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3 Reasons You Need to Read Supplement Labels

Quality control has been an issue for many dietary supplements due to the fact that the FDA does not approve dietary supplements the same way as prescription medications. There is insufficient evidence and information on the safety and effectiveness of many supplements currently on the market.

All supplement manufacturers must include on the supplement container: "These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease."

Supplements are not conventional foods and have a "Supplement Facts" label instead of a "Nutrition Facts" label.

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1. Dietary supplements are not approved for safety and effectiveness by the FDA before going on the market. The manufacturer is responsible for the safety of the dietary supplement but there are no mandatory standards for the production of the supplement or the end product--only a sort of honor system. The only time the FDA steps in for safety of supplements is when there is sufficient evidence that the supplement is unsafe.

2. All supplement ingredients are not necessarily listed on the container. Supplement labeling requirements are in place, but are not regulated. Many supplements have been found to have contamination with heavy metals, or to contain much more, less, or none of the substances listed on the container.

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3. Supplement manufacturers can make claims that the supplement can support health and health issues. Supplement claims and advertisements can be misleading as they're allowed to freely use dietary guidance statements and/or structure-function claims that are not necessarily true or evidence based. Food manufacturers also use these kinds of statements and claims. Supplement manufacturers can use these statements and claims to persuade consumers to use the supplement to treat certain health issues even when the statement on the container specifically says the supplement is not intended to do so. For example, a consumer may use garlic pills to treat their high blood pressure after reading "garlic supports a healthy blood pressure." The required statement on supplement containers specifically says the supplement is not intended to treat a health condition, but the structure-function claim persuades the consumer to do just that.

Studies show that taking supplements when you are not deficient provides little or no benefit and some supplements such as vitamin A, vitamin E, and vitamin C can actually be toxic in large amounts. Your body absorbs most nutrients better if they come from a food source rather than a supplement.

Most popular supplement brands are safe (since they want to stay in business), but take into account the lack of standards and regulation for the supplement industry (other than those voluntarily set by the manufacturer), possible variation of the supplement, extra cost, possible contamination, and interactions with medications or other supplements you may take.

Jamie Yacoub, M.P.H., R.D. is a clinical dietitian with a Master's of Public Health in Nutrition, and expected Certified Diabetes Educator (C.D.E.) fall 2013. She obtained her Bachelor of Science in clinical nutrition from UC Davis after four years, during which time she participated in internships in several different nutrition environments including Kaiser Permanente and Women, Infants, & Children (W.I.C.). After graduating from UC Davis, she went on to study public health nutrition at Loma Linda University where she obtained her Master's of Public Health in Nutrition. Jamie completed the community nutrition portion of her dietetic internship as an intern for a Certified Specialist in Sports Nutrition. She completed both the food service and clinical portions of her dietetic internship at a top 100 hospital in the nation, where she was hired as the only clinical dietitian shortly after. Jamie now works as an outpatient clinical dietitian and is an expert in Medical Nutrition Therapy (M.N.T.) using the Nutrition Care Process (N.C.P.) including past medical history and current laboratory values as a basis of nutrition assessment.




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