Which dietary supplements are useful?

Which dietary supplements are useful?

published on September 05, 2021

Millions of people in Germany take food supplements or additional vitamins. Nutritional supplements were first developed and sold in the 1940's and have been consumed to improve overall health and well-being ever since.

The average diet leaves much to be desired. Research has found that our plates are lacking in a number of essential nutrients, including calcium, potassium, magnesium and vitamins A, C and D. It's no wonder more than half of us open a bottle of supplements to fill up the diet get what we need. Many of us take supplements not just to make up for what we're missing, but also in the hope of giving us an extra boost of health and to ward off disease.

However, nutritional supplements should not replace full meals necessary for a healthy diet - so make sure you eat a varied diet as well


You can find supplement recommendations everywhere — in commercials, through social media influencers, and from your neighbors, friends, and family. But it can be difficult to know which nutritial supplements are useful or necessary for you.

While many supplements will certainly benefit your health, the evidence varies widely and it is important to know which ones can benefit your health and which ones can be harmful.

What are nutritional supplements?

The idea behind supplements is to provide nutrients that may not be consumed in sufficient amounts. Nutritional supplements can be vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids and other substances that come in the form of pills, tablets, capsules, liquids, etc.

Nutritional supplements are available in different dosages and in different combinations. However, only a certain amount of each nutrient is needed for our bodies to function, and higher amounts are not necessarily better. At high doses, some substances can have adverse effects and become harmful to health. For reasons of consumer health protection, food supplements may only be sold with an appropriate recommended daily dose and a warning not to exceed this dose.

The use of nutritional supplements varies across Europe. For example, it is common in Germany and Denmark (43% and 59% of the adult population respectively), but less so in Ireland and Spain (23% and 9% respectively). Women use more nutritional supplements than men.

Who Needs Supplements?

Nutritional supplements are not a substitute for a balanced, healthy diet. A diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, adequate protein, and healthy fats should normally provide all the nutrients needed for good health.

Partly due to our modern lifestyle, not everyone manages to eat healthy. Dietary surveys in Europe have shown that the intake of several micronutrients is suboptimal. The EU-funded EURRECA project found inadequate intakes of vitamin C, vitamin D, folic acid, calcium, selenium and iodine. A recent national comparative survey showed widespread concern about vitamin D intakes, while certain age groups tended to have low intakes of minerals. For example, teenage girls in Denmark, France, Poland, Germany and the United Kingdom are concerned about adequate iron intake. Poor iron status in young women also increases the risk of having infants born with low birth weight, iron deficiency and delayed brain development. Folate status is also crucial for women who may become pregnant. You are advised to take folic acid before conception and continue through the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Adequate folate status can reduce the risk of having a baby with neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Recent research suggests that 50-70% of Europeans have poor vitamin D status. Since vitamin D status depends not only on food intake but also on exposure to UV light, there might be more reasons to recommend vitamin supplements, e.g. in northern European countries. In some countries (including the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden) there are already recommendations for certain population groups to take a vitamin D supplement

Nutritional supplements that can be useful

Common supplements that can benefit your health include:

  • Vitamin B12, which can help keep nerve and blood cells healthy, make DNA, and prevent anemia
  • Folic acid, which can reduce birth defects when taken by pregnant women
  • Vitamin D, which can strengthen bones
  • Calcium, which may promote bone health
  • Vitamins C and E, which can prevent cell damage
  • Fish oil, which may support heart health
  • Vitamin A, which may slow vision loss from age-related macular degeneration
  • Zinc, which may promote skin health and slow vision loss from age-related macular degeneration
  • Melatonin, which can help fight jet lag

Despite numerous international studies, the scientific evidence is not entirely clear. But many studies show that just by taking multivitamins, you don't live longer, your body slows down cognitive decline or decreases your chances of diseases like heart disease, cancer or diabetes. These funds are at best only a supplement, a healthy lifestyle is and remains the basis.

Side effects of nutritional supplements

For the most part, multivitamins probably don't pose any health risks. Still, it's important to be careful. Nutritional supplements may interact or pose risks with other medications you are taking if you have certain medical conditions, such as liver disease or are undergoing surgery. Some nutritional supplements have also not been tested on pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers or children, so if in doubt, do not take them.

Also, the regulations for nutritional supplements are less strict than for prescription drugs. Examples of nutritional supplements that may pose risks include:

  • Vitamin K, which can reduce the effectiveness of blood thinners
  • Gingko, which may increase blood thinning
  • St. John's wort, which can make some medications, such as antidepressants and birth control, less effective
  • Herbal supplements comfrey and kava, which can damage your liver
  • Beta-carotene and vitamin A, which may increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers

Side effects from supplements are most likely to occur when they are taken in high doses or in place of prescription drugs, or when you consume a wide variety of supplements.

Nutritional supplements come in many forms

Whether in pill, powder, or liquid form, the goal of nutritional supplements is often the same: to supplement your diet to get enough nutrients and improve health.

They contain at least one nutritional component such as vitamins, minerals, herbs, plant substances, amino acids or enzymes. Some of the most popular nutritional supplements are available as multivitamin supplements. This helps you take numerous pills or powders each day. Of course, they can also be purchased as an independent nutritional supplement.

Some popular and well-known useful nutritional supplements are:
  • Calcium
  • Fish oil
  • Echinacea
  • Ginseng
  • Garlic
  • Vitamin-D
  • Currants
  • Green tea
When are nutritional supplements useful?
Basically, it's possible to get all the nutrients you need by eating a variety of healthy foods, so you don't need to take supplements. But supplements can be useful for filling gaps in your diet.

For vitamins and minerals, check the Percent Daily Value (DV) for each nutrient to make sure you're not over-indulging. It is important to consider the DV and upper limit, too much of certain supplements can be harmful.

Manufacturers are responsible for the purity of the product and must accurately list the ingredients and their amounts. Some independent organizations carry out quality tests on nutritional supplements and offer seals of approval. Unfortunately, this does not guarantee that the product will work or be safe. It merely assures that the product has been properly manufactured and contains the listed ingredients.
Deciding whether to take supplements and which ones to take is a serious matter. First, educate yourself about their potential benefits and any risks that supplements may pose. If necessary, talk to your doctor about interesting products and decide together what is best for you for your general health.
Never take more than the recommended dose - it can harm you

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