Food supplements: a risk to our health?

Who hasn’t taken any supplements? A little magnesium cure, a vitamin D ampoule or an energy drink in the evening… They are very present and we take them in a harmless way, after all they can only do us good! But are you so sure? Are they really all good for our health?

Reading time: 4 minutes


Food supplements, what products under this name?
Consume food supplements based on vitamins and minerals to supplement your dietary intake?
Food supplements for the physical (weight loss, detox, muscle gain)
Sport, party, memory, concentration food supplements and energy drinks
Herbal food supplements

Food supplements: which products under this name?

Food supplements are foodstuffs whose purpose is to supplement the normal diet and which are a concentrated source of nutrients or other substances with a nutritional or physiological effect alone or in combination (but not a therapeutic effect!). The claims associated with the packaging are varied: slimming, anti-stress, anti-inflammatory, revitalising, memory boost, energising, facing the winter, preparing the skin for the sun, better digestion… Food supplements may contain plants, minerals, vitamins, enzymes, pre/probiotics, fatty acids, amino acids, caffeine and many other substances.

Their consumption is common and seems harmless; in fact, unlike medicines, they do not require individual marketing authorisation based on a prior assessment of the product, i.e. their effectiveness does not need to be proven. Moreover, they are easy to obtain (parapharmacies, supermarkets, internet…). Their consumption is increasing sharply among both young people and adults.

But can we trust them? Are they really effective and healthy?

Consume food supplements based on vitamins and minerals to supplement your dietary intake?

Many food supplements promise better vitality, health, skin and hair shine or a better memory, they contain minerals, fatty acids and vitamins that play a role in the body in relation to the promises made by the supplement. These minerals, fatty acids and vitamins are naturally present in our diet. This type of food supplement does not present a health risk if the doses are respected and if there is no medical contraindication to taking them (beware of the risk of drug interactions for example). However, they are not useful as part of a balanced and varied diet.

The following table shows which foods to favour for a vitamin intake that does not require supplements and the actions of these in the body.

So by eating a balanced diet, i.e. fruit and vegetables, animal products (meat, eggs, dairy products, fatty and lean fish…), legumes, oil rich in omega-3 and oleaginous plants, the intake of vitamins, minerals and fatty acids is ensured. It is therefore not necessary to supplement (unless medically indicated: for vitamin D, for example, in winter the sunlight is weaker and the body’s synthesis of this vitamin is reduced). Only vegans, on the other hand, will need to supplement with vitamin B12 because it is not synthesized by the body and is found in animal products.

So no need to ruin yourself by buying food supplements to get the body or health of your dreams, a balanced, varied diet and regular physical activity will give you equivalent or even better results! It is important to know that vitamins, fatty acids and minerals will be better assimilated by the body if they come from your diet (with some exceptions).

NB: dietary supplements for tanning (beta-carotene and other) do not protect against sunburn, so you must remain vigilant. In addition, those based on beta-carotenes are not recommended for smokers. If you are a smoker to get your daily dose of beta-carotene, refer to the foods you eat for their vitamin A and provitamin A content.

Dietary supplements for the physical (weight loss, detox, muscle gain)

Numerous cases of fraud have been identified in the category of dietary supplements for weight loss, weight training, detox diets. Indeed, these presented as 100% natural contained prohibited substances (active pharmaceutical substance!). In addition, heavy metal contaminations were also measured. These supplements when they are fraudulent (beware of supplements purchased over the internet that are not from Europe) may therefore present a health risk. When a product is found to be non-compliant it must be withdrawn from the market or if the website is outside the European Union it becomes complicated and the products end up back on the market.

For a weight loss promote a balanced diet and regular physical activity, no need to put your health at risk. Moreover, with a healthy diet and a low-pollution living environment your body is perfectly able to “detoxify” itself. To check the quality of your environment and reduce potential sources of contamination the Meersens mobile application will give you all the keys.

Some substances that are particularly dangerous for sensitive populations:

Sport, party, memory, concentration food supplements and energy drinks

Concerning food supplements for athletes (BCAA proteins, glutamine, β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate (HMB), α-ketoisocaproate, L-tyrosine, Argnine, Creatine…), preference should be given to products complying with the AFNOR NF V 94-001 standard.

Energy drinks are also considered as food supplements and may contain caffeine, taurine, vitamins, plant extracts (guarana, ginseng). These drinks must not be consumed during exercise or with alcohol, they are not energy drinks! There are cardiovascular risks in particular (oppression, tachycardia, hypertension…). Pregnant and breastfeeding women, children and teenagers, people sensitive to the effects of caffeine or people with certain pathologies including certain cardiovascular, psychiatric and neurological disorders, kidney failure, severe liver disease should avoid energy drinks.

