Merck Manuals: A Discussion on Dietary Supplements

RAHWAY, N.J., April 3, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — Three in four Americans use a dietary supplement. Yet despite their prevalence, some experts say greater attention should be paid to when supplements should – and shouldn’t – be used.

In a new editorial from, Laura Shane-McWhorter, PharmD, University of Utah College of Pharmacy, addresses some of the things to consider around dietary supplements.

1. Diet vs. daily pills

In many cases, it may be better to adjust your diet and lifestyle rather than take a daily pill, says Shane-McWhorter. A varied and healthy diet may be a better way to obtain nutrients. For example, it’s typically better to eat salmon or another healthy fish a few times a week than it is to take a fish oil or omega-3 fatty acid supplement, says Shane-McWhorter.

2. Regulation requirements

A common critique of dietary supplements is that they’re not regulated. That’s not exactly true, says Shane-McWhorter. Dietary supplement makers are required to follow good manufacturing processes and should report adverse effects under the Consumer Protection Act.

Still, manufacturers are not required to disclose information on all ingredients to consumers, and the Food & Drug Administration does not analyze products before they’re marketed and sold. Bottom line: there is less oversight into what’s actually going into a bottle of dietary supplements, when compared with prescription drugs and over-the-counter products.

3. Consider the category

In general, certain categories of dietary supplements may be more harmful than others, says Shane-McWhorter. Products including weight loss supplements, anything promoting bodybuilding, or “men’s health” (sexual performance aids) can be particularly risky. Still, Shane McWhorter adds other supplements like fish oil, vitamin D, folic acid, and zinc may be useful in certain settings.

4. Always consult an expert

Before starting any dietary supplement, it’s important to have a conversation with your doctor.

Some supplements can interact with the effectiveness and dosing of already-prescribed medications or treatments, among other concerns, says Shane-McWhorter.

You can read more of Shane-McWhorter’s advice on dietary supplements in this editorial on

About The Merck Manuals and MSD Manuals

First published in 1899 as a small reference book for physicians and pharmacists, The Merck Manual grew in size and scope to become one of the world’s most widely used comprehensive medical resources for professionals and consumers. As The Manual evolved, it continually expanded the reach and depth of its offerings to reflect the mission of providing the best medical information to a wide cross-section of users, including medical professionals and students, veterinarians and veterinary students, and consumers. In 2015, The Manuals kicked off Global Medical Knowledge 2020, a global initiative with the goal to make the best current medical information accessible by up to three billion professionals and patients around the world by 2020. The Manuals achieved that goal, and today its medical information is available in nearly 250 countries and in 14 languages. It’s continuing its ambitious mission through outreach, education and creating new reliable medical resources. For access to thousands of medical topics with images, videos and a constantly expanding set of resources, visit or and connect with us on social media: For Consumers in the U.S. and its territories: X (formerly Twitter) and Facebook. For Professionals in the U.S. and its territories: X (formerly Twitter) and Facebook

About Merck

At Merck, known as MSD outside of the United States and Canada, we are unified around our purpose: We use the power of leading-edge science to save and improve lives around the world. For more than 130 years, we have brought hope to humanity through the development of important medicines and vaccines. We aspire to be the premier research-intensive biopharmaceutical company in the world – and today, we are at the forefront of research to deliver innovative health solutions that advance the prevention and treatment of diseases in people and animals. We foster a diverse and inclusive global workforce and operate responsibly every day to enable a safe, sustainable and healthy future for all people and communities. For more information, visit and connect with us on X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn.

SOURCE The Merck Manuals

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