety considerations apply to pregnant or breast-feeding women, children, and seniors.
Be sure to research potential medication and dietary supplement interactions. For reported side effects of a specific herb or dietary supplement, look it up in Vitamins & Herbs.
In the scientific process, scientists never consider one single study to be the last word; rather, each new study is considered in light of previous research and becomes part of the medical community’s discussion.
When the news media report on new studies, they tend to look for the sensational. Though hundreds of studies are published every year showing the benefits of herbs and nutrients for a wide range of diseases, studies that make the news are frequently those that claim a supplement is dangerous or doesn’t work. On the other hand, some research is conducted by groups that stand to profit from positive results, such as a supplement manufacturer “proving” that their supplement (particularly proprietary mixtures) works for a particular health condition.
The next time you see a headline splashed across the news—especially about those supplements that continue to be the subject of heated debate, such as St. John’s wort, echinacea, vitamin E, vitamin C, and ginkgo—consider the following:
Caution: You should never discontinue or change medication dosages, and/or begin a different treatment without a doctor's supervision.
When you consider treatment options, discuss the following with your healthcare provider:
Talking with a knowledgeable professional, asking questions, and using a science-based resource that includes up-to-date research will help you interpret the significance of scientific findings. Being informed is the best way to make smart health decisions.