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What Is a Nutritional Supplement?

Article Details
  • Written By: T. Alaine
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 28 October 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2018
    Conjecture Corporation
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A nutritional supplement is a substance that is added to a person’s diet in order to compensate for the lack of a particular nutrient. Supplements are usually key vitamins, minerals, or amino acids that are missing from a particular diet for a number of reasons that include natural aging, illness, dietary restrictions, or malnutrition. Furthermore, a nutritional supplement can be consumed to promote the presence of a particular nutrient in excess in the hopes of exaggerating its positive effects or health benefits. Unlike medicines, nutritional supplements do not necessarily need to be proven effective in the countries they are marketed in, so judicious selection is advisable.

Daily vitamins are one of the most popular and trusted examples of a nutritional supplement. A multivitamin contains recommended daily doses of a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals as a safeguard in case a person cannot manage to include all of those nutrients in the food they eat. Taking a multivitamin as a nutritional supplement is generally considered a good practice for relatively healthy people, but may not be enough to support any significant dietary lapses. Most multivitamins come in tablet form, but nutritional supplements are also widely available as gel capsules, extracts, or powders.

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Specific supplements such as fish oil capsules, garlic tablets, or isolated nutrients such as vitamin C or folic acid are meant to increase a person’s daily consumption of a specific nutrient that he or she may lack. For example, people suffering from anemia, or low iron in their blood, may need to take iron supplements if they cannot alter their diets to include sufficient amounts of iron. Women who are trying to become pregnant are often advised to increase their intake of folic acid via a nutritional supplement to prevent birth defects. Individuals attempting to ward off colds or the flu might take a vitamin C pill to strengthen their immune systems, and older people sometimes take calcium pills to strengthen brittle bones.

In general, consumers should be wary of any nutritional supplement that makes bold claims such as promising rapid weight loss or a dramatic increase in muscle mass. Many countries regulate nutritional substances as foods instead of drugs, meaning they do not necessarily have to be clinically proven to have the proclaimed effects. In the United States, for example, manufacturers of nutritional supplements are essentially taken at their word that they have researched and tested their product, and investigations only occur in instances of specific complaints. So while it is generally agreed upon that biotin can help strengthen hair and nails and that fish oil is good for heart health, consumers must be aware that nutritional supplements are not always guaranteed to provide the results they tout.

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