Food supplements

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Food supplements are offered in non-food forms such as tablets or capsules

Food supplements (often abbreviated as NEM ) are food products that supplement the human metabolism with certain nutrients such as vitamins or minerals . They contain these in concentrated and dosed form, which is why they are offered in a form that is not typical for foods such as tablets, drinking ampoules or capsules. Nevertheless, they differ significantly from medicinal products both legally and in terms of their purpose .


This product group is legally regulated in EU law by Directive 2002/46 / EC . In particular, the permitted minerals and vitamins are specified. In the ordinance on food supplements based on this (Food Supplements Ordinance - NemV), a food supplement is:

“A food that

  1. is intended to supplement the general diet,
  2. represents a concentrate of nutrients or other substances with nutritional or physiological effects alone or in combination and
  3. in dosed form, especially in the form of capsules , lozenges , tablets , pills , effervescent tablets and other similar dosage forms, powder sachets, liquid ampoules, bottles with dropper inserts and similar dosage forms of liquids and powders for absorption in small measured quantities. "

Since they are legally classified as food, in Germany they are subject to the regulations of the Food and Feed Code (LFGB) . The permitted vitamins and minerals were listed in Appendix 1 and 2 of the Food Supplements Ordinance (NemV) from 2004. Since the amendment to the law on October 23, 2013, Section 3 "Permitted substances" refers to Annexes I and II of Directive 2002/46 / EC in the version applicable on December 5, 2011. Otherwise, only food-specific raw materials according to the LFGB and the Novel Food Ordinance are permitted as additional ingredients.

In the United States, dietary supplements are regulated by the FDA under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act .


Composition and intended use differ significantly depending on the region of origin. In the USA , for example, many products are available as dietary supplements that would be considered medicinal products under German law. Food supplements may not have any therapeutic benefit in Germany.

Typical ingredients in Germany are minerals, vitamins and antioxidants , although overdosing in individual cases (e.g. of vitamin A ) can also be harmful. For all other ingredients (e.g. anthocyanins , coenzyme Q10 , creatine , L-carnitine , phytoestrogens ) it has so far not been scientifically possible to prove the need or benefit of oversaturation. Some of these substances fulfill important functions in the human metabolism, but unlike real vitamins, they are formed in sufficient quantities in the body. They are therefore similar to vitamins and are known as vitaminoids or, in popular science, also as pseudo-vitamins. These include a. Coenzyme Q10, carnitine , inositol and choline . Secondary plant substances such as amygdalin (latrile) and chlorophyll form another group . These compounds produced by plants do not play a vital role in the human organism or, like amygdalin, can even be regarded as harmful. However, several studies have shown certain phytochemicals to have certain health-promoting properties. A special case among the phytochemicals are the flavonoids are: These are phytochemicals with particular effect on the permeability of the vessel walls in humans. Accordingly, they also belong to the vitamin group.

Much of the dietary supplements marketed to date in Germany can not be more due to the contained ingredients under the provisions of NemV since December 31, 2009 placed on the market are. From this date on, food supplements may only contain the individual active ingredients listed in the NemV annexes. Typical food ingredients, such as plant extracts, remain available.


The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) judges food supplements for healthy people who eat normally as superfluous. With this diet, the body gets all the nutrients it needs. An additional supply of individual nutrients is therefore not necessary. A one-sided, unbalanced diet cannot be compensated for by the use of dietary supplements. Targeted supplementation of the diet with individual nutrients could only be useful in certain situations, which are rare in Germany.

In a 2009 article, Stiftung Warentest advised against taking food supplements. In particular, there are situations or groups of people (e.g. smokers) in which taking certain food supplements could also have harmful effects.

The Harvard School of Public Health names five specific situations in which it might be useful to take multivitamin tablets; for example, if you are on a strict diet or have a very low appetite. At the same time, she names three situations in which one should not take multivitamin tablets; for example, because you think you can improve your health with extra vitamins. In older and dark-skinned people, especially in the winter in more distant from the equator latitudes it recommends an intake of vitamin D .

In 2012, the Cochrane Library carried out a meta-analysis of 78 clinical studies involving approximately 300,000 test subjects to determine the effects of regular intake of antioxidants ( beta-carotene , vitamin A , vitamin C , vitamin E and selenium ) on the mortality of the study participants . A preventive effect in terms of lowering mortality could not be found. In this sense, the mentioned preparations seem to be useless. In contrast, the regular intake of beta-carotene, vitamin E and possibly vitamin A increased the mortality statistically significantly by 3% to 4% (but not the intake of vitamin C or selenium). It can therefore even be assumed that the long-term effects will tend to be harmful.

A 2013 study showed that too many elderly people in southern Germany take food supplements in too high doses. Especially with magnesium and vitamin E, there are often overdoses. There is a lack of data on the use of these dietary supplements in other regions.

In a study published in 2017 on the benefits of dietary supplements, researchers evaluated 49 different studies with 290,000 participants. As a result, taking vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin K, magnesium, selenium, or zinc supplements as well as omega 3 fatty acid capsules neither had a positive effect on preventing diseases such as cancer or heart disease. Circulatory problems still resulted in a prolongation of life.

Risk groups with increased nutritional needs

According to the German Nutrition Society (DGE), there are risk groups within the population for whom nutrient supplementation can be useful: Pregnant and breastfeeding women have an increased nutritional requirement, especially for iron and iodine , women who want to become pregnant should take folic acid in addition . Vitamin D is an option for people who spend little or no time outdoors in the sun or who do not expose their skin to the sun. Competitive athletes could meet the sport-specific energy and nutrient requirements through a diet adapted to training and competition loads, but the use of food supplements (NEM) is widespread in top-class sport.

The Association for Independent Health Advice (UGB) names situations in which the need for nutrients could be increased: for example, when there is particular physical stress or chronic illnesses or the intake of medication increases the need for nutrients. Certain groups such as pregnant women, breastfeeding women or competitive athletes have an increased need for nutrients. Seniors often do not take in sufficient nutrients due to physical changes and psychosocial factors. For certain risk groups, increased nutrient intake could also be useful from a preventive point of view.

NEM as a doping risk in competitive sport

An international study by the Institute for Biochemistry at the German Sport University Cologne in 2004, sponsored by the IOC, showed that around 15 percent of the food supplements purchased in 13 different countries contained anabolic steroids that were not stated on the packaging. In Germany, around 11 percent of the food supplements tested contained prohibited anabolic steroids. It was tested on eleven anabolic-androgenic steroids .

The anabolic steroids were probably contaminants that unintentionally got into the products through errors in the production process and have no doping effect, but can unintentionally lead to positive doping results. This poses a problem for both athletes, especially competitive athletes, but also manufacturers of dietary supplements. The so-called Cologne List of the Cologne-Bonn-Leverkusen Olympic Training Center provides guidance on suitable preparations that have a minimized risk of contamination with doping substances.

Legal situation at EU level

Promotional messages

Advertising statements and promises about food supplements are regulated by Regulation (EC) No. 1924/2006 (Health Claims) . According to this, only evidence-based health-related statements about a food supplement may be used in the EU. Health-related claims that are not permitted are - as for other foods - not permitted. In May 2012, the European Commission adopted a list of permitted health-related advertising claims for foodstuffs, which can be viewed in a community register of the EU. For example, the advertising claim “Vitamin B6 contributes to the normal function of the immune system” is permissible because it appears in the register.

In principle, health-related information on dietary supplements is used to increase sales and to encourage customers to consume them regularly. They signal to the customer (depending on the formulation, sender and recipient, they also make this credible) that the consumption of the product brings him health benefits. On October 10, 2011, the Higher Regional Court of Frankfurt decided "On the question of the conditions under which health-related claims on food (here: mushroom extract) are compatible with the Health Ordinance, and in particular have the necessary scientific proof of their effect." It decided that health-related Information is inadmissible and therefore anti-competitive if it does not meet all the requirements of the Health Claims Regulation . In 2010, the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court did not make a very clear decision and "waved through" some controversial statements. The OLG Zweibrücken confirmed by a decision of July 2, 2010 that health-related information must be proven to the customer, which can only be done through 'generally recognized scientific knowledge'.

Maximum volume regulation

As a foodstuff, NEMs are a little regulated market area under European law in contrast to the strictly regulated pharmaceuticals. In order to avert abuse in the form of an overdose (for example with vitamin D or magnesium ), a maximum quantity regulation for food supplements is planned at EU level.

See also


  • Andreas Meisterernst, Ebba Loeck, Helmut Erbersdobler: Practical Guide Dietary Supplements & Complementary Balanced Diets . Behr, Hamburg 2007, ISBN 978-3-89947-412-1 ( loose-leaf work ).
  • J. Wilfried Kügel, Andreas Hahn, Mark Delewski: Food Supplements Ordinance (NemV). Comment . Beck, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-406-53381-5 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Food Supplements Ordinance (Germany)
  2. a b More appearance than reality . UGB (pseudo vitamins)
  3. Vegetables or Pills? ( Memento of March 12, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) UGB (secondary plant substances)
  4. Health assessment of food supplements. In: Federal Institute for Risk Assessment , accessed on August 22, 2016 .
  5. Juice plus - expensive fruit and vegetable capsules . Stiftung Warentest, January 2, 2009.
  6. Should I Take a Daily Multivitamin? Harvard School of Public Health, accessed June 17, 2020.
  7. ^ Antioxidant supplements for prevention of mortality in healthy participants and patients with various diseases . Cochrane Library (2012)
  8. ^ S. Schwab, M. Heier, A. Schneider, B. Fischer, C. Huth, A. Peters, Barbara Thorand: The use of dietary supplements among older persons in Southern Germany - Results from the KORA-age study . In: The journal of nutrition, health & aging . tape 18 , no. 5 , November 2013, ISSN  1760-4788 , p. 510-519 , doi : 10.1007 / s12603-013-0418-8 .
  9. L. Schwingshackl, H. Boeing,. Stelmach-Mardas, M. Gottschald, S. Dietrich, G. Hoffmann, A. Chaimani: Advances in Nutrition, Dietary Supplements and Risk of Cause-Specific Death, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Primary Prevention Trials . Advances in Nutrition, Volume 8 (January 2017), pp. 27-39, doi : 10.3945 / an.116.013516
  10. Colorful pills for a clear conscience - what are the benefits of dietary supplements? , DGE press release (DGE aktuell 09/2012), December 4, 2012.
  11. ^ Dietary supplements in competitive sports, DGE, September 4, 2014.
  12. Interview with Andreas Hahn: How many nutrients do we need? , Association for Independent Health Advice, UGB Forum February 1998.
  13. ^ H. Geyer et al .: Analysis of non-hormonal nutritional supplements for anabolic-androgenic steroids - results of an international study . International Journal of Sports Medicine. Volume 25 (2004), pp. 124–129. ( PDF )
  14. a b If NEM, then Kölner Liste® ,, accessed on May 16, 2020.
  15. EU publishes permitted health claims for food . Nutrition review, June 8, 2012.
  16. a b EU Register of nutrition and health claims made on foods European Commission; accessed on March 31, 2015.
  17. File number: 6 U 174/10. Hesse law, state jurisprudence database
  18. see Max-Lion Keller: Health Claims Regulation: Commentary, case law overview and FAQ (November 25, 2011) , with further links
  19. Michael Gassmann: Julia Klöckner calls for EU maximum limit for dietary supplements . In: THE WORLD . April 30, 2020 ( [accessed May 9, 2020]).
  20. Uniformity instead of a patchwork: Set maximum levels for vitamins and minerals in food supplements at European level. In: Federal Ministry for Food and Agriculture . April 20, 2020, accessed May 9, 2020 .