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Read this Before Taking any Supplement

Read this Before Taking any Supplement
March 15
11:01 2016
From fish oil to gingko biloba, supplements are all the rage right now. Whether you’re trying to up your creativity, boost your libido, or lose weight, there’s a supplement on the market for you.

However – when taken with the wrong dosage or in conjunction with medications, supplements can be hazardous to your health. Keep reading to learn the five questions you should ask before taking any supplement.

While the law aims to prohibit quackery and the sale of adulterated or mislabeled products, these rules are loosely enforced at best. Unlike prescription drugs, which must past rigorous tests before approval, the FDA does not evaluate supplements before they hit the shelves.

That being said, there is basically no guarantee that any probiotic, vitamin, mineral, herbal treatment, or sports supplement is effective or even safe.

#1 Are there any sanctions or health warnings associated with the product?

To locate safety advisories, do a general online search or check out the FDA’s website. Because the $30 billion supplement industry is constantly releasing new products, the product you’re searching for may be dangerous even if you find no safety warnings.

Researching the manufacturer and individual ingredients can also be helpful. Click here to read about 12 dangerous substances that remain on the market.

#2 Has the supplement been tested by independent labs?

Unfortunately, gaps in regulation have led to serious lapses in quality. Some “herbal supplements” are little more than fillers. A study in 2013 by researchers at the University of Guelph in Canada found that out of 44 tested herbal supplements from 12 companies, only 2 companies produced pills without fillers.

USPA handful of independent, private non-profits has stepped in to improve the situation by inspecting supplements and reporting their findings. The USP (United States Pharmacopeial Convention) also operates a voluntary program to inspect and certify products and company facilities based on quality. Those that pass earn a “USP Verified” label (pictured at left). Less than 1% of all supplements on the market have this black and yellow seal.

LabDoor and ConsumerLab.com conduct random tests on supplements and report the results. Both of these groups provide general information for free online.

#3 Is the pill too good to be true?

If the supplement you’re looking at makes impossible claims, chances are they are just that – impossible. You should view overzealous claims as red flags when browsing the herbal supplement aisle.

The FDA warns consumers to be wary of any supplements being sold as “magic pills,” “wonder drugs,” or “miracle cures.” Products whose evidence is offered mainly by way of personal testimonies should also be viewed as suspect.

The FTC warns about the use of false terminology like “glucose metabolism,” “molecule multiplicity,” insulin receptor sites,” and “thermogenesis.” And just because you see the label “all-natural” does not mean it’s safe to ingest.

You also shouldn’t trust those tempting money back guarantees. More often than not, this claim is a scam. “Marketers of fraudulent products rarely stay in the same place for long,” writes the FDA. “Because customers won’t be able to find them, the marketers can afford to be generous with their guarantees.”

#4 Is there actual evidence that the supplement does what it claims?

Countless studies have been conducted on the effects of different substances on the human body. Click here to look through information about the most commonly ingested supplements and their effects (fact sheets provided by the National Institutes of Health).

These fact sheets explain the effects of each mineral or vitamin on the human body – with scientific evidence to back up the data. Here are two more databases you may find helpful:

MedlinePlus (US National Library of Medicine)
PubMed Dietary Supplement Subset (Library of Medicine)

#5 Do I really need to take supplements? If so, am I taking the correct dosage?

Experts agree that your doctor is the best person to ask when it comes to supplements and vitamins. Registered dietitians and pharmacists may also provide valuable input. Individuals taking medications should exercise caution because some herbal supplements can react with certain drugs.

Consider dosage when you research a supplement. Some otherwise safe minerals and vitamins can cause trouble if taken in excess. Click here to check out the recommended daily allowances for several vitamins (chart comes from The Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board).

It’s important to note that a supplement may contain higher amounts of a mineral or vitamin than it states on the label. Because certain ingredients degrade over time, companies sometimes provide more than what the label says. Click here to use the multivitamin/mineral calculator provided by the Dietary Supplement Ingredient Database.

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April Kuhlman

April Kuhlman

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