Italiano - Home page

Istituto Superiore di Sanità
EpiCentro - Epidemiology for public health
Epidemiology for public health - ISS

Food supplements are over-the-counter products and should be used according to label directions. Improper use may be counterproductive, when age (e.g. infants and children), specific physiological conditions (such as pregnancy and breastfeeding) or existing diseases are not taken into account. It is therefore important to inform your doctor if you are taking any food supplement, especially when new medicines are prescribed, also to prevent adverse reactions due to drug interactions.


Plants and their derivatives are often used in the preparation of “natural products” and food supplements, which are increasingly popular. Improved knowledge of the risk/benefit ratio of using plants for health purposes is needed, in particular taking into consideration the nature of their specific derivatives, proposed intake levels, sensitivity and conditions of potential consumers, and concurrent use of other health products or medicines.


At the same time, awareness should be raised among consumers that a product is not necessarily safe just because it is “natural” and that, in fact, the “physiological” activity responsible for its claimed properties may, under certain conditions, cause unexpected or undesirable effects. Adverse reactions to these products should therefore be carefully monitored so as to increase knowledge of their possible interactions and of the activity profile of their components. This requires “spontaneous reporting” systems that are sensitive enough to promptly highlight potential risks and warning signals.


Publication date: 16 January 2021