There is a huge market today for dietary supplements. They're available as pills, powders, energy bars, and shakes. But while supplements may be helpful in providing extra nutrients, they need to be used with care. People with certain conditions shouldn't use supplements, especially prior to surgery.

Dietary supplements are intended to supplement a well-balanced diet, not to replace it. Excessive intake of certain vitamins and minerals can be harmful, in some cases even fatal. Supplements labeled as "natural" are not necessarily safe; even botanical supplements can be dangerous if taken incorrectly or used by persons with compromised health or during pregnancy.

It's important to note that Health Canada does not regulate supplements as strictly as drugs. Supplements do not have to undergo safety or efficacy tests prior to being sold. Supplements shouldn't be used to cure an ailment, unless directed by a doctor. It is not legal to market any supplement as a treatment, preventive measure, or cure for disease. However, a doctor may recommend supplements to certain groups who may be lacking in nutrients such as calcium supplements for women. If you want to take a multivitamin, research the recommended daily allowances for each vitamin and mineral contained in the pill to be sure you won't be receiving too much.

Talk to your doctor before beginning any supplement, especially if you're pregnant, have health complications, or take medications. Use of dietary supplements intended for weight loss is not recommended; these products have been shown to be ineffective and possibly dangerous.

Marlene Veloso