What are dietary supplements?
Written by Ben: BA(Hons), PGCert. Sport & Exercise Nutrition.
The popularity of dietary supplements is exponentially growing. Some are used for weight loss, others are used for health aids or an easy way to avoid nutrient deficiencies. Thus, many people question whether they need dietary supplements to increase their nutrient intake or to assist with good health. Especially those who are lacking certain food sources in their diets.
If you want to find out more about dietary supplements, keep reading…
In this article we shall cover the following points:
- What are dietary supplements used for?
- How do dietary supplements work?
- The main reasons for taking supplements
- Are there any side effects?
- Is it worth taking supplements?
What Are Dietary Supplements used for?
Dietary supplements are a way to supplement a nutrient into your diet via a capsule, tablet, pill, or liquid form. Other variations of supplements include infused consumable products, such as gummies, energy bars, and drinks.
The most common way to take supplements is through capsules, which contain nutrients that are often extracted from certain food sources. These can either be derived from multiple food sources or just one. For instance, you can consume omega-3 fatty acid supplements, or omega-3 fatty acid supplements combined with B12.
Using a combination of food sources in supplements helps the user attain both nutrients in one capsule. However, it can reduce the dose of each nutrient. Thus, if you aim to take a high dosage of one nutrient, a single nutrient supplement may provide the best benefits.
Unlike vitamins, dietary supplements also contain botanicals, minerals, herbs, amino acids, and many other beneficial ingredients for good health. 
As much as vitamins are beneficial for your growth, energy levels, and bone strength, the body also needs the additional ingredients that dietary supplements provide.
For instance, botanicals are essential for improved immune health, which can slow aging and maintain cardiovascular strength. Thus, taking dietary supplements is a great way to attain all of the essentials your body needs in one product. 
How Do Dietary Supplements Work?
After taking a dietary supplement, the ingredients will locate and target the places in the body that they benefit and improve the function.
For instance, vitamin D is one of the most popular dietary supplements. Taking vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium better and strengthens the bones. 
When taken, the supplement product (whichever you choose) will pass from the bloodstream and directly into the liver. In the liver is where the magic occurs. Vitamin D converts in calcitriol in the liver and is then released back into the bloodstream and from there, the benefits occur.
Most users of dietary supplements do not simply use them to make up for what they are missing. But, they use them to boost their health, which is a healthy mindset to have. Yet, dietary supplements are very beneficial for those with nutrient deficiencies.
If you have a nutrient deficiency, dietary supplements are one of the best ways to attain the missing nutrients and other ingredients without changing your diet. For instance, if you eat a plant-based diet you may lack omega-3 fatty acids as these come from fatty fish, which is a food vegans eliminate. Thus, taking omega-3 fatty acids dietary supplements will help a vegan attain the nutrient without having to add it back into their diet.
Dietary supplements are a powerful way to maintain your diet and lifestyle choices and not have to suffer a nutrient deficiency. Nutrient deficiencies can cause a multitude of health issues, from reduced athletic performance, digestion problems to skin disorders. 
The Main Reasons For Taking Dietary Supplements
Aside from nutrient deficiencies being one of the main reasons to take dietary supplements, there are other reasons people choose to consume them.
In an ideal world, the body can get enough sleep, food, and hydration naturally. Yet, it is not always easily attainable. You may follow a certain diet (a vegan or calorie-restrictive diet) or have a lifestyle that does not allow the body to have enough hydration or sleep.
Alternatively, where you live may mean that you don’t get adequate nutrition. For instance those living in the upper latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere can easily become vitamin D deficienct, as such a supplement is recommended by health organizations. 
Thus, dietary supplements are powerful for many reasons.
Nutrient absorption naturally decreases as you age. Lacking the capability to absorb nutrients is unpreventable yet can be made better with dietary supplements. 
When the body starts to find it difficult to break down nutrients and therefore absorb them, dietary supplements that contain digestive enzymes help break down essential nutrients, such as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and more. Thus, supplements can help restore the nutrient absorption balance.
Exercise increases the need for nutrients
If you exercise regularly, your body is more likely to need more nutrients and energy. When you work out, through cardiovascular and/or weight or body training, your body uses up the nutrients within your body.
