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The supplement industry is inundated with big wellness-boosting promises and catchy phrases, but what about the things they don’t tell you? Are your supplements really doing what they say on the label?
1. “We overwhelm you with choices.” – According to the Food and Drug Administration, a supplement is broadly defined as an indigestible product containing a “dietary ingredient,” which may include vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanical, amino acids, and substances such as enzymes, organ tissues, glandulars and metabolites. This means that there are more than 54,000 dietary supplements, and so users can be overwhelmed by the choice. If you still want to take supplements, narrow down your options by picking supplement makers that have scientific advisory boards listed on their websites, and a gold “USP Verified” stamp on their labels.
2. “Medications can’t be sold without FDA approval, but our products can.” – Supplements are regulated in a different way to prescription and over-the-counter drugs, which means that anything goes as long as the ingredients used were marketed in a dietary supplement in the US before the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 was passed. If you’re concerned how supplements may affect your wellbeing, you can search the FDA website for warning letters it has sent to supplement makers in violation of its regulations. However, there’s no searchable database for adverse event reports.
3. “The health benefits are debatable.” Again, this is a bit of a loop-hole that manufacturers use. The FDA lets supplement makers describe how a nutrient is intended to affect the structure or function of the human body, such as ‘Curbs appetite to help with weight loss.’ However, they are not allowed to declare that their product cures, treats or prevents disease, as with a statement like “Aids weight loss to treat obesity.” According to Dr Margery Gass, a gynaecologist and executive director of the North American Menopause Society, most supplement claims don’t have the same science behind them that drugs do. Reputable studies are large scale and double-blind, which are rare in the supplement industry, and many companies don’t even have human studies to support their evidence.