Food supplements are dietary products that can provide an optimal supply of nutritional factors or of substances that have a physiological effect, and which are considered essential for psychophysical well-being. Food supplements are available as tablets, capsules, powders and liquids. They can be made up of either one ingredient or combined with other substances. Their purpose is to supplement our diet to make up for its deficiencies.

Nowadays modern society is increasingly aware of the need to be healthy, which does not only mean the absence of disease but rather preventing disease and restoring the body’s balance to improve quality of life and ensure, as far as possible, the utmost vitality and psychophysical well-being.

Several socio-economic and technological factors observed in highly industrialised nations have impoverished common foods of important nutrients. In particular, processing, preservation and cooking methods can impair the nutritional content of foods. 

Moreover, the use of chemical products (pesticides, weed-killers) has impoverished most of the soil, depriving our cultivations of both micronutrients and macronutrients, substances that are essential for the daily diet.

Hence, since it is increasingly difficult to obtain nutritionally balanced and complete foods, the intake of food supplements becomes necessary to complete the missing nutritional substances in the foodstuffs we daily consume.

To reach an appropriate intake of micronutrients, we need to resort to supplementation that daily ensures elements that might only be supplied by consuming many calories that would soon favour the onset of pathological problems, such as obesity, cardiovascular diseases, arterial hypertension and other conditions.

An impaired nutritional status impairs the quality of life. In fact, a prolonged marginal deficiency can favour the development of pathological conditions that one has to cure, when they could also be prevented by an appropriate nutritional intake.

Hence, the use of food supplements, along with a healthy diet, regular lifestyle and moderate physical exercise can:
  • ensure optimal health conditions;
  • improve physical and psychological performance;
  • reduce the probability of developing pathological conditions;
  • optimise the body’s functional capacity to defend itself from ageing;
  • strengthen the internal defence system to fight stress and infectious agents.
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals and Micronutrients
  • Fatty acids
  • Probiotics
  • Fibre
  • Amino acids
  • Enzymes
  • Medicinal plants

Given that a balanced diet should meet nutritional requirements, there are, however, some physical conditions and environmental factors that might require the intake of substances to support the body.

Physiological conditions

  • Pregnancy
  • Growth
  • Breast-feeding
  • Menopause
  • Senescence

External factors

  • Weight loss diets
  • Unbalanced diet
  • Poor intake of fibre
  • Vegetarianism and veganism
  • Convalescence
  • Specific diseases
  • Prolonged use of medicines
  • Sports activities
  • Stress
  • Exposure to pollutants


It must be said that pregnant and breast-feeding women, children (under 12 years) and the elderly (over 65 years) must take nutritional supplements only under close medical supervision. Moreover, when there is any pathological condition, we recommend consulting the attending physician.

Free radicals have been widely discussed in recent years. They are highly dangerous molecules that are related to several diseases. Antioxidants too have been extensively studied, substances that inhibit and/or hinder the hazardous activity of these compounds. Actually, free radicals produced during normal metabolic processes are essential for immune system activation, and are necessary for life. 

However, the term oxidative stress is widely used to designate the excessive formation of free radicals, which can attack any structure they come in contact with. The body naturally produces its antioxidant defences, which act as free radical cleaners. However, several exogenous and endogenous factors (including ageing, pollution, stress, excessive physical exercise, poor dietary habits) can reduce the efficiency of the body’s antioxidant response. Hence, it might be useful to complete the diet with food supplements rich in these important substances.

Main antioxidants

  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin C
  • Carotenoids
  • Zinc
  • Selenium
  • OPC
  • Glutathione
  • SOD (superoxide dismutase)
  • Resveratrol
  • Green tea

Causes of oxidation

  • Intensive sports activities
  • Stress
  • Environmental pollution
  • Sun radiation
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Use of medicines
  • Pathological conditions

The acronym DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) designates guidelines for a healthy diet. They include several active ingredients and recommendations defined by a team of experts on various aspects of human nutrition, based on scientific evidence collected on the topic of nutrition and health. This information was initially processed in 1943 by the United States (RDA – Recommended Dietary Allowance) and later adopted by many other countries.

Nutritional recommendations focus on protecting the population against the risk of deficiencies by providing useful indications to evaluate the appropriateness of the average diet. The greatest obstacle to defining the dietary reference intake is the difference between individuals as regards nutritional requirements.

The NRV (Nutrient Reference Value) indicates the quantity of vitamins and minerals a person should take to reach the recommended daily allowance of these nutrients (EU Regulation, Encl. XIII, part A, point 1, 1169/2011).

Very often diet does not cover the need for vitamins and minerals, as it is theoretically calculated by evaluating the contents of tables published by the National Nutrition Institute (DRI). In fact, these data refer to freshly picked produce, and do not take into account the many processing phases and subsequent impoverishment of the foodstuffs.

Processing, cultivations treated with chemical products, certain cooking methods, the addition of additives and preservatives, and all technological and industrial processes foodstuffs are subjected to, which are necessary to access the market, present the common trait of altering the content and/or safety of foodstuffs.

Furthermore, DRIs cannot be applied to subjects who have specific needs resulting from diseases, therapies or diets. These values indicate mean consumption that need not be complied with on a daily basis.
  • Calcium
  • Chromium
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Potassium
  • Selenium
  • B group vitamins
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin K
  • Folic Acid
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids
  • Milk enzymes
  • Amino acids
  • Fibre
  • Multivitamins
  • Multiminerals

Vitamin B2 or riboflavin

The intake of vitamin B2 (riboflavin) can convey a yellowish-green colour to urine that, however, has no pathological meaning.

Nicotinic acid (niacin)

Nicotinic acid can cause transient skin reddening. This reaction can be reduced to a minimum by dividing the tablet into small doses to be taken with meals during the day.


Sulphur is a constituent of three amino acids (cysteine, cystine and methionine). The typical rotten egg odour of certain products is due to the presence of these sulphurated amino acids or of sulphur.


Daily beta-carotene doses of 30 mg or higher can cause yellowish/orange skin pigmentation called carotenodermia. This innocuous and reversible condition is attenuated and cleared by either reducing or suspending the intake of this carotenoid.

As long as they contribute to maintaining the human body’s health and well-being, even herbal products can be included in the category of health-promoting products. On the other hand, it is widely known that many marketed medicines are formulated with plant-based active ingredients, and an increasing number of scientific studies underscores the curative and preventive properties of phytotherapeutic agents. We must also consider that plants are the only source of certain essential substances for health (i.e., carotenoids, OPC, bioflavonoids).

Plant-based food supplements are marketed in various forms, including the dry extract that, as a result of standardisation, is one of the best ways to ensure effective and safe dosage of the substances required.