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Nutritional supplements

What exactly are nutritional supplements? Can they help us improve our health and lose weight? Do they help improve athletic performance and relieve joint pain...

The nutritional supplement market is growing every year and growing rapidly.

It is estimated that in 2022 the global market for food additives was about 155.2 billion US dollars, and in 2027 it will already be about 220.8 billion US dollars.

And, as always - where there is a lot of money, there is a lot of unsaid, half-truths and yes - lies too.


What are nutritional/dietary supplements?

Nutritional supplements are defined as vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and live microbes that people use to supplement their diet:

  • Vitamins. For example – multivitamins or individual vitamins, such as vitamin D and biotin (vitamin B7);
  • Minerals. For example – calcium, magnesium and iron;
  • Plants and Herbs. For example – echinacea and ginger;
  • Botanical compounds. For example – caffeine and curcumin;
  • Amino acids. For example – tryptophan and glutamine;
  • Live microbes (probiotics).

Dietary supplements are not medicines! They are not intended to diagnose, treat or prevent disease.


Dietary supplements can help you get enough essential nutrients when you don't eat foods that contain those nutrients, and thus improve overall health and help manage some health conditions, such as:

  • Calcium and vitamin D help maintain strong bones;
  • Folic acid (vitamin B9) reduces the risk of certain birth defects;
  • Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil may help some people with heart disease;
  • A combination of vitamins C and E, zinc, copper, lutein and zeaxanthin (known as the AREDS formula) may slow further vision loss in people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Safety and risks

The biggest problem with nutritional supplements is that the manufacturer does not need to prove their safety and effectiveness before releasing them to the market. That is, their safety and effectiveness are based only on the manufacturer's statements, and not on clinical studies.

Many dietary supplements contain active ingredients that can have a strong effect on our bodies and cause unpleasant side effects, especially if:

  • They are used in large doses;
  • They are used instead of prescription drugs;
  • Several different nutritional supplements are used at the same time.

Some nutritional supplements may increase the risk of bleeding if taken before surgery or may change your response to anesthesia.

Dietary supplements can also interact with some medicines and make them less effective, for example:

  • Vitamin K can reduce the ability of warfarin (a blood thinner) to prevent blood clotting;
  • John's wort can speed up the breakdown of many drugs and reduce their effectiveness (including the effectiveness of some antidepressants, birth control pills, heart medications, anti-HIV medications, etc.).
  • Antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, can reduce the effectiveness of some types of cancer chemotherapy.

It is often difficult to understand which dietary supplements and how much you take daily because food manufacturers can add vitamins, minerals, and other dietary supplements to their products (especially in breakfast cereals and drinks).  

As a result, you may be taking more of these ingredients than you think, and more is not always better, as the risks of side effects may increase, such as:

  • Too much vitamin A can cause headaches and liver damage, reduce bone strength and cause birth defects;
  • Too much iron can cause nausea and vomiting, as well as damage the liver and other organs.

Respectively – use nutritional supplements with caution, especially if you are pregnant.

You should be especially careful with children because their body weight is small and what may be insufficient for an adult may be too large for a child.


Nutritional/Dietary supplements and food additives

Food additives are substances that are added to industrially produced/processed products to compensate for specific nutrient deficiencies or to supplement the final product with nutrients that the manufacturer believes you need, usually with vitamins, minerals, or amino acids.

Accordingly, you cannot choose whether you need these substances or not. The product enriched with them can either be eaten or left in the store.


Nutritional supplements are substances that each person chooses to use himself in order to improve the balance of nutrients or reduce the deficiency of nutrients in his body or for some other reason.


Nutritional supplements and medications

Dietary supplements differ from medicines mainly by the amount of active substances and, subsequently, by the legislative norms that regulate their sale.

Medicines are defined as substances intended for the diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of diseases. Before a drug can be released to the market, it must undergo clinical trials, and the manufacturer must prove that each specific drug is safe and works exactly as the manufacturer claims.

That is, medicines are considered unsafe until proven otherwise.


On the other hand, in most countries, nutritional supplements are considered food, that is, they are considered safe until proven otherwise.

The safety and efficacy of vitamins, teas, herbs, diet pills, and a wide variety of other nutritional supplements do not need to be proven..


