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What is a food supplement?

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Food supplements are foodstuffs that are intended to supplement the diet of healthy humans. In Finland, food supplements are monitored by municipal food safety authorities. They are monitored under the supervision of the Finnish Food Authority. Food supplements may contain vitamins or minerals or other substances with a nutritional or physiological effect. Examples of such substances include fibres, amino acids, dietary fats, fatty acids and carbohydrates as well as plant extracts, plants, herbs and lactobacilli. Food supplements are taken orally, and they may be available, for example, as tablets, capsules, powders or drops.

Remember to tell your doctor or pharmacist about any food supplements you take, especially if you are taking medicines at the same time.

Food supplements are not medicines

The ingredients of food supplements should not have any pharmaceutical effects, and they cannot be presented as having properties associated with treating, alleviating or preventing disease in human beings.

In Finland, their composition and presentation, production, sale and importation are governed by legislation on foodstuffs. Food supplements are delivered to stores as foodstuffs, and like other foodstuffs, they are not subject to ex-ante control. The Finnish Food Authority must be notified of opening the sale of food supplements, however.

Like other foodstuffs, food supplements are monitored by municipal food safety authorities. The Finnish Food Authority designs, guides and develops the surveillance. The sale of a single product is addressed if there is reason to suspect that the product is harmful to health or is otherwise contrary to legislation. The seller or manufacturer of a food supplement is obligated to remove the product from the market if its safety is in question.

The manufacturer is primarily responsible for the quality of food supplements, but the importer and seller have the obligation to ensure that the labelling and composition of the product are in line with legislation.

Inform your doctor if you are using food supplements

Some food supplements may affect concurrent medication. You should always discuss the use of food supplements with your doctor, especially if you are also taking medication. Children, the elderly and chronically ill patients may be especially vulnerable to interactions between food supplements and medicines as well as risks associated with overdosage.

It is recommended to discontinue the use of food supplements at least one week before a planned surgery or general anaesthesia, unless otherwise instructed by the doctor. Some food supplements may cause interactions with anaesthetics and some may expose patients to intraoperative or postoperative bleeding.

More information about food supplements can be found on the website of the Finnish Food Authority.