What with more than 54,000 dietary supplements on the market, sold under 1,000 different brands, vitamin pills and dietary supplements are big business nowadays. But there are some things that consumers need to know..
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines a supplement broadly, as an ingestible product containing a “dietary ingredient,” which may include vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and substances such as enzymes, organ tissues, glandulars and metabolites.That practically means anything from plain old Vitamin C to exotic stuff like L-carnitine.
Faced with so many choices, consumers are hard-pressed to know what are safe products. In some countries like Malaysia, the Drug Control Authority issues licences to those that have met safety standards, including supplements. However, as in the US, the FDA does not need to sanction any of dietary supplements known before 1994. Manufacturers producing supplements after that date need only notify the FDA and produce documents showing the ingredient is “reasonably expected to be safe” — according to the manufacturer’s own assessment.So supplement makers need not undergo the stringent tests expected of prescription drugs.
More does not mean better – Often, people think that if they take more than the recommended dose, they’ll reap even more benefits. This isn’t necessarily so, especially in the case of fat-soluble vitamins like Vits A,D and E. Taking more than the daily recommended dosages can lead to serious side-effects. Vitamin A poisoning can cause liver failure and permanent brain damage, for instance, and I have seen this in my personal practice.
‘Natural ingredient’ does not mean ‘safe’- I can name a lot of natural ingredients used in supplements that are by no means safe. Case in point – arsenic, mercury. A popular Chinese herb, Ephedra (ma huang) marketed for weight-loss and athletic performance, has in fact caused high blood pressure and death in users.
What you see is not what you get– just because the label says 2 grams of extract does not mean you’re getting just that. The words ‘blend’ and ‘formula’ are used in marketing products which may not contain exactly the claimed amount. This is especially true in expensive ingredients like chondroitin. When reading labels, focus on the ingredient you want, and make sure it’s listed alone as an ingredient , not followed by the word “blend” or “formula.”
Health benefits may be debatable- because supplements do not have to undergo the rigours of a scientific study, some claims cannot be proven and are subject to anecdotal and ‘word of mouth’ evidence. Products that “curbs appetite to help with weight loss” may be no more than unsafe ‘amphetamine-type’ appetite suppressants with high-fibre additives.
Pills are not a substitute for a balanced diet.- In fact, with a balanced diet, supplements are often unnecessary, except if one is recovering from an illness or have special needs. All the supplements one takes is not going to supply the calories and proteins the body needs for its daily tasks.
Some ‘effective’ supplements may contain prescription drugs- supplement makers have been known to add in proven drugs to make their products effective. A classic example are supplements to enhance male sexual performance that have been found to contain sildenafil citrate, an active component of Viagra. See my posting on “Viagra Coffee – Keeps You Up All Night”. Tip: don’t buy from an Internet company you’ve never heard of, or one that only has a P.O. box.
Let your Doctor know- ..what you’re taking, especially when you are scheduled for surgery. Quite a few of supplements like Evening Primrose Oil (EPO) and Gingko interfere with the clotting mechanisms of the blood in conjunction with surgery and can cause excessive bleeding. Its surprising how very few makers insert this warning message on their labels. I have written in an earlier posting here on the list of supplements which can interfere with surgery.
- The Truth about Supplements (video.foxnews.com)