In addition, determining the quality of dietary supplements is much more difficult than medicines, because:

  • Medicines in most cases contain only one active substance – there are fewer variables, which means that the results of clinical trials and trials are much more reliable;
  • Food additives can be very complex (especially if they contain substances received from plant or natural sources). They often contain dozens or even hundreds of different substances, and therefore in many cases, it is very difficult if possible at all, to accurately isolate a specific active ingredient.

Nutritional supplements for joints

Several nutritional supplements have proven effective in reducing pain, stiffness, and other symptoms of arthritis. Especially when used in conjunction with traditional treatments.



Collagen is the most common protein and the main component of cartilage. Collagen gives cartilage strength and forms a framework in which the remaining components of cartilage are located.

Read more about collagen HERE.


Glucosamine and chondroitin

Glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate are components of normal cartilage and are two of the most commonly used dietary supplements for arthritis symptoms.

Since these supplements stimulate the production of new cartilage components (collagen and proteoglycans), it is believed that they help the body repair cartilage damaged by osteoarthritis.

However, there is still no convincing evidence that glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates can promote cartilage regeneration or prevent cartilage damage in humans (most studies have been conducted in vitro (in "test tubes" outside the body) and on animals).

At the same time, there is evidence that glucosamine (touted as an anti-inflammatory) can reduce joint pain.


Omega-3 fatty acids and Fish oil

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil and other foods (such as flax and chia seeds), encourage the body to produce chemicals that help control inflammation.

This supplement is thought to help reduce stiffness caused by inflammation in people with rheumatoid arthritis, but more research is needed to say this for sure.

These nutritional supplements are recommended in mild cases of arthritis to avoid immediate use of Ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatory medications.

By taking Omega-3 supplements, you also reduce the risks of heart disease and dementia.

When buying fish oil, make sure that the EPA and DHA content is indicated on the label and that the daily dose contains at least one gram of EPA and DHA.


S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe)

SAMe is a compound that is naturally present in our bodies. SAMe helps produce and regulate hormones and maintain cell membranes.

A synthetic version of SAMe is available as a dietary supplement in the US and some European countries.

There are several studies comparing the effectiveness of SAMe in the treatment of osteoarthritis with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. That is, the SAMe provides similar pain relief and joint function improvement but causes fewer side effects.

There are also some studies that do not support this effect.

SAMe is also thought to help with depression and liver disease.


Side effects are also possible when using SAMe:

  • Digestive problems such as nausea, diarrhea, or constipation;
  • Mild insomnia;
  • Dizziness;
  • Irritability;
  • Anxiety;
  • Sweating.


Curcumin is the active compound of the yellow shade of turmeric (the main ingredient of Indian curry). It acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory agent in our bodies.

A study of 367 people with osteoarthritis of the knee found, that a 1,500 mg dose of curcumin extract was as effective as a 1,200 mg daily dose of Ibuprofen without the gastrointestinal side effects of Ibuprofen.

The downside of curcumin is that it is difficult for our body to absorb it - it has to be taken together with some fatty substance.

Black pepper also improves the absorption of curcumin.


Boswellia serrata

Boswellia serrata is a tree that grows in India, Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

Boswellia serrata contains chemicals that can reduce swelling and increase the body's immune response.

Boswellia serrata is used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine to treat osteoarthritis. It is also used for many other purposes, including asthma, diabetes, and stroke, but there is no convincing scientific evidence to support the therapeutic effects of Boswellia serrata.


Boswellia serrata juice is also sometimes used to make incense. Frankincense is usually applied to the skin or inhaled as aromatherapy.


Green tea

Green tea contains compounds with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can help in the fight against joint pain.

It seems that green tea extract can be a good supplement both for pain control and for improving the physical function of knee joints in adults with osteoarthritis. However, further studies are needed to confirm this effect.


Vitamin D

Vitamin D is important for maintaining bone strength and reducing the risk of bone fractures. Studies show that people with low vitamin D levels may experience more severe joint pain.

Read more about vitamin D HERE.


Nutritional supplements for weight loss

If you want to lose weight, it's tempting to look for help wherever you can.

It is especially difficult to resist the temptation when a promise is made to lose weight "quickly and effortlessly."

But, you know, it's nonsense!

