Are dietary supplements right for you?

Dietary supplements may be popular, but are they right for you? That depends. Like medications, dietary supplements contain ingredients that affect how your body functions. Some supplements may be beneficial. In other instances, they may be risky.

The best way to get the vitamins and minerals you need is through eating a healthy diet. However, even if you eat well, the right supplement may be useful. Consider these questions.

Are you older than age 50?

As you get older, especially if you've reached age 65, your body may not be able to absorb calcium and vitamins B-12 and D like it used to. In addition, there's evidence that a multivitamin may improve your immune function and decrease your risk of some infections.

Do you eat a nutritious diet?

If you don't eat a healthy daily mix of fruits, vegetables and other nutritious foods, your best course of action is to adopt better eating habits. Taking a multivitamin-mineral supplement also may be reasonable. Likewise, if you don't eat two to three servings of fish each week, some experts recommend using a fish oil supplement.

Do you have special dietary needs?

If your diet is limited because of food allergies or health conditions, you may benefit from a vitamin-mineral supplement. If you're a vegetarian who eats no animal products from your diet, you may need vitamin B-12. And if you don't eat dairy products and don't get 15 minutes of sun on your skin two to three times a week, you may need to add calcium and vitamin D supplements to your diet.

Are you a woman who is past menopause?

Some women can find it difficult to obtain the recommended amounts of calcium and vitamin D without supplementation. As you age, bone loss accelerates and calcium needs increase. At the same time, your body's ability to absorb calcium and process vitamin D decreases. Both calcium and vitamin D supplements have been shown to help protect against bone loss.

Do you have any health conditions?

Some health conditions and treatments make it difficult to digest or absorb nutrients. Examples include a disease of your liver, gallbladder, intestine, pancreas or kidney, or a surgery on your digestive tract. In such cases, your doctor may recommend that you take a vitamin or mineral supplement.

Do you take medications?

Antacids, antibiotics, laxatives, diuretics or other medications can interfere with how your body uses nutrients. If you take any of the medications, ask your doctor if a supplement might be right for you. It's important to talk with your health care provider before starting a dietary supplement. He or she can help you understand whether a dietary supplement might be right for you.

Aug. 04, 2016 See more In-depth