After your body has used up the stored nutrients, you will need to replace them. As exercise uses up the nutrients within your body faster than a routine without exercise, you will need to replenish those nutrients much quicker.
Consuming dietary supplements after exercise will help restore energy levels and also help with recovery, especially muscle recovery. For instance, consuming protein-enriched supplements, such as whey, will help repair worked muscles. Female athletes are particularly susceptible to suffering from an iron deficiency which should be monitored. 
Not only can dietary supplements help recover your body after exercise, but it is also essential to maintain energy levels and nutrient stores in the body. 
Avoid harmful chemicals
Environmental factors can have a significant impact on our bodies needing extra vitamins and minerals. Pollution can cause our bodies to consume harmful toxins, which will cause our body to require these nutrients that dietary supplements can provide. For instance, antioxidant-rich supplements have the potential fight off toxins and restore our immune health. 
Moreover, we can also consume harmful chemicals through the foods we consume. Pesticides and herbicides are often sprayed onto our foods, which can attack our digestive and immune systems. Thus, taking dietary supplements can help protect and restore these systems.
Improves overall health
Disease prevention is crucial to prevent expensive health issues and taking daily dietary supplements can help avoid those bank-busting trips to the healthcare providers, particularly if you fall within a group that is susceptible to dietary deficiencies. 
Alongside dietary supplements, it is important and recommended to maintain regular exercise and a healthy balanced diet to attain and sustain good health.
As you can see, there are many benefits alongside avoiding nutrient deficiencies for taking dietary supplements. As well as preventing nutrient deficiencies, which can cause an array of health complications, dietary supplements can benefit exercise, improve your digestive and immune system, and optimize your nutrient absorption. 
Are There Any Side Effects Of Dietary Supplements?
As many healthcare products, such as medications, can cause side effects you may wonder if there are any side effects of dietary supplements.
Supplements can cause more side effects if taken on an empty stomach. This is due to a lack of food for the supplement’s ingredients to work with. The supplement will be more difficult to breakdown and therefore could cause the following side effects:
- Skin rashes
- Toilet troubles
The side effects will vary depending on the ingredients with the supplements. For instance, some ingredients may cause little to no side effects. Whereas others may can more.
Also, some ingredients may interact with other medications or medical conditions. For instance, if you suffer from kidney issues, taking vitamin C could increase the risk of kidney stones. 
Thus, it is important to avoid taking certain dietary supplements if you have allergies, medical conditions, or are taking contradicting medications.
Is It Worth Taking Dietary Supplements?
If you are wondering whether you will benefit from taking dietary supplements, then you should take a look at the information to provide in this article and work out your preferences. Take a look at your diet and lifestyle routine.
Some of the most common nutrient deficiencies relate to vitamin A, B vitamins, vitamin D, iron, zinc, and folate. 
Therefore, if you lack certain nutrients due to diet preferences or choices, you may want to consider replacing those with dietary supplements to avoid deficiencies.
Physical Activity Levels
Or, if you exercise regularly and often feel depleted in energy, then supplements could replenish that energy. There is a multitude of benefits to taking dietary supplements for your exercise habits. If you regularly attend the gym and partake in high-intensity activity, dietary supplements can help repair muscles, increase energy for better performance, and replace the used nutrients for the day.
You must remember to maintain a healthy balanced diet alongside taking supplements. Although supplements can replace nutrients efficiently, the body cannot achieve the same synergistic energy from supplements as you can from natural food sources.
To provide your body with the nutrients it needs, avoid health problems, and preserve your body’s natural functions, dietary supplements are a great option.
Dietary supplements can hinder natural bodily functions if taken in exceedingly high doses. Thus, to ensure you maintain good health and do not compromise your health, always stick to the recommended dosage requirements for the given supplement.
Nutrition and a healthy body and mind are essential. Thus, taking dietary supplements can help you attain good health and prevent you from developing medical conditions and complications.
Before taking dietary supplements, it may be worth talking to a specialist to see what supplements you may be lacking or could benefit from taking. This will depend on your current diet and lifestyle. Everyones recommended dietary supplements will be different, so sticking to your own choices and recommendations will be best to attain optimal health.