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Published on August 21, 2013

What's Up with Supplements?

August 21, 2013

Dietary supplements are everywhere. We see advertisements or testimonials raving about the benefits of them, promising weight loss, disease prevention, better exercise performance, slower aging, clear thinking, decrease allergies… the list goes on. Supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbs/botanicals, amino acids, and any other “dietary substance” we can get from food. 

Some of these supplements are supported by research, and may even be recommended by your healthcare provider.  However, many have no proven benefits, and worse, could be harmful. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the organization that is responsible for regulating dietary supplements.  Many people don’t realize, however, that regulation for dietary supplements is very different from the regulation for drugs. 

New drugs must be proven safe before they can be approved to be sold to the public. Dietary supplements don’t have to be approved – the FDA trusts the manufacturer’s promise that the supplement is safe. The FDA is only responsible for taking action against unsafe dietary supplements after consumers have reported negative side effects. 

Talk with your health care provider before deciding to take a supplement, especially if you’re on prescribed medication. Some third party organizations independently test supplements to make sure the contents of the bottle are accurate and uncontaminated.Look at the label for certification. The NSF International or the Natural Products Association GMP certifications are accredited certifying organizations.

Finally, remember that even if what’s in the bottle is what is promised by the manufacturer, the supplement claims aren’t necessarily proven to be true. While a supplement may not be harmful, it may also be ineffective and a waste of money.

Michael Ann Kelly, MS, RD
Licensed Dietitian and Nutritionist 

Source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; eatright.org/Public/, accessed June 11, 2013. 

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