What is a dietary supplement
A dietary supplement is a manufactured product intended to supplement a deficiency in someone’s diet.
Are there quality standards for supplements in the USA?
No. In the United States, supplements are not monitored by the FDA. This practice is very different than in other countries. Herbal supplements in the USA fall under the category of dietary supplements and are regulated differently than pharmaceuticals. They fall under the DSHEA act or Dietary Supplements House and Education Act of 1994. The DSHEA Act states that: No pre-marketing approval or chemical and manufacturing controls are necessary. No pre-marketing review of safety and benefit claims is needed. The Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, assume that dietary herbal supplements are safe, so-called GRAS, generally regarded as safe. In the case of supplements, the FDA can intervene only after the fact, after consumer report of toxicity, allergy, or fatalities caused by the ingestion of dietary supplements.
What is in my supplement?
Because supplements are not monitored by the FDA in the USA, there is no mandatory testing of supplements. Supplements being sold on the market have been found not to contain the active ingredients listed on the label, or to contain extremely small amounts and lots of fillers. The fillers may also be a danger for those with allergies. Not knowing exactly what is in the supplement you are taking also places increased risk on interactions with medications you are taking. Supplements have also been found to be poorly produced and contain much higher amounts of bioactive compounds than are safe, which can and has lead to organ failure.
To safeguard against this, look for a company that can guarantee their product and provides a quality seal or a third party certification (from USP or United States Pharmacopoeia, NSF International – the National [Sanitation] Foundation, or ConsumerLab) stating that the ingredients and dosages have been tested by an outside source, and what is listed as an ingredient is present in the bottle at the dose listed. Definitely avoid supplements that do not show amounts or have a “proprietary blend.”
Are supplements effective?
Many supplements make claims that are not supported by science. In order for a Medication to be approved by the FDA, it must undergo vigorous analysis with numerous randomized controlled trials to prove efficacy and in order to discover and list side effects and medication interactions. Supplements are not held to this same standard. However, many supplements have been researched extensively, and there are several excellent sites to look for studies on supplements and to find if efficacy has been proven.
To safeguard against buying something ineffective or not proven by science, when looking at supplement website, look for the intent of the information. Are they trying to educate you with solid facts or are they trying to sell you something? Has the product been evaluated by quality organizations such as the National Institute of Health, Dietary Supplement Label Database, PubMed Dietary Supplement Subset, MedLinePlus – National Library of Medicine, the FDA – Food and Drug Administration, Federal Trade Commission, Cochrane Database, US Pharmacopeia?
Has the supplement been used safely and effectively for many years or is it just the newest fad?
Supplements are “natural,” so aren’t they all safer than medication?
No. As mentioned above, supplements may be dangerous if they have not been studied properly, or if they do not contain what is listed on the label. They may make claims that are inaccurate or untrue. I have seen numerous severe reactions to supplements. Recently I had a women in liver failure from a muscle building supplement and a child with tachycardia and severe panic attacks from an energy supplement. Both of these were with supplements that were new on the market and making false claims, and not listing risks. Often people assume that if no side effects are listed, then the supplement is safe. However, side effects are not listed on supplement bottles because is is not required as they are not under the jurisdiction of the FDA.
So, if using a supplement, look for supplements that have been researched well and have common side effects and interactions and warnings listed from either studies or extensive use data.
Cost of supplements
The supplement industry is an estimated $38 billion industry. Most supplements cost more than commonly used mediations The average cost of the supplements I sell in the office is significantly higher than the average cost of medications I sell in the office.
How long should I take a supplement
This is dependent on the reason for taking the supplement. In general, most supplements studies are for very short periods of time, for example 3-4 months. If you are taking something much longer than studied the side effect profile is often unknown.
Is there a magic pill?
Often a new supplement will come along and the marketing campaign is that it will make you feel amazing and solve all of your problems. Be very cautious of those types of promises. There is no magic pill. Any good health professional will use medications and supplements as needed to solve a specific problem. A quality health professional will not try to sell you one pill and promise to fix all of your problems.
But, what if I told you there is something that can help with focus, learning and judgment, improve mood, decrease risk of anxiety and depression, improve strength and stamina, improve sleep, decrease your risk of falls and bone fractures, help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, improve gut health, decrease risk of diabetes, decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure, decrease cholesterol, decrease risks of many cancers including breast, colon, endometrium, bladder, kidney, lung, esophagus, stomach? Well, there is! But it is not a pill. It is EXERCISE! And, we know there are similar benefits to a healthy diet 🙂
So, in Summary:
*Choose a supplement for a specific reason.
*Do your research to be sure the supplement you plan to take has been studied and is effective for that indication.
*Look for a quality seal or a third party certification.
*Take the supplement for a defined period of time.
*Use the tools you have including healthy nutrition, healthy exercise, good sleep, healthy relationships, stress management to live a full and healthy life!