If there was such a miracle remedy in the world, with the help of which "using only 1 pill a day" it was possible to get rid of excess weight - we would not see so many plump people on the streets, everyone would eat for their own pleasure and obesity has not become the biggest problem today.

Today we are in a situation where what we eat is killing us - around 11 million deaths worldwide each year are linked to poor nutrition.


Whether we like it or not, we are all subject to the laws of physics. Do you really believe that any substance can significantly increase energy consumption or somehow destroy unnecessary calories (energy) from your body that you take in with food? 😊


Yes, there are always studies (sponsored by the manufacturers of the appropriate supplements) and/or celebrities who have lost 10, 20, or more kilograms with this “new, revolutionary and for now unknown” super pill.


It's all just business.

Remember that supplement manufacturers do not have to prove the effectiveness and safety of their products.


Workout Supplements

Fitness gurus and social media articles advertise workout supplements as an integral part of athletic performance. Complex, scientific-sounding names reinforce the impression that effective training is impossible without them.

I really know a lot about this topic. Let's take a look at the most popular ingredients in sports supplements.


Pre-workout nutritional supplements

These sports supplements are designed to provide energy and increase endurance throughout your workout. They are usually taken 15-30 minutes before training, but they can also be taken during training.

Let's take a look at the ingredients of workout supplements that the International Society of Sports Nutrition classifies as apparently safe (there is convincing evidence of their effectiveness).



Beta-alanine is an amino acid that is produced in our liver and is also found in fish and meat.

Beta-alanine, taken 4-6 grams per day for 2-4 weeks, has been proven to improve performance, especially with high-intensity exercises lasting 1- 4 minutes (such as HIIT or sprints).

Beta-alanine has also been proven to reduce neuromuscular fatigue, especially in the elderly.

How does it work?

During exercise, the body breaks down glucose into lactic acid, which is then converted into lactate. This produces hydrogen ions that lower the pH of the muscles. This acidity reduces the muscle's ability to contract, causing fatigue.

Beta-alanine increases the concentration of carnosine in the muscles, which reduces muscle acidity during high-intensity exercise, which in turn reduces overall fatigue.

This supplement is often combined with sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda, which also reduces the “acidity” of the muscles. A common side effect of beta-alanine is a tingling sensation in the skin. This effect can be reduced by using lower doses (around 1.6 g) or by using a long-acting formulation instead of a fast-acting formulation.

Accordingly, Beta–alanine can really help reduce muscle fatigue and prolong the time of high-intensity workouts.



Caffeine is a stimulant that is often included in workout supplements because it has been proven to improve athletic performance in both high-intensity workouts and endurance workouts.

For high-performance athletes, the International Olympic Committee recommends taking 3-6 mg of caffeine per kg of body weight one hour before training.

Evidence shows that even lower doses of caffeine (up to 3 mg per kg of body weight) before and during prolonged exercise can improve athletic performance.

Caffeine increases the release of endorphins, improves neuromuscular activity, alertness, and also reduces the perception of load during workout.

At the same time, there is no evidence that higher doses of caffeine (9 mg and more per kg of body weight) increase performance, but there is evidence that they can cause nausea, anxiety, and insomnia.

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) consider 400 milligrams of caffeine per day to be a safe amount for daily consumption, but some supplements may contain much more caffeine.

Sometimes the label also indicates that the workout supplement contains caffeine, but its amount is not indicated.

Caffeine powder is also sold separately but is not recommended, as even a very small amount can cause an accidental overdose. Caffeine powder has been linked to many deaths - one tablespoon (10 grams) is a lethal dose for an adult.



Creatine is a compound found in skeletal muscle and synthesized in our body from amino acids found in red meat and seafood. In the body, it helps produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which provides the muscles with energy.

Creatine is a popular workout supplement used to enhance athletic performance, especially in strength training. Research shows that supplemental creatine intake increases the availability of creatine in the muscles, which in turn can improve physical performance - allowing you to increase the volume of training (for example, the ability to perform more repetitions with the same weight), which in turn can lead to greater muscle mass, muscle strength and power increase.

Although the mechanisms by which creatine improves performance are not fully understood, it is believed that creatine stimulates glycogen levels in the muscles.

Creatine supplementation is primarily recommended for athletes who perform strength/resistance exercises (e.g., weightlifting) or other short, repetitive high-intensity exercise (e.g., soccer, basketball).

