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Over-the-counter vitamins and supplements have become increasingly popular over the years, especially since brands started selling gummy versions.
Celebrities are even getting in on the action, promoting Instagram-famous brands like Sugarbear Hair gummies and dangerous weight loss supplements and teas.
And while pharmacies have aisles of vitamins and supplements for you to choose from, just because it’s on a shelf doesn’t mean it’s actually safe.
So, how do you know if an OTC vitamin or supplement is safe to take? Here’s everything you need to know.
What Are the Different Types of Supplements?
In general, supplements tend to fall into one of the following categories:
• Vitamins (both multivitamins and individual vitamins)
• Minerals (like iron, calcium, etc.)
• Herbs & Botanicals (like echinacea, ginger, garlic, caffeine, etc.)
• Sports, Weight-Management, and Body Building (this includes any weight-loss supplements and muscle-building supplements).
Are Supplements FDA-Approved or Regulated?
Short answer: no, not really.
Vitamins, minerals, herbs/botanicals, and probiotics are all considered “dietary supplements” and are lightly regulated by the FDA in the sense that the FDA does the bare minimum to ensure that brands aren’t breaking the law. The FDA supposedly “periodically” inspects manufacturing facilities and is supposed to review product labels.
However, the FDA doesn’t test any dietary supplements to see if they are safe to ingest or even to evaluate their effectiveness. So that supplement that promises to give you fuller, shinier hair probably has no proof to back it up.
Additionally, a brand doesn’t even need to notify the FDA when they release a new product.
In short, the FDA doesn’t test or approve dietary supplements but they do keep one eye open in case something goes terribly wrong.
As for non-dietary supplements, aka sports supplements, weight-management supplements, and body-building supplements, there is absolutely zero FDA oversight or regulation.
Because these types of supplements have no oversight, they often leave out ingredients on their labels or even try to slip in some illegal ones, like steroids.
What Do the Experts Say About Supplements?
While not all doctors, scientists, and researchers agree, the general consensus is that most vitamins and minerals are a waste of money. In particular, many have called multivitamins “very expensive pee.”
Additionally, several studies have been conducted over the years and all of them have led to the same conclusions: there is zero evidence that vitamins and minerals can lower the risk of a heart attack, stroke, or death overall.
In general, it’s always better to get vitamins and minerals the natural way — through your diet.
That said, on some occasions, your doctor may recommend that you add a specific vitamin or mineral supplement to your routine. It just depends on the doctor.
Are Vitamins and Supplements Safe to Take?
Since dietary supplements are legally obligated to list all their ingredients, they’re more likely to be safe to ingest. But this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re effective.
If you’re thinking of taking a dietary supplement like vitamins or minerals and can afford to visit a doctor, make sure you consult them, especially if you have a chronic condition and/or are taking any other medications.
In general, taking dietary supplements as directed seems to be relatively harmless, but there is always a risk of overdose (yes, you can overdose on vitamins). The vitamins and minerals that are considered the “riskiest” include iron, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin A.
Symptoms vary depending on which vitamin or mineral you overdose on but can include nausea, vomiting, urinary issues, joint pain, muscle pain, confusion, and more.
As for sports and bodybuilding supplements, there’s really no way to tell how safe they are. If you’re intent on taking them, however, at least do your research. For example, if you’re interested in taking an andro muscle builder that contains DHEA, do your homework so you know exactly what you’re putting in your body and understand any possible risks.
Just because something comes in gummy form or is promoted by your favorite celebrity doesn’t mean it’s necessarily safe. Make sure you do your homework and get a medical opinion if possible before putting anything new in your body.