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An introduction to dietary supplements

NOTE: This is the first in a series of posts about vitamins and dietary supplements.

More than 50 percent of Americans take dietary supplements on a daily basis in an effort to improve their health, but many people have questions about what they should and shouldn’t take.

Dietary supplements can come in a variety of forms such as tablets, capsules, powders, drinks and energy bars, and include: 

  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Herbals & botanicals
  • Amino acids
  • Enzymes
  • Many other products

In the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has regulatory responsibility for dietary supplements. The FDA regulates dietary supplements under a different set of regulations than those covering “conventional” foods and drug products (prescription and over-the-counter medications). 

Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, the dietary supplement manufacturer is responsible for ensuring that a dietary supplement is safe before it is marketed. FDA is responsible for taking action against any unsafe dietary supplement product after it reaches the market. Manufacturers must make sure that product label information is truthful and not misleading. 

It’s important to remember that the manufacturer does not have to prove that the supplement is effective, unlike for drugs. The manufacturer can say that the product addresses a nutrient deficiency, supports health, or reduces the risk of developing a health problem, if that is true.

If the manufacturer does make a claim, they must put a disclaimer on the product saying it has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and that the product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

A few independent organizations offer “seals of approval” which may be displayed on dietary supplements which indicates the product has passed the organization’s quality tests.  The quality tests and standards vary among the organizations.  While these “seals of approval” do not mean the product is safe or effective, they do provide some assurance the product was properly manufactured, that it contains the ingredients listed on the label and that it does not contain harmful levels of contaminates.  Three organizations which offer “seals of approval” are the US Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International and ConsumarLab.com.

Below please view slides from a presentation I recently did for a Via Christi Women's Connection luncheon. Next up, I'll write about understanding the terms of measuring dietary supplements.

 

About Lyndsey Hogg PharmD

I am a primary care clinical pharmacist and provide medication therapy management for Via Christi Health.