NB: if you experience an adverse reaction and suspect a dietary supplement to be the cause, you can report it to a health professional who will be able to report the product in question to the ANSES.

There is no secret for concentration, memory at its best and optimal working capacity : a healthy lifestyle is the key (varied diet with a “good” intake of fatty acids and carbohydrates, respected sleep time, sport) as well as good organisation and training (memory is something you have to work on!).

Herbal food supplements:

Just because a substance is natural does not mean that it is not toxic or does not cause health problems, this must be kept in mind. Some herbal food supplements have drug-like effects without being as well controlled.

Some supplements are ineffective and in case of overdose or special health conditions they can even be harmful. Others are very or even too effective. Some plants have effects that are sometimes similar to those of medicines but their use in supplements is much less controlled, which leads to a risk-benefit for the unfavourable health. In addition, certain sensitive populations (pregnant women, the elderly, children, the sick) are even more at risk and can be victims of adverse effects (intestinal, cardiovascular and mood disorders, allergies, increased risk of mortality, etc.).

As you will have understood, it is not recommended to take herbal food supplements without medical advice or follow-up.

Some examples of food supplements not recommended:

An alert, launched by the National Academy of Pharmacy, on laxative plants (aloe juice, buckthorn and cascara bark, Chinese rhubarb roots, senna, cassia, buckthorn) found in food supplements “improving transit”. They irritate the digestive tract and are responsible for a loss of mineral salts. These supplements are likely to cause dependence.

That’s not all, herbal food supplements are also implicated by the ANSES in this particular situation of Covid-19: some plants contained in food supplements can disrupt the body’s natural defenses by interfering with the inflammatory defense mechanisms useful to fight against infections and, in particular, against COVID-19.

The Anses target several plants with counter-productive effects in the defence against coronavirus. “These include plants containing salicylic acid derivatives (aspirin analogues), such as willow, meadowsweet, birch, poplar, goldenrod, polygalas, but also plants containing other plant anti-inflammatory agents, such as harpagophytum, echinacea, turmeric, cat’s claw (also called Peruvian liana), plants of the genera Boswellia and Commiphora (known for their gum-oleoresins called “incense” and “myrrh” respectively). »

ANSES therefore recommends:

To people consuming these food supplements as a preventive measure, to immediately suspend the consumption of food supplements containing these plants as soon as the first symptoms of COVID-19 appear;
People consuming these food supplements in the context of chronic inflammatory pathologies to discuss imperatively with their doctor the relevance of continuing or not their consumption.


Vitamin or mineral/fatty acid-based food supplements can be useful in case of deficiencies; their intake should be advised and monitored by a health professional. Otherwise food supplements in their generality may, in the best of cases, prove to be useless or of little use, a balanced diet is more effective, and in the worst of cases, they may have more or less serious adverse health effects.

Undesirable effects can come from supplements containing 100% natural substances (plants…) as well as synthetic substances (hormones, creatine, enzymes…).

It is necessary to be particularly vigilant when taking food supplements if you have a chronic disease, health problems or a particular condition (pregnancy, breastfeeding, elderly people, young children, allergies…).

The origin of food supplements is also of great importance, many frauds, contaminations and non respect of the legislation are recorded on food supplements that are bought on the internet and whose origin is outside the EU.

The Meersens application allows you to scan food supplements and to have access to the product recall in case of contamination but above all you can scan your diet and benefit from Meersens advice and solutions to keep or start having a varied and balanced diet that avoids potential deficiencies and helps you stay in shape. Moreover the application helps you to reduce your exposure to pollutants that can promote premature skin ageing and play on the shine of your hair. The Meersens application will help you much more than food supplements.


Analyze your environment and your food wherever you are!

With the Meersens application become an actor of your health: dive into the heart of the action by helping the community and improve your health thanks to the knowledge of your environment and access to personalized advice.

Make the invisible visible for a healthier life.

Solution Meersens - Santé environnementale

Meersens est une entreprise à impact positif dans le domaine de la santé environnementale, mobilisée pour créer un avenir durable, permettant d’atténuer les risques environnementaux et de contribuer positivement à la santé et au bien-être des parties prenantes – en offrant une surveillance et une prévention environnementales personnalisées.

Meersens offre une vision et une surveillance multi-polluants à 360°, en temps réel, historique et prédictive, pour n’importe quel lieu, avec une grande précision, vous permettant d’atténuer les risques et de prendre de meilleures décisions.

Lectures complémentaires


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *