what’s the difference between supplements and pills?


So I went to the doctor recently because I was diagnosed with a genetic condition. He listed several prescribed medications I could take. However online, many other people with the same condition as me recommended taking supplements/vitamins to help balance out my hormones.

So it got me thinking- if supplements and pills are both manmade edible things- why are medications prescribed but supplements are available anywhere? Don’t they try to serve the same purpose? What am I missing here

In: 3

Because pills are tested, studied, and regulated.

Supplements make all sorts of claims but most of it is anecdotal.

Pretty much aslong as you can prove its edible and woke poison or hurt the consumer the FDA will allow it to be sold, with whatever claim you want.

Holistic or supplements aren’t evaluated by the FDA. Prescription medication has been through clinical trials and peer review.

I dont know exact USA laws but here in Europe

suplements doesnt have to have positive effect at all, they only need to be not harmful for you. Basicaly you can take anything you want, make it a pill and as long as its safe to eat you can make big €€.

Medications are thorougly tested for safety and effect. They have real therapeutic effect and while they might have side effect, that is considered in regards with the diagnosis. So if you have cancer and are dying, youre fine with hair loss and kidney damage. If you have flu, nor so much. They also need to be taken in certain doses therefore some are prescribed by doctors due to various reasons.

Source: im a chemist and my wife work at our “FDA”

Pill is the form. Medication and supplement are types. A medication can be in pill form. A supplement can be in pill form. Other forms of medication are: syrups, injections. You can have a supplement in injection form such as a b12 shot. People are lazy with how they speak and a lot of times will describe medication as pills. Technically pill is the method in which something can be delivered.

>taking supplements/vitamins to help balance out my hormones.

Here’s the thing, though — *how* are these supplements going to do that? What do the substances in them accomplish?

Most vitamins do little to nothing extra for you when taking them at higher doses. If you have too little of them you’ll get various malnutrition symptoms, but otherwise enough is simply enough. Overdosing on them is pretty hard unless you down an entire jar of vitamin gummies in one sitting.

Medications, on the other hand, are substances that *modify* specific bits of your biochemistry. Paracetamol AKA acetominophen AKA tylenol, for instance, shuts down an enzyme that generates a particular hormone, whose signaling ultimately causes headaches. Because such modifications can sometimes have serious effects, medications are prescribed by doctors who have an idea of how a disease is affecting you and exactly which levers can be pulled to help improve things.

Additionally, anyone can sell supplements as long as there’s nothing harmful in there or it specifically promises to cure some condition (because at that point the FDA starts treating it as a medication!). Medications are investigated with far greater scrutiny to establish exactly what they do, at which dose, with which side effects.

The pill form is just a delivery method, easy for manufacturers to put stuff in and easy for you to take. What matters is the active ingredient(s) inside.

Pills just means the little hollow things you usually swallow without chewing, whatever is in them.

There are two separate issues here. (1) The difference between “medicines” and “supplements or herbal remedies”. (2) The difference between taking something recommended by a doctor or nurse, and something recommended by the internet.


I’ll call “medicines” the things that are approved by the FDA or other national agency. They can be prescribed by a doctor (like say a beta blocker for high blood pressure), or available for anyone to purchase (like acetaminophen for headaches). The other things are “supplements” or “herbal remedies”.

The ONLY difference between medicines and supplements is testing. Both of them can be “natural” such as being derived from plants. Both can be “artificial”, meaning made in a chemical laboratory. Both can have side effects. Both can be dangerous if taken in the wrong dose, or if you have a condition that doesn’t match, or if it conflicts with other stuff you are taking. Both can have a positive effect when taken correctly.

FDA approval means they have been tested to know that they work (and how well they work), and that their dangers and side effects are well understood, so that the doctors can judge whether they are worth the risk.

Supplements and remedies require no testing to make sure they do anything at all. They require no testing to find out what other things they interact with. They require no testing for side effects. They require only the barest of minimal testing to show they are safe.

This is why they are unsafe. Sometimes they are actually dangerous. Sometimes they are not dangerous themselves, but they make people not take the stuff that is actually going to help them.


Doctors do a pretty good job of understanding what is wrong and what things are available to help fix it, and whether their risks and side effects are worth it. Sometimes they advise “prescription medicines”. Sometimes they advise over the counter medicines (“take two aspirin and call me in the morning”). Sometimes they advise supplements such as vitamins if they know that you are low in that vitamin. Sometimes they advise herbal remedies, like melatonin for getting to sleep.

The internet, and the supplement and remedy industry in general, recommend things based almost entirely on whim, with no scientific basis or knowledge of the patient. I have nothing against supplements if they are tested for safety and they work; I just really dislike the inexpert self-diagnosis.

If you are concerned about the prescriptions that your doctor has given you, either because of side effects, long term danger, or cost, talk to your doctor. They will be able to judge and explain whether a particular supplement is safe and useful for you, and whether they can be taken instead of, or as well as, the prescription medicines.