Medicines and dietary supplements

Medicinal preparations are preparations indented to cure, alleviate or prevent a disease or its symptom. They are monitored by the Finnish Medicines Agency Fimea.

Dietary supplements are foodstuffs that are intended to supplement the normal diet of a healthy person. Dietary supplements and other foodstuffs are monitored by municipal food safety authorities.

Dietary supplements visually resemble medicines: they can be tablets, capsules, powders or drops. They might contain for example vitamins, minerals, fibre, fatty acids microbes (such as lactobacillus and bifidobacterium strains) and herbal extracts.

A herb that is an ingredient of a herbal medicine might be used in smaller quantities and for different purposes in cooking, dietary supplements and cosmetic products. Such products are colloquially called herbal supplements. The sales channels of dietary supplements are not restricted, so they are sold where other foodstuffs are sold, such as grocery stores, herbal supplement stores, gyms, beauty salons, pharmacies and even service stations.

Dietary supplements are not medicines

The ingredients used in dietary supplements should not have medicinal effects, and it is prohibited to suggest they have properties that would prevent, treat or cure diseases in humans. Dietary supplements may only be marketed using nutritional or health claims that are evaluated by the European Food Safety Authority and approved by the European Community. Calcium-containing dietary supplements may for example make the following claims: 'Contains calcium' or 'Calcium is essential for the normal growth and development of children's bones.'

Medicines are introduced to the market through the pre-marketing control by medicine authorities. This means that the efficacy, safety and quality of medicinal preparations on the market has been assessed and approved. Dietary supplements, on the other hand, enter the market as foodstuffs, and as such, they are not subject to pre-marketing control. However, the Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira must be notified of the start of sales of a dietary supplement. The quality of dietary supplements is monitored post-marketing.

Dietary supplements, like other foodstuffs, are monitored by municipal food safety authorities. The Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira plans, directs and develops the monitoring. If there are reasons to assume that a product is dangerous to health or otherwise illicit, measures are taken to remove it from the market. If there are doubts about the safety of a dietary supplement, the vendor or manufacturer is obliged to remove the product from the market. The primary responsibility on the quality of a dietary supplement lies on the manufacturer, but the vendor too must ensure that the labelling and ingredients of the product conform to the applicable legislation.

Let your physician know if you are using dietary supplements

Some dietary supplements might interact with your medication if taken concurrently. You should always discuss about the use of dietary supplements with your physician, if you are on medication at the same time. Children, the elderly and people with long-term illnesses might be particularly susceptible to the interactions of dietary supplements and medicines and the danger of overdose.

If you have a scheduled surgical operation or anaesthesia, you should discontinue the use of dietary supplements a week before the operation, unless your physician advises otherwise. Some dietary supplements can interact with anaesthetics and others might make you susceptible for bleeding during the surgery or afterwards.

Finnish recommendations for the use of dietary supplements

Recent Finnish and Nordic nutrition recommendations state that vitamin and mineral supplements might be necessary at certain times of life and for special groups, when a balanced diet alone is not sufficient. Continuous use of dietary supplements is not considered necessary.