The recommended starting dose for increasing creatine stores in muscles is about 5 g of creatine monohydrate (about 0.3 g per kg of body weight) four times a day for 5-7 days. When the muscles are fully saturated with creatine, their reserves can be maintained by taking 3-5 g per day.

Another widely used recommendation is to take 3 grams of creatine monohydrate per day for 28 days.

Although creatine intake at these levels is considered safe, creatine may not be suitable for people with kidney disease or bipolar disorder.

It is also worth noting the fact that creatine contributes to water retention in the body, which leads to weight gain, which, in turn, can harm performance.


Post-workout supplements

These supplements are designed to improve muscle recovery and growth (increase in muscle mass).



Replenishment of glycogen stores after exercise with adequate carbohydrate intake is important for muscle recovery. Starting the next workout with sufficient muscle glycogen stores has also been shown to improve performance.

In order to restore muscle glycogen stores after low-intensity training (such as walking, yoga, etc.) and medium-intensity training (such as long-term walking, jogging, swimming, or cycling with a light effort), additional carbohydrate intake is not necessary.

An additional intake of carbohydrates and proteins within 2-36 hours after the workout is recommended only after heavy physical exertion (for example, interval training, running, swimming, cycling at a fast pace, etc.). Accordingly, if you have ragged breathing after training and you cannot speak fluently, eat a banana or a muesli bar.



The recommended daily amount of protein for healthy adults is considered to be 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

However, if your physical activity is above "average" — you need to consume more protein.

Recommendations for protein intake vary depending on the type, intensity, and duration of the workout, age, calorie intake, and quality of protein intake.

A review conducted by the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that additional protein intake (with adequate carbohydrate intake) does not improve endurance, but can reduce markers of muscle damage and muscle pain.

On the other hand, supplemental protein intake can help optimize muscle protein synthesis, which is necessary for muscle repair and growth.

For people with high/intense physical activity, in order to build and maintain muscle mass, the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends taking 1.4 - 2.0 g of protein per kg of body weight per day. It can be taken both with food and with protein supplements (such as casein and whey, soy, pea or hemp protein powders).


Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)

Three of the nine essential amino acids (leucine, isoleucine and valine) are called branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). You can get them from protein-rich foods such as chicken and red meat, fish and eggs. They are also sold as dietary supplements in powder form.

BCAAs are key components of muscle protein synthesis, and studies have shown that they promote protein synthesis and prevent protein breakdown (especially leucine).

Although short-term research data suggest that leucine plays an important role in muscle protein synthesis, long-term research does not support the use of BCAAs. For example, leucine supplementation during an 8-week resistance training program did not increase participants' muscle mass or strength. Studies have generally failed to find performance-enhancing effects of BCAAs, such as the accelerated recovery of muscle damage after exercise.

Another reason to be wary of high BCAA intake is its possible negative effect on glucose metabolism and diabetes. BCAAs, especially leucine, can interfere with the normal functioning of insulin (a hormone that regulates blood glucose levels).

Too much BCAA intake is also associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.


Chocolate milk

Although chocolate milk is not generally considered a nutritional supplement, several professional athletes have started promoting chocolate milk as an ideal post-workout drink. Mainly due to the very successful combination of protein, carbohydrates, water, and electrolytes (sodium and calcium) in this drink.

There are also several studies on the effects of chocolate milk on post-workout recovery, which conclude that chocolate milk provides similar or better results than water or other sports drinks.

Another review suggests that low-fat chocolate milk is effective in promoting protein synthesis and glycogen regeneration.

It should be added here that data on the effectiveness of chocolate milk is limited and that many chocolate milk studies are sponsored by milk processers.

Chocolate milk, as a rule, contains a large amount of added sugar and saturated fats, so it is more useful for elite athletes who perform high-intensity workouts for several hours a day.

For most people with moderate exercise, water is the healthiest alternative.



Many supplements contain electrolytes - chemicals that conduct electricity when mixed with water (such as sodium, potassium, and calcium).

Electrolytes are important for hydration and regulation of nerve and muscle function. For example, calcium, sodium, and potassium work together to help muscles contract properly.

