Reading between the lines of many health supplement labels is this caveat:
WARNING: This label may be misleading the public. Supplement facts represented on this label may be inaccurate or other valuable information withheld in order for this product to attract more selling value. Labels in the health supplement industry are often misleading. The FDA has limited oversight on health supplements. High profits in this lucrative industry has attracted all kinds of manufacturers, many using inferior raw materials, negligent production practices, inaccurate labeling and false claims to sell their products. The industry is so large and expanding that all kinds of manufacturers can make a niche for themselves in this highly profitable sector.How can you make a wise choice for a quality health supplement product? First, let’s understand what a health supplement is.
What is a Health Supplement?
Health supplements are dietary supplements defined by Congress in the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, 1994 as being, “a product (other than tobacco) taken by mouth that contains a dietary ingredient intended to supplement the diet. The dietary ingredients in these products may include: vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and substances such as enzymes, organ tissues, glandulars, and metabolites.” These supplements can be in various forms such as capsules, tablets, soft-gels, gel-caps, powders, liquids, or even bars. They can be used for many different purposes such as lowering cholesterol, increasing energy, supporting immune health, weight loss, weight/muscle gain, for overall well-being, or other health-benefiting reasons. These products are sold at health food stores, grocery stores, drug stores, national discount chains, mail-order and Internet.
Choosing from a myriad of health supplements can be a daunting task for a consumer. For any particular health concern, most health supplements all promise the same benefit, all have the same, if not similar ingredients. So how do you choose? Some of them even make tall, incredible health claims and only a few of them carry any precautionary warnings. Here are a few guidelines to go by when choosing a health supplement.
- The Credibility of the Manufacturer: Choose a manufacturer that has credibility. A GMP-certified company is a good start. GMP certified company would entail that strict manufacturing systems are in place at every stage of production.
- Ensure Credibility: Search the web for the company’s history and reputation. Does the website contain their contact information? Can you talk to them over the phone or through live assistance on their website for any queries you may have?
- Quality: In order to be effective, a health supplement must be of the highest possible quality. Quality varies widely because there are no quality standards in the health supplement industry. Factors to quality are:
- Physician Formulated Products: Look for products that have been physician formulated by a well-known doctor, not just accredited by a doctor.
- Research and Development. Check whether the company has a research and development team. This means they have conducted various tests and trials on the product to ensure safety and effectiveness of ingredients, including whether the end product is of the highest purity and potency value.
- Labels: The FDA requires that certain information appear on the dietary supplement label. Look for these:
- Name of product (including the word “supplement” or a statement that the product is a supplement)
- Net quantity of contents
- Name and place of business of manufacturer, packer, or distributor
- Directions for use
- In certain cases, a disclaimer: “This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”
A Supplement Facts panel that lists:
- Serving size, list of dietary ingredients, amount per serving size (by weight), percent of Daily Value (%DV), if established
- If the dietary ingredient is a botanical, the scientific name of the plant or the common or usual name standardized in the reference Herbs of Commerce, 2nd Edition (2000 edition) and the name of the plant part used
- If the dietary ingredient is a proprietary blend (i.e., a blend exclusive to the manufacturer), the total weight of the blend and the components of the blend in order of predominance by weight
- Try not to make the price of the product a deciding factor. There are many cheaper products available in the market but in the long run your health will benefit from a product from a reliable manufacturer.
- Tall health claims: If the product makes incredulous claims that seem too good to be true, use your discretion. Avoid such products.
- Expiration date. Dietary supplements should carry an expiration date as they can lose potency over time.
- Educate yourself. Study the ingredients on the internet. Visit reliable sites that will give you accurate information on the ingredients in the product. Some of the ingredients may be safe to use, but have precautions for use not mentioned on the label.
- Precautions: If you are taking medications, be aware that herbal supplements may interact adversely with them. If you are under 18 or over 65 be aware that herbal supplements may not have been tested on your age group.
- Check with your doctor before taking any health supplements.
Remember, dietary supplements are not a substitute for food, but can complement your diet especially if you are not getting the required nutrition you need through your diet.