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Lipika ChablaniLipika Chablani, Ph.D., is assistant professor, Wegmans School of Pharmacy, St. John Fisher College, Rochester, N.Y.

A significant pool of the population today relies on multivitamin supplements to meet their needs for daily dietary dose of vitamins and minerals. With such a vast market for these important bioactive molecules comes the responsibility of creating awareness towards the correct use of these multivitamins. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies such dosage forms under special category Dietary Supplements, which are regulated under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA). The act ensures that such products are safe to use and approved by the manufacturer; otherwise FDA is responsible for taking action against them.  Thus, a reliable product is available to the consumer for their individual needs. As most of these products are available over the counter, it is the responsibility of the consumer to make a wise choice, which can be challenging. These tips can be useful in making an informed decision while buying multivitamins:

  • Do I really need one? It is important to consult your healthcare provider before you consider the use of multivitamins and figure out their health benefits in accordance to your current state of health.
  • One size does not fit all: Your body needs may be different depending upon your age, pregnancy, dietary deficiencies, type of diet, health conditions etc. All these will influence your choice of multivitamin.
  • Falling for the claim: FDA encourages the consumers to consider the labeled claims. If a claim is too good to be true, it’s worth some research. In such cases, look for scientific data that supports the claim for the product. As the dietary supplements are not approved by FDA and are solely the responsibility of the manufacturer to ensure safety, it is good to verify such claims.
  • Natural can be harmful: An assumption should not be made that all natural dietary supplements are safe and even if they are not useful, they will not be harmful. These are still considered bioactive molecules and affect the biological activities of your system. Doses of such supplements need to be monitored as well.
  • With or without food: Care should be taken while self-administering these multivitamins. Follow the instructions of your prescriber/pharmacist precisely to derive maximum benefit out of your dietary supplement and avoid adverse effects.

Various scientific studies confirm the significance of vitamins and minerals in the healthy functioning of our body. If you are unable to meet these requirements with your daily diet, such dietary supplements can be beneficial. However, safe use of dietary supplements is important. Various drug and food interactions have been documented resulting in adverse effects. The Office of Dietary Supplements reports cases of antioxidants and vitamins C and E to interact with chemotherapeutic drugs, vitamin K has an effect on Coumadin® efficiency, and St. John’s wort being responsible for reduced therapeutic effect of several drugs. Always consult your healthcare provider before using any dietary supplements. FDA also encourages consumers to report adverse events through their online portal. For further information regarding safe use of dietary supplements, refer to FDA’s Dietary Supplements webpage.