The body loses electrolytes through sweating, so it is recommended to drink sports or electrolyte drinks (which usually contain carbohydrates/sugar and electrolytes) before, during, and after exercise.

However, if the workout lasts about an hour and has a low or medium intensity, the loss of electrolytes is insignificant and ordinary water is best suited to restore the lost fluid.

Sports drinks and other workout supplements containing electrolytes should only be used if:

  • High-intensity workout is performed;
  • Moderate or high-intensity workouts last longer than one hour;
  • Exercising causes you to sweat profusely.

Read more about Energy and Sports drinks HERE.


Key takeaways

Dietary supplements are sometimes useful and even necessary, but most people can get enough vitamins, minerals, and other substances needed by their bodies with food.

Dietary supplements may be necessary, for example, during pregnancy or breastfeeding, or if you are a committed vegetarian or vegan because it is really difficult to provide your body with everything it needs only with the help of plant-based products.

If you want to lose weight, seek help from a nutritionist, dietitian, or your doctor if health problems are the cause of weight gain. Do not deceive yourself and do not spoil your health with miracle pills.

It is important to remember that manufacturers of vitamins and supplements do not have to prove the truth of their claims and the safety of the supplements themselves. Therefore, be careful and read the labels - what substances and in what quantity are included in the composition of each specific product. Before you start using any dietary supplement – consult your doctor, especially if you are already taking any medications.

Most nutrition experts believe that it is best to get everything the body needs directly from food rather than supplements. If it is difficult for you to prepare a balanced menu yourself, contact a nutritionist. It will definitely pay off.

Workout supplements such as caffeine and creatine can be used to boost performance during high-intensity activities such as marathon running or heavy strength training.

In most cases healthy diet with a sufficient amount of protein, carbohydrates, fat and water is enough to provide the body with everything necessary for moderate physical activity.



Dietary Supplements Market by type

Pre-workout Supplements Market Size


SAMe. Facts & Comparisons eAnswers

Effects of boswellic acid of Boswellia serrata and other triterpenic acids on the complement system

Metabolism of boswellic acids in vitro and in vivo

Efficacy of an ayurvedic formulation in rheumatoid arthritis

Ayurvedic medicine offers a good alternative to glucosamine and celecoxib in the treatment of symptomatic knee osteoarthritis

The possible role of green tea on osteoarthritis

Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine

Effects of β-alanine supplementation on exercise performance

Effect of Caffeine on Sport-Specific Endurance Performance

Exercise and sports performance with low doses of caffeine

Caffeine and sports performance

Caffeine Powder Poses Deadly Risk

Safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine

Scientific basis and practical aspects of creatine supplementation for athletes

Mechanisms of muscular adaptations to creatine supplementation

Effects of creatine supplementation on performance and training adaptations

Effects of training and creatine supplement on muscle strength and body mass

Safety of Creatine Supplementation in Active Adolescents and Youth

Creatine supplementation and exercise

ISSN exercise & sport nutrition review: research & recommendations

Nutrition and athletic performance

Nutrition and Athletic Performance

Postexercise muscle glycogen resynthesis in humans

Fundamentals of glycogen metabolism for coaches and athletes

Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids

Influence of the Protein Digestion Rate on Protein Turnover in Young and Elderly Subjects

Slow and fast dietary proteins differently modulate postprandial protein accretion

Ingestion of whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate: effects on mixed muscle protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in young men

The Effect of Whey Isolate and Resistance Training on Strength, Body Composition, and Plasma Glutamine

Effect of Dairy Proteins on Appetite, Energy Expenditure, Body Weight, and Composition

Protein – Which is Best?

Bovine milk in human nutrition – a review

Contemporary Issues in Protein Requirements and Consumption for Resistance Trained Athletes

Leucine-enriched essential amino acid supplementation during moderate steady state exercise enhances postexercise muscle protein synthesis1–5

The Leucine Content of a Complete Meal Directs Peak Activation but Not Duration of Skeletal Muscle Protein Synthesis and Mammalian Target of Rapamycin Signaling in Rats

Effects of leucine and its metabolite β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate on human skeletal muscle protein metabolism

Interrelationship between Physical Activity and Branched-Chain Amino Acids

Cumulative consumption of branched-chain amino acids and incidence of type 2 diabetes

Dietary Supplement Fact Sheets

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