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Choosing a Vitamin and Mineral Supplement - Topic Overview

What should you look for when you pick a supplement?

  • Choose one that provides a variety of vitamins and minerals (a multivitamin) rather than a supplement that provides only a single vitamin or mineral (unless your doctor has recommended that you take an individual vitamin or mineral).
  • Pick one that, along with the foods you eat, provides the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for each vitamin and mineral. Supplements that provide a lot more than the RDA can cause health problems. This is especially important for minerals and the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. These are stored more easily in the body, and they can build up to dangerous levels.
  • Check the expiration date. Do not buy supplements that have expired or that will expire before you can finish the bottle.
  • If the supplement has the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) seal, the supplement has been tested and contains the amounts of vitamins and minerals that are listed on the label.
  • Check the label for other ingredients. Some supplements may contain food ingredients, such as wheat, corn, eggs, or gelatin. If you have a food allergy or are sensitive to these foods, look for supplements that don't have those ingredients.

What should you watch out for?

When you think about buying a dietary supplement, be sure to check the claims that the manufacturers make. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary supplements in the same way that it regulates medicines. This means that supplements can be sold without research on how well, or even if, they work.

Here are some things to consider:

  • A generic brand (or store brand) often works just as well as a name brand supplement. Look for generic brands that contain the same amount of vitamins and minerals as the name brand.
  • Most man-made (synthetic) vitamins are as good as natural vitamins.
  • No supplement has been proved to cure diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or digestive problems. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be cautious of supplements that promise quick and dramatic results.

This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 14, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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