The Scoop - Fall 2016

The Scoop: A Newsletter for Consumers from the Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health Department of Health and Human Services seal  Office of Dietary Supplements logo

Fall 2016

What’s the Scoop? Questions and Answers About Dietary Supplements

I have macular degeneration, and my ophthalmologist suggested taking a dietary supplement to preserve my vision as long as possible. Is there research to back this up, and if so, which supplement should I buy?

Senior man looking at deitary supplement labels

Many dietary supplements promoted for vision or eye health are based on formulations tested in the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS), a series of large clinical trials sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. These studies found that among people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) who were at high risk of developing advanced AMD, supplements containing vitamin E, vitamin C, zinc, copper, and either beta-carotene or lutein plus zeaxanthin helped slow down the rate of vision loss. Adding the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA to the supplements didn’t help, but it didn’t do any harm either.

The types and amounts of ingredients in commercially available eye-health supplements vary. We recommend asking your health care provider to make a recommendation. You can also see the specific formulations that were tested in the AREDS studies, along with the study results, on the National Eye Institute website.

I am taking a B-100 dietary supplement. It contains very high doses of vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and several other vitamins. Is it safe?

Vitamin B supplement pills

Many of the B vitamins—including vitamin B12, thiamin, and riboflavin—do not appear to be harmful at high doses. Therefore, scientists have not established safe upper limits for these nutrients. However, other B vitamins—including niacin and vitamin B6—do have upper limits and can cause problems if you get too much. This is particularly true for vitamin B6 which has an upper limit of 100 milligrams (mg) per day. Getting too much vitamin B6 can cause painful, unsightly skin patches, sensitivity to sunlight, nausea, and heartburn. If you take excessive amounts for a year or more, vitamin B6 can also cause nerve damage that can lead you to lose control of bodily movements. Unless your health care provider has recommended a high-dose B vitamin supplement, it’s safest to look for supplements that do not provide amounts at or above the upper limits.

Have more questions? See our fact sheet on vitamin B6 along with our other vitamin and mineral fact sheets.

I am 58 and recently read that I should get 600 IU per day of vitamin D, but I can’t find a vitamin D supplement that has less than 1,000 IU. Most have 2,000 IU or even more. Is it safe to take one of these?

foods rich in Vitamin D

Younger adults need 600 IU of vitamin D per day, and those over 70 need 800 IU. This includes what you get from foods, beverages, and dietary supplements, and is on top of any vitamin D you may get from sun exposure. Vitamin D is present in a few foods such as fatty fish (like salmon and tuna), fortified milk, beef liver, cheese, egg yolks, and mushrooms, but it can be hard to get enough. Some people have had their vitamin D levels tested and found out they are low.

Unless you are being treated by your health care provider, you shouldn’t get more than 4,000 IU per day of vitamin D. Intakes below this amount are considered safe, so taking a dietary supplement that has 1,000 IU or even 2,000 IU should be safe. But we recommend talking with your health care provider to determine whether you need to take a vitamin D dietary supplement, and if so, how much.

Have more questions? See our fact sheet on vitamin D.

In the News

Latest Federal Guidelines Identify Nutrients of Public Health Concern

Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2016

The latest edition of the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released in 2015, found that the majority of Americans consume sufficient amounts of most nutrients. However, for several nutrients—including potassium, dietary fiber, choline, magnesium, calcium, and vitamins A, D, E, and C—some Americans fall short. Getting enough iron is also a concern for adolescent girls and women under 50. You can get adequate amounts of essential nutrients by eating a nutritious variety of foods. In some cases, dietary supplements can help, but they can’t take the place of the variety of foods that are important to a healthy diet. Wondering how your diet stacks up? See our vitamin and mineral fact sheets for the recommended amounts of key nutrients, as well as their food sources and functions in the body.

U.S. Dietary Supplement Use Remains Stable; Multivitamin Use Decreases

supplement bottle

In a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers analyzed data from almost 38,000 adults, who reported their use of dietary supplements over 14 years. These are some highlights of the study:

  • During 2011–2012, 52% of those surveyed reported use of any dietary supplement, and this percentage has remained relatively stable since 1999.
  • Use of multivitamins decreased from 37% during 1999–2000 to 31% during 2011–2012.
  • Use of certain dietary supplements increased over the 14-year period. For example, use of vitamin D supplements increased from 5.1% during 1999–2000 to 19% during 2011–2012, and use of fish oil increased from 1.3% to 12%.

The study didn’t analyze why Americans use dietary supplements, but the authors suggest that the changes in use may be the result of research that has either supported or refuted the potential benefits of certain dietary supplements.

The Scoop provides information from the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) on vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other dietary supplement ingredients. The Scoop is not copyrighted and is in the public domain. If you copy or distribute its content, please credit the Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health and include the publication title and date. Do not use our information in any way that suggests we endorse any commercial product or service.

We welcome your comments and suggestions for future issues of The Scoop. To contact ODS, go to the Contact Us page of the ODS website. Please note that we cannot answer specific medical questions, make referrals, or provide guidance on the use of dietary supplements. Those questions are best answered by a physician or other qualified health care provider who can tell you if dietary supplements are right for you and what effects they could have on your health.

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About ODS

The Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s medical research agency----supporting scientific studies that turn discovery into health.

Contact Us

Office of Dietary Supplements
National Institutes of Health
6100 Executive Blvd., Room 3B01
Bethesda, MD 20892-7517

Email: [email protected]