Frequently Asked Questions About Supplements

What are dietary supplements?

Dietary supplements include any products taken by mouth that contain a "dietary ingredient" intended to supplement the diet. This includes vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals and amino acids as well as concentrates, metabolites, constituents and extracts of these substances. Dietary supplements are not classified as or considered to be drugs.

Who ensures the safety of dietary supplements in the U.S.?

By law, manufacturers are responsible for ensuring their supplements are safe before they are marketed. Unlike drug products, dietary supplements are not reviewed by the government before being made available to the consumer.

What information needs to be on the label?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that dietary supplement product labels contain the following information:

  • Statement of identity
  • Net quantity of contents
  • Directions for use
  • Supplement facts panel, listing serving size, amount and active ingredients
  • Other ingredients in descending order of predominance
  • Name and place of business of manufacturer, packer or distributor

Are expiration dates required?

The FDA does not mandate that supplement manufacturers include an expiration date on their products. Manufacturers that have data to support that date claim often put an expiration date on the label. Don’t purchase supplements with expiration dates close to the date of purchase, and if you have any supplements at home that are past the expiration date, throw them out. These products can lose potency over time.

Is it necessary to check with a health care professional before using supplements?

Dietary supplements may not be totally risk free under all circumstances. Some supplements can interact with over-the-counter or prescription medications or have unwanted effects during surgery, while others may contain active ingredients that can cause adverse reactions in some people. NSF encourages people to contact their health care provider prior to taking a dietary supplement.

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