History of Dietary Supplements

Article Submission by:

Lia Bench

Talk about dietary supplements has traditionally been a mixed bag. Some tout them as the cure for everything from weight loss to muscle building, while others would rather not touch a supplement at all.

While the frustratingly easy answer is that there's no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to using dietary supplements, the fact of the matter is that they are here to stay. In fact, projections estimate the dietary supplements market to be valued at a whopping 349 billion USD by 2026! In this article will we cover the history of dietary supplements and how they fit into today’s wellness culture.

The regulation of dietary supplements

Supplement usage traces all the way back to the mid-20th century. After synthesizing and isolating all the types of vitamins our body needs to survive, clinicians began looking to address health issues through single vitamin supplements. These pills were a predecessor to what we now know as the multivitamin. Supplements continued to rise in popularity from that point. The increasing modernization of agriculture in the 1970's to 1990's, as well as the rise in commercial retail stores selling prepackaged food led to a dramatic change in people’s diets including a lack of nutrients. To fill this gap more people started to turn to dietary supplements.

Finally the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act was passed into law in 1994, where it officially defines dietary supplements as "a product (other than tobacco) intended to supplement the diet that bears or contains one or more of the following dietary ingredients: a vitamin; a mineral; an herb or other botanical; an amino acid; a dietary substance for use by man to supplement the diet by increasing the total dietary intake; or a concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract, or combination of any ingredient described."

This definition is necessary because it helps differentiate between supplements and the other things we consume for nutritional benefits. Take green tea for instance. Green tea pills are considered a supplement as they are concentrated with antioxidants and minerals, making them a better option for those who want an added nutritional boost in measured doses. Because of the concentration though, only a certain amount may be consumed at one time. On the other hand green tea bags do not fall under the same category, as they are less concentrated. So there's no harm in drinking as much as you like!

Another marked difference is that the FDA is not authorized to review the safety and effectiveness of supplements prior to them being marketed. As a result, it's up to companies to do the necessary tests prior to marketing their product. Manufacturers who want to use new ingredients must file an NDI (new dietary ingredient) submission with the FDA that outlines the information used by the manufacturer or supplier to conclude that the ingredient is safe under the conditions of recommended use.

Some common examples of supplements

Thanks to innovative manufacturing and research processes, there are supplements available for almost any health concern under the sun! Whether it's calcium for bone health or multivitamins for preventative care, there's bound to be one that suits a person’s lifestyle and eating habits.

Everyone knows that your body needs a host of vitamins and minerals in order to perform properly, but these minerals may not be available due to a number of reasons. Those who subscribe to vegan diets may want to replenish their B12 (which often come lacking in vegan diets) through supplements, while those who can't get fatty fish may lean on omega supplements instead.

This year supplements have shown how they can be used as a measure to increase a person’s health during a global situation. With everyone staying safely indoors at this time, public health officials in the UK have advised people to take vitamin D supplements to counteract the lack of sun exposure.

Supplements and the rise of the wellness industry

All in all, the rise of the supplement industry speaks to just how mindful the average citizen is of their health. A key reason for this is how the fitness and wellness industry has moved into the mainstream whether as a hobby as shown by the rise of various fitness memberships and classes, a career path due to the upsurge of health instructors, or an area of study through the increasing popularity of exercise science degrees that offer state-of-the-art programs. These programs take a holistic view of exercise science, understanding how movement, nutrition, specific exercise programs, and human behavior come together to form an individual's optimum fitness level. Over 17 million millennials alone have some kind of fitness membership, which means this holistic approach is in high demand. More people are turning to exercise as a way to make lasting changes – this is why the topic of supplements remains a top trend amongst fitness professionals and why the public’s knowledge of supplements is greater than in the early nineties.

A note on mindful consumption

The era of the internet and access to information means that consumers can now be more mindful of what they buy. E-commerce platforms have also led to wider supplement consumption, with online dietary supplements comprising an industry entirely of their own. Companies can also do their part to help create more informed consumers by sharing the clinical research behind the product. The best supplement manufacturers also take care to emphasize the importance of a well-rounded lifestyle, including lots of movement and good nutrition.

With diets and lifestyles rapidly changing alongside society, the history of supplements has shown how these products have come to the forefront of the health industry. As more people study this topic and become health specialists, the better the understanding the public will have towards these supplements. And while this article has looked at the history of supplements, what is clear is that we are just at the beginning of how they will transform our diets and habits.