Drugs & Updates

How adverse is the inessential intake of Dietary Supplements?

In this super hi-tech and ultra health-conscious modern world, the diet has gained a complex identity. Eating a balanced nutritious diet is not as easy as it was a few decades back. Urbanization is making the mind always engaged, getting distracted easily and ignoring the good healthy lifestyle’s fundamentals. Non-balanced dietary advice and unauthentic complex fad diets are getting more admiration than the simple basic principles of nutrition. This is creating a gap between the body’s right nutritional requirements and the number of nutrients going inside the body.

To fulfil this nutritional disparity, dietary supplements (DS) are gaining immense popularity and limelight. To add this the Internet has become a ubiquitous source of information/market for these DS. A large number of the population are popping up with DS without medical advice and under the guidance of unscientific lucrative marketing gimmicks. This problem becomes more serious when DS is taken in excess, leading to unfavourable and terrible lifetime health complications.

What is DS?

These are the products that contain one or more concentrated nutrients whose goal is to supplement the daily diet when a routine diet is not balanced. DS does not belong to the category of common food and is not a medicine. DS offer the missing ingredients to the body to keep it in good physical and mental condition. Thus there is no exhaustion, injuries and fatigue.

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Classification of DS

There are thousands of DS in the market. Ranging from very good, moderately good and very poor health benefits. The main reason for their low efficiency is their manufacturing method and the source of their basic substances.

DS is classified as-

  1. Food supplements – food products as they supplement the usual diet
  2. Foodstuffs- for particular nutritional uses as a beverage, due to their special composition, are intended for the special diet of certain population groups

The supplements also can be segregated, depending on the origin, that is natural or synthetic origin. 

  • Vitamin and mineral supplements, sometimes combined in the form of multivitamins or multimineral
  • Protein supplements in the form of liquid or tablets in combination or not with carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals
  • Amino acids of every form and composition
  • Weight gaining supplements
  • Meal surrogates in the form of powder, wafers or biscuits
  • Carbohydrate supplements with or without electrolytes and vitamins
  • Activator supplement of growth hormone and other hormones
  • Fatty acid supplement
  • Food ingredients such as yeast, garlic, kelp, royal jelly
  • Herbs and botanical extracts

Forms of DS

DS is available in various packages, sizes and types, depending on how they are taken

  • Oral pills, and powders, for relatively quick absorption
  • Sublingual drops, and orally disintegrating tablets, to increase their intake and limit the damage to their active substance
  • Nose spray or drops to over multiply their absorption.
  • Injectables as intramuscular injections for quick absorption and action
  • Bone anchored for slow and gradual absorption and prolonged action.

Absorption and effectiveness of DS in the body

  • Some are not well absorbed, some are almost destroyed by the stomach fluids and others irritate the mucosa of the stomach and intestine
  • Powders and liquid preparations are useful for those who have difficulty swallowing the capsules or tablets
  • Supplements in the form of sprays cause intense local irritation or possible lung aspiration
  • Injecting supplements is always done under the guidance of a physician
  • Bone anchored supplements given due to surgical technique, require monitoring and laboratory control to prevent local inflammations and complications
  • If there is an intense change in the colour of urine by taking a supplement, then, a large portion of the supplement is excreted either because it cannot be absorbed, or overdoses this must lead to reflections on its effectiveness

Why is DS gaining popularity?

The most commonly reported reason for using DS is to “improve” or “maintain” overall health. Women used calcium products for “bone health” or for improving healthy skin appearance, whereas men were more likely to report supplement use for “heart health or to “lower cholesterol”. Young people use supplements to enhance body function in sports. Older adults report motivations related to heart, bone and joint, and eye health. Due to a strenuous lifestyle, currently, dependency is more on easy-to-grab solutions rather than doing hard work to plan and eat a healthy diet and fresh nutrients.

Advantages of Dietary supplements

  • High content of nutrients in a small volume
  • Special nutritional composition
  • No undesirable accompanying substances such as fats, cholesterol and purines

Crucial Concerns about the overuse of DS

  • Users use DS as a replacement for a basic healthy diet. Also often increase the dosage or frequency without experts’ advice. As a result, doses become less effective. The body is forced to work harder to eliminate the extra amounts of DS
  • All these factors lead to the appearance of side effects due to the toxicity of DS
  • The body becomes overloaded, owing to specific substances that the supplement contains, till the substance is eliminated
  • The special chemical properties of some substances and their interactions with other food and medications
  • Sometimes DS dosage is not taken as per age, weight and height parameters
  • Large doses are not consumed in an individualized way, it is recommended in a vague generalized way without any scientific dosage calculation and formulation
  • Performance-enhancing DS causes endocrine disorders
  • Lack of availability of sufficient evidence to support the claim to prevent chronic disease and improve the overall health

The authenticity of DS health claims (Myths vs reality)

Vitamin and mineral supplements

Myth- used by elderly people, pregnant women and people with disabilities for improving health, perinatal depression, improvement of neurologic and cognitive function, osteoporosis and progression of cancer.

Reality– clinical trials on the use of vitamin supplements for the promotion of health and prevention of disease do not provide enough supportive data to demonstrate the strong associations

Suggestion- Eat a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables

Weight loss supplements

Myth- helps rapid reduction in body weight without any side effect

Reality- Authentic supportive studies to prove the efficacy and efficiency of these products are not readily available

Suggestions- Include a balanced diet, regular physical activity, adequate rest and a peaceful mindset in daily routine

Protein powders 

Myth- Popular among athletes and gym enthusiasts. Claimed to improve endurance and strength

Reality- Excessive consumption may lead to toxicity and hormonal imbalance.

Suggestions- Add good quality low-fat protein food sources to the diet

Botanical, phytochemicals and herbal supplements 

Myth- Improve overall health and quality of life

Reality- Sometimes these interact with Doctor prescribed medicines and reduces their benefit.

Suggestions- Use after consulting the doctor

Omega 3 fatty acid supplements

Myth- Improves heart and brain health

Reality- If taken along with multivitamins then increases the chances of hypervitaminosis. Also, interact with certain anticoagulant medicines.

Suggestions- Increase intake of a handful of walnuts, eggs and flaxseeds in a dietary pattern on a regular basis


DS should always be taken under correct medical supervision. The authenticity of the products includes health claims, supportive studies, dosage, side effects and efficacy. All these should be checked by a registered medical practitioner. Self-experimentation and getting carried away by the marketing and advertising scheme and stunts can be life-threatening. Lifelong good health can only be secured with the help of a routine balanced diet and positive life practices. No super formula DS can guarantee everlastingness. Be proactively aware and educated about DS from valid sources and stop self-destructing health abusing habits. Let us give the authority to the medical fertility to include or exclude DS in daily routine.


  1. International Journal of Engineering and Applied Sciences (IJEAS),2016;3(9):2391-3661

  2. PHARMAKEFTIKI, 28, II: 69-92, 2016


Aparna Das Parmar

Aparna Parmar has over 8.5 years of rich experience in the field of nutrition and healthcare and is currently a corporate nutritionist.

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