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Why Use Supplements? <br> The Benefits of Dietary Supplements

Integrative healthcare practitioners commonly recommend dietary supplements as a part of a comprehensive treatment plan for their patients. For instance, when treating an individual with hypertension (high blood pressure), an integrative or functional medicine doctor may begin by assessing oxidative stress, inflammation, and vascular immune function. Dysfunctions may be addressed using pharmaceutical medication and lifestyle interventions, including exercise, meditation, nutrition, weight loss, and health supplements such as certain antioxidants.

Types of dietary supplements 

There is a large variety of supplements that can be classified in a number of ways, such as by their delivery format, ingredient source, or health effects. Nutrients, medicinal herbs, and hormones are examples of some of the key types of supplements. 

Note that it’s important to consult with an integrative healthcare practitioner before taking a new supplement to ensure it’s safe and recommended for your wellness plan.

1. Nutrients 

Nutrients are the group of compounds on which your body relies to sustain life and maintain health. (73) These are divided into macronutrients, required in relatively larger amounts, and micronutrients, required in relatively smaller amounts. (86) Ideally, a balanced diet should provide you with optimal amounts of essential nutrients. (52)

When additional support is needed, health supplements containing nutrients may be taken, such as:

2. Herbal supplements

Another large category of supplements, medicinal herbs are plants used in herbal medicine for their therapeutic properties. Different parts of the plant may be used in a supplement, such as the bark, leaves, and seeds. (19) Research has identified many constituents in medicinal plants that exert therapeutic effects such as:

3. Hormones

Glands in the endocrine system secrete hormones, which are substances that act as chemical messengers in the body. Your bloodstream circulates these messengers to targeted cells and organs, where they control various functions. (58) Certain health supplements provide hormones and may be recommended to optimize the body’s level of a particular hormone, referred to as hormone replacement therapy. (58) Hormone or hormone-modulating supplements are produced from a variety of sources, including animals, microorganisms, plants, and synthetic manufacturing. (28)(54)

Examples of some common hormones available as dietary supplements include:

  • Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)
  • Melatonin
  • Pregnenolone

Did you know? There are an estimated 80,000 unique dietary supplements on the U.S. market alone.

Not all supplements are created equal. An integrative or functional medicine practitioner can help advise you on a dietary supplement’s safety, efficacy, and quality.

Dietary supplement quality assurance 

When shopping for supplements, you may wonder which brand or product is the best choice. This decision is often personal and should take into consideration the recommendations from your integrative practitioner. No matter the type of supplement you choose, it’s best to select high-quality products from reputable brands. 

How can you determine whether a supplement is high-quality? According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a quality product “consistently meets the established specifications for identity, purity, strength, and composition, and (limits on) contaminants, and has been manufactured, packaged, labeled, and held under conditions to prevent adulteration.”

Purchasing your supplements from a trusted source can help ensure you’re using safe, high-quality products. Outlined below are several quality factors to consider when purchasing supplements.  

Dietary supplement regulation

The FDA and Health Canada are the primary government agencies responsible for overseeing dietary supplements and natural health products in the United States and Canada; however, these products are regulated as food products, not as drugs.

The FDA and Health Canada have established baseline quality standard regulations for dietary supplements’ safety, efficacy, and quality. For example, the U.S. FDA and Canadian Health Products and Food Branch Inspectorate (HPFBI) enforce the Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs), also referred to as GMPs, which is a set of requirements outlining several standards for manufacturing, packaging, labeling, storage, distribution, and recall procedures. GMPs also involve routine testing of products to ensure that they contain the ingredients indicated on the label and are free of contaminants.

In the United States, supplement regulation is not as strict as the regulation of pharmaceutical medications. This means that supplement manufacturers are not required to meet the same quality and safety standards as pharmaceuticals or undergo routine testing. As a result, some supplements lack transparency for purity, quality, and safety. 

Many reputable supplement manufacturers establish their own strict standards and manufacturing processes, often with oversight from third-party certifiers, to provide additional transparency to consumers. Supplements produced without purity, quality, and safety standards are at a greater risk of cross-contamination and other issues affecting consumer health. The product may also include expired ingredients or may display an inaccurate label.

Benefits of dietary supplements 

Scientific evidence demonstrates the health benefits of dietary supplements in a variety of chronic and acute health conditions, such as the following examples. 

1. Taking dietary supplements for cardiovascular disease

Supplements have been shown to improve risk factors for heart disease, including hypertension as well as dyslipidemia, a condition characterized by irregular blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. 

For example, omega-3 fatty acid supplements, derived from fish oils, have been found to decrease very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) cholesterol and circulating triglyceride levels.

Furthermore, one meta-analysis of trials that examined the effect of garlic supplementation on blood pressure included a total of 970 individuals. The study found that, in individuals with hypertension, garlic was associated with a significant reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The results also suggest that garlic may stimulate the immune system and help regulate cholesterol levels.

2. Taking dietary supplements for irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional gastrointestinal disorder that is estimated to affect 5% to 20% of the population. Certain types of supplements may help alleviate the discomfort and symptoms that occur with IBS, such as constipation, diarrhea, abdominal distension, and pain. A systematic review of probiotic trials in a total of 1,793 individuals with IBS concluded that probiotics (beneficial microbes) reduce pain and symptom severity when compared to placebo.

Soluble fiber, a type of carbohydrate found in health supplements including guar gum and psyllium, may also benefit individuals with IBS by normalizing stool frequency and decreasing symptom severity. In a randomized controlled trial of partially hydrolyzed guar gum, the researchers indicated that the benefits may be attributed to its ability to regulate the intestinal microbiota, which is the community of microbes found in the digestive tract.

3. Taking dietary supplements for joint pain

As a result of longer life expectancies and increases in body mass index (BMI) seen in recent years, the prevalence of inflammatory joint conditions, such as knee osteoarthritis, has also increased. Individuals with joint pain may seek relief using evidence-based supplements, such as curcumin, an extract of the herb turmeric (Curcuma longa).

Research has found that long-term (four-month) supplementation with curcumin is associated with reduced markers of inflammation and improved pain scores in individuals with knee osteoarthritis. In specific doses, curcumin may be as effective as over-the-counter painkillers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, with less adverse effects.

4. Taking dietary supplements for type 2 diabetes

Various health supplements may help balance blood glucose (sugar) levels in individuals with type 2 diabetes. For example, controlled trials in individuals with type 2 diabetes found that berberine, a constituent found in a group of medicinal herbs, effectively reduces blood glucose levels and addresses dyslipidemia. Similarly, supplementation with the trace mineral chromium, which supports carbohydrate and lipid (fat) metabolism, has been shown to significantly improve markers such as glucose, insulin, and cholesterol levels in individuals with type 2 diabetes.

5. Taking dietary supplements for upper respiratory tract infections

The benefits of dietary supplements include addressing and preventing acute health conditions such as the common cold. For instance, higher doses of vitamin C have been found to reduce the duration of the common cold in adults and children. When taken soon after the onset of cold symptoms, zinc lozenges may also help reduce the duration of cough, muscle soreness, nasal congestion, and nasal discharge compared to a placebo.
The medicinal herb echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) has been traditionally used to modulate the immune system and help prevent infections. A randomized, placebo-controlled trial with 755 healthy individuals assessed the effects of echinacea supplementation over a four-month period. Echinacea was associated with a reduced incidence of colds, virally-confirmed colds, and was particularly effective for preventing recurrent infections.


The information in this article is designed for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. This information should not be used to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting a doctor. Consult with a health care practitioner before relying on any information in this article or on this website.


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