Image of different dietary supplement pills and capsules in glass jars stacked on top of one another.

How Does a Dietary Supplement Work

Writer: Wan SofaSyifa
Reviewed by: Fenny Lim, BSc. (Hons) Nutrition, UKM

Today, more and more people understand that health cannot be traded for wealth once lost. Reports [1] indicate the number of people buying supplements in the US is increasing as the years go by. Business Wire reports that up to 77% of US citizens take supplements based on a survey conducted online by CRN (Council for Responsible Nutrition) in 2022 involving 3,133 adults above 18. With so many people trusting dietary supplements, does it work as advertised, and if so, how?

How Does a Dietary Supplement Work?

A dietary supplement is any product that adds to or supplements a diet. Sometimes, dietary supplements may still qualify as drugs if they aim to treat, diagnose, or prevent diseases [2]. As such, dietary supplement regulations differ based on the product’s intent. Dietary supplements have looser regulations, but when advertised as a part of health treatment, they will be subjected to strict drug regulations.


Like medical drugs, dietary supplements work via nutrient absorption by the body. On the whole, how they work and the effectiveness of dietary supplements depends on three main factors:

  • The ingredients list
  • The proper dosage
  • The intake compliance

The Ingredients List

Image of hand holding a dietary supplement with the label facing forward.

Since private companies often formulate and manufacture dietary supplements, clinical studies on the end product are rarely conducted. What is widely studied, however, are the ingredients of these supplements and their effectiveness. This includes ingredients such as vitamins, minerals, and many others.


For example, ingredients such as fatty fish oils, a source of omega-3, have been widely studied and shown promise in reducing the risk of cardiovascular health. It’s important to know your supplement’s ingredients list to achieve the desired results and avoid conflicting with your current health conditions – in case of allergies or medication.

Proper Dosage

Image of woman pouring two dietary supplement capsules on her palm.

Dosage, in pharmacology, means the amount of supplement or drugs needed to achieve its therapeutic efficacy – which refers to the product’s positive effects on the body. To ensure you benefit from your supplement, it’s important to take it in its proper dosage. Underdosing your supplement makes it ineffective, but overdosing it can cause health implications in the long term.


Additionally, dietary supplement dosage is also one of the criteria regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Most dietary supplement manufacturers will include the proper dosage in the supplement label. If you have an existing health condition, we highly advise you to consult your doctor on the proper dosage. You might need a higher or lower dosage, depending on your condition.

Intake Compliance

Image of woman filling in a daily pill box with dietary supplement capsules.

Besides ingredients and dosage, intake compliance is another important component to ensure your supplement works. This means taking your supplements with the right dosage at the right time. Skipping your supplements intake or taking it at the wrong time may lower your supplement’s effectiveness. It can also nullify the long-term benefits you aim for when taking your daily supplements. 


This may be because certain ingredients in your supplements are not as easily absorbed after meals and vice versa, or certain ingredients may affect your sleep. For example, our CellLabs® Memo-X supplement gives you an energy boost, so it may affect your sleep. Our CellLabs® SK2 Omega, featuring an essential fatty acid, absorbs better after meals.

What You Should Be on the Lookout For

If you find any brand or sales representative vague on your dietary supplement dosage and prescription, it’s best to avoid it. Some sales representatives will say taking an extra dosage is alright or might not consider any clashes with your existing medication.


Any dietary supplement that outright markets itself as a cure or treatment should also be avoided, as this directly violates FDA regulations. It is why in most cases, you will find a disclaimer either on the product label itself or the company’s website. Other red flags to consider when you are choosing the right supplement include [3];

  • Supplements that advertise fast results
  • Supplements that rely on a single study to back up their claims
  • Supplements that have “too good to be true” claims
  • Supplements that have ingredients refuted by reputable organizations

The Takeaway

We’ve established that clinical studies for dietary supplements are commonly only on the ingredients used and not the product as a whole. The takeaway here is, as a consumer, it’s important for you to;

  • Investigate and research the ingredients of your daily dietary supplements
  • Understand and follow the dosage stated by your product
  • Take your dietary supplements daily and on time as prescribed on the label

How well your supplements work depends on the formulation and your commitment to health. 

If you find this article helpful, support us by subscribing to our newsletter for more content!

Leave a Reply

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