What are dietary supplements?
Dietary supplements contain nutrients such as vitamins or minerals that are also found in regular foods, but in a more concentrated form and often at a higher dose. They come in various forms, such as tablets, capsules, powders, liquids, and fizzy, soluble tablets. A dietary supplement is not necessarily made from plants, such as garlic: it could also be an animal product, like fish oil, or synthetic, like most vitamins.
Dietary supplements are over-the-counter products, which means you don't have to go to a pharmacy to buy them. They are also available in places like drug stores and supermarkets. They may also be part of (complementary) medical treatment. German law stipulates that they are not allowed to have (or claim to have) a medicinal effect – for example, lowering blood pressure or blood sugar levels. If a dietary supplement had such an effect it would have to be officially approved as a drug.
Dietary supplements may contain the following substances, for instance:
- Vitamins, such as vitamin C, vitamin E or folic acid
- Provitamins like beta-carotene
- Vitamin-like substances (such as coenzyme Q10)
- Minerals and trace elements (such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc)
- Fatty acids (such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids)
- Parts of proteins (such as L-cysteine and L-carnitine)
- Carbohydrates (such as the fiber oligofructose)
- Other ingredients like brewer's yeast, algae and probiotics
Taking dietary supplements means that the body may absorb much more of these substances than would be possible by just eating a normal diet. In Germany, there are no legal limits on how much of these substances the supplements may contain, but the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) does issue recommendations.
All dietary supplements must be labeled as such, and the labels must provide the following information:
- Amount and dose of the ingredients
- Recommended daily dose that should not be exceeded
- A reminder that dietary supplements cannot replace a balanced diet
- A warning to keep the supplements out of the reach of children