Did you know that a complication from a dietary supplement is reported every 24 minutes to US Poison Control Centers? Dietary supplements aren’t tested for safety and efficacy like over-the-counter medications. In fact, some supplements may actually be very little of what they claim to be. Not all supplements should be thrown in the garbage though! Here’s how to sift through the marketing and buy the supplement that’s best for you.
Know the law: Supplements are covered under the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). This allows companies to make health claims on their products without proving them. Once a supplement is marketed, the FDA has to prove the product is not safe in order to remove it from the market. This means that enough complaints have to be reported for the FDA to take a stand, essentially turning everyday consumers into guinea pigs. In 2007 the FDA updated its regulations to include Good Manufacturing Practices, hoping to avoid contamination and the inclusion of the wrong ingredients, but products are still frequently found to be contaminated or not contain what’s listed on the label. If you notice side effects from a supplement, you can report them to the FDA here.
Look for these logos: Remember there’s no guarantee that supplements will do what they say they’ll do, but you can assure that products contain what they say they contain by buying from companies that are independently tested. Look for seals from:
USP: This company ensures purity, identity and potency. Some brands that carry this seal include Nature Made, Kirkland Signature and TruNature. Look for a gold and black label.
NSF: This company covers vitamins and sports supplements. It’s blue and white label ensures that a supplement only contains the ingredients listed on the label.
ConsumerLabs: This site frequently tests products and has reports on its website, some of which are free.
Try to go straight to the source first: Supplements should be used to support, not replace a healthy diet. For much of the 20th century, nutrition research discovered and focused on single nutrients. A scientist from the 1900s might claim that the health benefits of an orange came from vitamin C, but they had no idea the other potent and amazing antioxidants and phytonutrients it also contained. Now we understand that whole foods are not just one nutrient, but they contain many different parts that benefit our health. When you chose a whole food diet, you’re not getting just one piece of the puzzle. That being said, supplements can act as an insurance policy. Some vitamins are also harder to come by through diet or modern living, like vitamin D.