definition and use of dietary supplements

Dietary supplements are concentrated sources of nutrients, ie vitamins and minerals, substances for nutritional or physiological purposes, or plants and herbal preparations aimed at compensating for nutritional deficiencies in a person’s regular diet.

Feature of a dietary supplement:

  • Concentrated source of one or more nutrients

  • Often specifically for specific pathologies, conditions or periods of life

  • In no case does it replace a balanced and varied diet

  • Dose compliance is necessary to avoid the risk of overdose

  • Self-medication is strongly discouraged

Why Eat Supplements?

Nutritional supplements: definition and benefits

Supplements can be available in a variety of forms: capsules, lozenges, tablets, pills, powder sachets, liquid ampoules, dropper bottles, solutions, etc.

Authorized dietary supplements

The European Union has issued a list of vitamins and minerals that are allowed in the preparation of dietary supplements:



Vitamin A
Vitamin B1
Vitamin B2
Vitamin B3
Vitamin B5
Vitamin B6
Vitamin B8
Vitamin B9

Vitamin B12
Vitamin C
Vitamin D
Vitamin E
Vitamin K.



Useful information:

Advertising, promotion and labeling of dietary supplements should not indicate that these products have properties that prevent, treat or cure any disease. Nor should they suggest replacing a varied and healthy diet. Similarly, they should not claim that a differentiated diet does not contain enough vitamins and minerals.

As for the plants used in the dietary supplements, these should be included in the list of which free sale is allowed.

The main types of vitamin supplements on the market

In the market, there are several categories of vitamin supplements. Here is a list of the most sought after and most modern supplements on the market:

  • Hair and beard nutrition supplements

  • Protein-based dietary supplements for bodybuilding and sports

  • Dietary supplements for weight gain or weight loss

  • Organic and natural dietary supplements

  • Dietary supplements of iron, zinc and antioxidants

  • Dietary supplements specifically for pregnancy

  • Dietary supplements for osteoarthritis

What are nutritional cosmetics?

Nutricosmetics is a term from the cosmetics industry that defines any dietary supplement that affects the health of hair, skin, nails, eyelashes, etc. This term may also refer to supplements intended for weight loss, reduction of cellulite, increase in muscle mass, etc. Among the vitamins and minerals preferred by nutritional cosmetics, there is vitamin C, which promotes the maintenance of firm and elastic skin, stimulating the production of collagen and proteins that help protect the skin, hair and nails. activating keratin production. Iron also helps strengthen nails and omega-3s, which play a key role in cell renewal.

Be careful not to forget that even the best special dietary supplements (for hair, against osteoarthritis, etc.) are never a substitute for a differentiated and balanced diet. Indeed, the effectiveness of the products currently on the market has not been proven.

How to use dietary supplements properly?

Use of add-ons

Although a balanced diet is essential for good health, our current rhythms sometimes tend to impede this balance. In this case, it may be wise to choose dietary supplements to compensate for possible intake deficits.

Recommended dietary intake

Official dietary intake is defined by different names depending on the country and their standards may differ. They allow you to indicate, by age and gender, what amounts of nutrients are needed to maintain good health. By evaluating your daily intake of all the necessary nutrients, you will be able to suspect a possible deficiency. However, it is recommended that you consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking a dietary supplement. Remember to read the instructions carefully, especially if you decide to combine different types of dietary supplements.

Special situations

Certain conditions may require dietary supplements to compensate for the lack of certain nutrients. Some doctors strongly recommend that pregnant women take supplements containing iron, calcium or vitamin B9, as these nutrients are essential for the proper functioning of pregnancy. Women with heavy periods may also be asked to take iron supplements. People on a special diet, such as vegetarians and vegans, or those who are very active are also more likely to need supplements.

Useful information:

In Europe, we recommend Recommended Recruitment with Recommended Daily Recruitment (RDA), while in France Recommended Nutritional Recruitment (ANC) is recommended. Canada and the United States, for their part, have aligned their standards with the so-called Nutrition Reports (DRIs). DRIs are divided into four types of reference values: Estimated Mean Need (BME), Recommended Nutritional Intake (ANR), Adequate Intake (AS), and Maximum Tolerance (AMT). DRIs are calculated for all the nutrients for which there is sufficient information.

Read the food supplement label

The label of a dietary supplement should include the following information:

  • The name of the categories of nutrients or substances that characterize the product or an indication relating to the nature of these nutrients or substances

  • The amount of vitamins and minerals contained in the product must be stated numerically in units of weight.

  • The percentage of vitamins and minerals in relation to the daily intake should be reported.

  • The recommended daily intake should be introduced

  • The label must indicate how the product is used (quantity, frequency, special circumstances)

  • Warning that exceeding the indicated daily dose is not recommended

  • A statement that dietary supplements should not be used as a substitute for a healthy and varied diet.

  • Warning that products should be stored away from children

Side effects of dietary supplements

Dietary supplements should not replace foods that need to be supplemented with food, but supplement them. In addition, it is recommended that you take the dose carefully, as a sub-dose will not work and an overdose may cause side effects.

Deficiencies in France

Following the dietary recommendations that help you know how to eat a balanced diet, a person should consume all the vitamins and minerals they need daily. However, a study by the Institut de Veille Sanitaire (InVS) found that almost 80% of the French population suffers from vitamin D deficiency. Another major shortcoming is iron deficiency: between 20% and 25% of the world’s population will be affected, this is called iron deficiency anemia. These deficiencies are partly related to a diet that is not very varied and poor in fruits and vegetables.

Effectiveness of some supplements

A 2006 and 2007 study by the French Food Safety Authority (AFSSA) found that 20% of adults had consumed at least one dietary supplement during the year. However, there is not enough scientific research or strict enough to prove the effectiveness of dietary supplements with certainty. In 2010, a study presented at the International Congress on Obesity in Stockholm (Sweden), for example, highlighted the ineffectiveness of weight loss supplements.

Risks in case of excessive intake of dietary supplements

Most dietary supplements are highly concentrated in vitamins and minerals. Consumer consumption can therefore be dangerous to health. Different studies have identified the risks of cardiovascular disease, increased mortality in the elderly, developing certain types of cancer, including lung cancer, which suffer from bone and kidney dysfunction. Vigilance should be exercised when taking a dietary supplement. The advice of a healthcare professional is highly recommended.

Interactions (with other nutrients)

Many dietary supplements can interact with each other and / or with certain medications. Any interactions must be taken very seriously to avoid the serious consequences they could have. In general, do not self-medicate and tell your doctor about your supplement plan.


History of supplements

Although dietary supplements have been very recent, their entry into the market has been closely linked to health disorders that have been infected in recent centuries, such as scurvy caused by vitamin C deficiency, rickets, bone deformities, etc. Indeed, dietary supplements were originally developed to prevent various health problems. Today, the use of these supplements extends the search for well-being, beauty, shape, tone and delayed aging. There are thousands on the market.

Screenplay: Lea Zoumbiria, Dietitian-Nutritionist,

June 2018

definition and use of dietary supplements
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