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Dr. Andrew Rynne
Dr. Andrew Rynne

Family Physician

Exp 50 years

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Dietary supplements include pharmaceutical products like vitamins, minerals, oils, extracts and gym supplements. Vitamins were first introduced in market in early twentieth century. Later on, other products were also introduced. Since then, these have been marketed to be a safe and effective resource. People usually have an easy access to these supplements at many pharmacies worldwide. Recent reports show that some of these supplements caused serious side effects and even death. In my opinion, dietary supplement should be marketed with adequate information to the user. These should be consumed only if needed.



Initially all allopathic medicines and dietary supplements could be taken with or without prescription. Later, many allopathic medicines became available only on prescription, whereas dietary supplements continued to be available without prescription as well. Since then, it has become an easily available resource to consumers. 


Goodness of supplements

Many good effects have been reported for the dietary supplements. In fact, some dietary supplements have been lifesaving. For example, sailors who do not have access to fresh fruits may become severely deficient in vitamin C. Its supplementation in these sailors has proven to be life-saving. Another good example is providing iron, calcium and vitamins supplementation in growing children with proven deficiencies.  Dietary supplementation with prevent the aggravation of conditions like rickets, anaemia etc.

Similarly, pregnancy is a period of high nutritional demand. During pregnancy, the mother needs to take nutrition for two people. Often, she may lack in minerals and vitamins which may result in deficiencies in their baby. Dietary supplements are needed in pregnant women especially with vitamin or mineral deficiencies.


Availability of dietary supplements

Since dietary supplements are considered safe, pharmaceutical companies may market supplements based on only a few clinical studies. Their side effect profile is usually not well established in research laboratories and clinical studies. Many supplements have even found their way to infant formulas and children’s foods. Past decade has seen extensive use of vitamins, minerals, fish oils and other extracts in infant milk formulas.


Are dietary supplements justified for regular intake of children and adults?

Its side effects become apparent during the initial few days of consumption of infant formulas and child food.  Gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhoea, bloating, blood in stools etc or other symptoms like shivering, irritability, headache, insomnia, chest pain, allergies, hypersensitivity reaction, muscle spasms require immediate withdrawal of the supplement. This should also be brought to attention of a medical professional who is well-versed with side effects of medicines. Some side effects of these supplements may disappear in few days while others may continue for life. Therefore, regular use of supplements in child food should be avoided and they should be given natural food and breast milk.


Regarding vitamins, it is well known that vitamin A, D, E and K are fat-soluble and need to be taken only in restricted doses to avoid toxicity. Also their blood levels should be monitored while prescribing these vitamins. Vitamin B complex does not have toxicity because it is a water-soluble vitamin and gets excreted easily.


Ayurveda and dietary supplements

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian system of natural medicines. Ayurveda encompasses many herbs that have a known medicinal value. These herbs have been consumed by Indians since time immemorial and have proven to be safe for consumption by humans. Dietary supplements are allopathic preparations and should be considered a separate branch from Ayurveda.

Herbal medicines like St. John's wort, ginseng, horny goat weed, saw palmetto, bee pollen or blue-green algae originated in Western countries and may have similar medicines in Indian Ayurveda. Pharmacies sell these over the counter and people may consume them on a regular basis. A common side effect is gastrointestinal disturbances.


Dietary supplements should be taken carefully

It should be understood that dietary supplements cannot replace a normal and natural source of nutrition i.e our local foods. Therefore, we should reserve these supplements only for medical reasons.

Ask a Doctor about safety, efficacy and dosage instructions before consuming any supplement.


Written by Dr Vaishalee Punj