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Can supplements replace medications?

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On store shelves you can find various types of medical products. We can choose between medicines and dietary supplements. However, few people know how they actually differ from each other. Is a supplement able to replace a medicine?

What exactly is a medicine?

According to the definition, a drug is a substance or a combination of several substances, which are presented as products having properties that can prevent or treat diseases, are administered in order to make an accurate diagnosis, or improve, restore or modify bodily functions through pharmacological, metabolic or immunological action. Drugs can be divided into those issued with or without a prescription. What characterizes these types of products is the time and labor-intensive way in which they are marketed. Among other things, they have to be approved by the Office for Registration of Medicinal Products, Medical Devices and Biocidal Products. Medicines available on the Polish market are monitored by the State Pharmaceutical Inspectorate. If the State Pharmaceutical Inspectorate finds any irregularities, it may withdraw the preparation from the market.

How can you recognize that you are dealing with a medicine? The packaging should feature the phrase “medicinal product” and the number of the marketing authorization. In addition, the package must contain a leaflet with all the necessary information on indications, contraindications, directions for use and side effects. Importantly, the drug cannot be advertised by any famous or medically trained person or scientist. In the media you can only find advertisements for medicinal products without a prescription.

What is a dietary supplement?

We already know what a medicine is. And what should we understand by the term dietary supplement? It is a product consisting of various nutritional substances, which supplement the diet. Dietary supplements may include, among others, vitamins and minerals. It can take the form of tablets, capsules, liquid or powder. You can buy a dietary supplement both in a pharmacy and in a drugstore connected with a pharmacy. According to the law in force in the European Union dietary supplements should not be treated as medicines. In our country the Chief Sanitary Inspector and offices subordinate to him are responsible for authorizing their marketing. What distinguishes dietary supplements is the fact that they are not intended to cure diseases. This type of product is intended for healthy people. On the leaflet of a dietary supplement one will not find any indications for its use.

What is the difference between a medicine and a dietary supplement?

Products of this type should never be used interchangeably. This is due to the fact that they have a completely different purpose. Dietary supplements can be successfully taken by any person. In their case you do not have to worry about serious complications. The situation is completely different in the case of medicines, which should not be used without prior consultation with a specialist. This is due to the fact that they are created for specific diseases.

When visiting a pharmacy, how can you distinguish between a medicine and a dietary supplement? On the packaging of the former (on the side or back) there should be a number appropriate for the marketing authorization, information that it is a non-prescription drug or a prescription drug, as well as information that it is necessary to read the leaflet.

When it comes to dietary supplements, however, we will not find a marketing authorization number on their packaging. There must be a designation indicating that we are dealing with a product that is not a drug. The phrase “dietary supplement” should be placed next to the name of the preparation. In addition, there must be information that it is intended to supplement the diet and cannot be a substitute for it.

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