What I think about food supplements by Sandra Ferreira

[Article updated on 19/09/2023]

16% of you consume them regularly and think that they are useful for your health, I am talking about food supplements.

Before reading on

I’m not an expert in this field, but I am passionate about nutrition and health.

The articles you’ll find on my site are the result of in-depth research that I’d like to share with you. However, I would like to stress that I am not a health professional and that my advice should in no way replace that of a qualified physician. I’m here to guide you, but it’s important that you consult a professional for specific questions or medical concerns. Your well-being is important. So be sure to consult the appropriate experts and take the best possible care of yourself.

But are they effective? Are they recommended? Are they dangerous?

As a Dietitian-Nutritionist, here is what I think.

What is a food supplement?

From a regulatory point of view (directive 2002/46/EC), these are foodstuffs:

  • which aim to supplement a normal diet
  • which constitute a concentrated source of nutrients or other substances
  • which have a nutritional or physiological effect, alone or combined (but not therapeutic!)
  • marketed in the form of doses (capsules, lozenges, tablets, pills, sachets, ampoules, etc.), constituting a small quantity.

Concretely, you buy vitamins, minerals, plant extracts, etc.

They are often consumed with the aim of having a health benefit.

complément alimentaire

What do you think?

Scientific studies do not all agree on this question and advertising does not help.

So, I say yes to food supplements when there is a real deficiency such as for example in Vegan people who need to be supplemented with Vitamin B12 or if you are anemic and you need an Iron supplement.

But, without any deficiencies, I advise against it. Because, no, deficiency is not good for our body, but neither is excess.

I also advise being monitored by a professional when taking supplements in order to take the appropriate dosage, choose quality supplements and take the necessary precautions to avoid interacting with your usual treatment.

Because taking food supplements is not trivial and you must also take them while having a balanced diet.

I give you my opinion on vitamin cures in video:

Do you need a prescription to take food supplements?

A medical prescription is not required to obtain food supplements because they are not medicines.

This also means that the purpose of food supplements is not to treat.

  1. Food supplements are not subject to the same regulations as a medicine: their effectiveness does not need to be proven and it is not obligatory to carry out toxicity studies.
  2. You simply have to notify the DGCCRF of its marketing with the labeling and composition.
  3. The requirements are extremely lower than for a drug so be careful.

What are the risks of consuming food supplements?

The National Food Safety Agency (HANDLES) points out that “food supplements, even if they are often perceived as harmless by consumers, can, under certain conditions, expose them to risks. Their consumption should not replace a balanced and diversified diet and should be accompanied by personalized advice from a health professional. »

Often wrongly, it is believed that natural substances from plants are better for health than artificial substances.

Here is an example of poisoning, with a natural plant extract, published in the journal The Lancet (Vale 1998):

A 61-year-old man presented in September 1997 with 5 days of headache, back pain, nausea, and drowsiness. On examination, no physical abnormalities were found, including his neurological status. A subarachnoid hemorrhage was diagnosed. Detailed questioning revealed that he had been taking 40 mg Ginkgo biloba tablets, three or four times a day, for more than 6 months before his symptoms began.

Ginkgo biloba extract is sold without a prescription as a supplement intended to improve mental alertness (the reason our patient was taking it). However, the extract is a potent inhibitor of platelet activating factor1 and its long-term use has been associated with increased bleeding time, spontaneous hemorrhage and subdural hematomas.

It is not proven that the subarachnoid hemorrhage was caused by Gingko biloba, but the absence of other risk factors, the temporal association of the increased bleeding time and the hemorrhagic accident and the antiplatelet aggregation profile suggest a plausible link with the dietary supplement.

Often this happens when the food supplement is taken in overdose and/or if it contains prohibited ingredients.


Should food supplements be avoided?

I would say that we must above all consume them intelligently and avoid certain ones like those incriminated by ANSES which warns populations at risk: children, adolescents, pregnant women, breastfeeding women, people with medicinal treatments.

  • For example, the extract from Berberis has proven pharmacological effects which occur from 400 mg/day but ANSES suspects possible effects on the liver at lower doses such as heart rhythm problems and gastrointestinal disorders.
  • Second example, spirulina is obtained from cyanobacteria. ANSES warns precisely against the presence of cyanotoxin and heavy metal impurities.

If you would like to view other of my articles:

So what do we do with food supplements?

  • You should seek the advice of a doctor before taking food supplements.
  • We avoid the accumulation of different food supplements which would have the same effect.
  • We prefer food supplements with a simple composition.
  • We prefer food supplements made in France (and organic if possible).
  • Tell your doctor if you are taking food supplements.

To conclude, avoid self-medication or advice from non-health professionals (coaches, naturopaths, etc.) as this can lead to an overdose which can be dangerous for your health.

Also avoid purchases on the internet because there is a greater risk of fraud regarding the composition of food supplements.

To summarize my opinion:

  • We seek the advice of a health professional.
  • We check if we are deficient.
  • We eat a balanced diet, which is generally enough to provide everything the body needs.

For further :