Supplement Safety for Older Adults

If you’re an older adult, you may have a lot of questions about your nutritional needs and supplement use for your eyes, joints, etc. Your doctor might recommend a dietary supplement and the choices can seem overwhelming. Here’s how to put your health and safety first when choosing a supplement.

Choosing a Supplement

When deciding which supplement to choose, there are steps you can take to ensure you’re using a safe product.

  • Always talk with your doctor before taking a dietary supplement. Your doctor will work with you to determine if you’re getting too much or too little of a specific nutrient.
  • Your doctor will also be able to answer any questions you have about supplements.

Look for certification to NSF/ANSI 173. Products certified to this standard bear the NSF mark. This American National Standard verifies that:

  • What’s on the label is in the product.
  • There are no undeclared ingredients.
  • The product contains no unsafe levels of contaminants such as heavy metals, pesticides and herbicides.

Beware of outrageous claims. Some supplements promise outrageous claims to help make us thinner, smarter, stronger or faster without making any changes in our lifestyle. As with other products, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Scrutinize the label. Some phrases are regulated by the government, like “organic” and “gluten-free.” Others, like “all natural,” are not and do not offer any guarantee as to a product’s safety. Other phrases to avoid include “clinically tested/proven” and “pharmaceutical strength.” There is no such thing as pharmaceutical strength for over-the-counter supplements.

Supplement Interactions With Medications

Talk with your doctor to ensure you’re taking a supplement that will not interact with your medications as some supplements may react with your prescription or over-the-counter medications, have unwanted effects during or in recovery from surgery or contain active ingredients that can cause adverse reactions for some people.

  • Your doctor is best to determine if a supplement will benefit you and your health.
  • Dietary supplements may help meet daily nutrient requirements, but this should be evaluated by your doctor.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s daily recommended dose as more is not always better.
  • Check to see if you are getting the same ingredient from multiple sources to make sure you don’t exceed the recommended daily dose.

For more information, visit NSF’s Web page on dietary supplement regulations.

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