Food supplements are our allies because they allow us to supplement our daily intake of nutrients. As a result, they can help us to overcome deficiencies. Since 2002, food supplements have been defined by the Framework Directive on Food Supplements as "foodstuffs intended to supplement a normal diet and which constitute a concentrated source of nutrients and other substances with a nutritional or physiological effect alone or in combination. So they are not drugs, nor are they alternatives to drugs prescribed by a doctor or dispensed by a pharmacist. In other words, food supplements do not have a therapeutic effect and are not intended to prevent or cure a disease. They can only change the course of a disease if it is caused by a deficiency, such as scurvy (due to a lack of vitamin C intake), a disease once common among seafarers who spent long periods at sea without eating fresh fruit and vegetables. Vitamins, probiotics, minerals, trace elements, amino acids, fatty acids, or other plant extracts, the legislation also specifies that food supplements must be "marketed in dose form, i.e. forms of presentation such as capsules, pastilles, tablets, pills and other similar forms, as well as powder packets, ampoules of liquid, dropper bottles and other similar forms of liquid or powder preparations, intended to be taken in measured low quantity units".

What do food supplements contain?

Food supplements may contain nutrients (vitamins and minerals), plants (with the exception of plants intended exclusively for therapeutic use, i.e. for the manufacture of medicinal products, such as holly, sené or ephedra), substances for nutritional or physiological purposes (cysteine, taurine, fatty acids, melatonin, caffeine), traditional ingredients (royal jelly, vegetable charcoal), additives, flavourings and processing aids (additive carriers) authorised for use in human nutrition. Chemicals used as sources of vitamins and minerals in the manufacture of food supplements must be safe. Fibres, amino acids and incorporated plants must be authorised by the Minister responsible for consumption, after consulting the French Agency for Health Security for Food, Work and the Environment (Anses).

What are their main indications?

Dietary supplements are useful to overcome nutritional deficiencies, in maintaining tone, helping slimming, strengthening immune defences, hair and nail beauty, genitourinary comfort, digestive comfort, improving sleep and stress factor, blood circulation, treating adverse effects of menopause, preparing the skin before sun exposure, and pregnancy.

Not to be confused with nutritional supplements!

Nutritional supplements (NOCs) are food preparations manufactured by nutrition laboratories and are subject to medical prescription. Belonging to the category of dietary foods for special medical purposes (ADDFMS), they are most often intended for patients suffering from cancer and showing signs of under-nutrition, one of the frequent complications of digestive cancers (mouth, throat, esophagus...).

Are they effective?

Unlike drugs that are part of a benefit/risk concept, food supplements do not have to prove their effectiveness. On the other hand, any claim on the packaging must be justified: for example, a statement establishing a link between vitamin C and fatigue must have been scientifically proven. Many laboratories have carried out or are carrying out clinical studies to prove the effectiveness of their products and thus be able to claim these effects, as soon as they are proven, on the packaging of their products.

Is the effectiveness of food supplements validated?

A food supplement can claim an action on the body (via a health claim) if it contains components.... - The effectiveness of which has been scientifically evaluated: vitamins, minerals, substances; - The effect of which has been recorded in official reference documents: plants; These are the benefits from officially recognized clinical evidence. In other words, a food supplement cannot claim a benefit if it is not proven.