Dietary supplements are especially popular among professional and recreational fitness practitioners -- in bodybuilding and weight training in particular. Unfortunately, dietary supplements do not have the same level of surveillance and regulation that is applied to medical pharmaceuticals in most countries. The general public tend to believe that dietary supplements are safe and effective because they are widely available. This is not necessarily so.
So how do you know that the supplement you take is safe and effective? It's a simple premise but the answers are complex. Here are four things to consider before taking any supplement.
- Does it work? Does the supplement provide the benefit that is claimed for it?
- Is it safe? Can you take the supplement at the recommended dose and for the duration recommended without suffering adverse effects?
- Can you be confident that the product you buy is not contaminated or adulterated, accidentally or deliberately, with hazardous or illicit substances; and that the quantity of constituents proclaimed on the label are at that concentration in the product?
- Is the dose prescribed on the label at least of a quantity that has been shown to be effective in clinical trials? (Is the manufacturer trying to sell product at an ineffective dose in order to provide a cheaper product?)
For some supplements, like low-dose vitamins, minerals and multivitamins, the safety aspects are relatively well established, and for some recommended uses, the efficacy is also well established. But for more exotic, herbal and biological products, safety and efficacy has not been established, nor has the manufacturing quality control of the manufacturer. There is no easy answer to the question, especially considering that the supplement industry is a billion dollar industry worldwide.
The best approach is to be very cautious and to consider the four questions above pertaining to supplement use before diving into supplement taking. Athletes subject to drug testing need to be especially cautious and aware of the possibility of products being adulterated with banned substances.