Head to the dietary supplement aisle of your favorite store and it might seem like you’re looking at the exteriors of hundreds of NASCAR vehicles lined up for a race to a healthy lifestyle.
“NON-GMO!” screams one label. Another sticker touts “ALL-NATURAL INGREDIENTS!” And let’s not ignore the obscure brown bottle on the bottom shelf with ingredients: “MADE FROM THE SWEAT OF GREEK GODS!”
What’s a consumer to do? Plowing through the hype on dietary supplement labels takes a bit of patience, some qualitative research, and a bunch of common sense.
As the manufacturers of dietary supplements, it’s your job to make this task as painless as possible. Not only does the public benefit, so does the industry.
We all know that if the label touts something that sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Manufacturers have an obligation to be honest. Why? The FDA regulates dietary supplements – as food – and will enforce laws against false health claims with a vengeance. But what happens is manufacturers don’t have to prove their products are safe, or show that what they claim on the label is wholly true because supplements are not required to go through the same stringent testing and approvals as pharmaceutical drugs.
That’s why you’ll see this disclaimer on supplement packages:
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.
Take the term “all-natural.” Consumers see that and think that means the supplement is made with nothing but pure, unadulterated goodness from Mother Earth. That may be true, but what the label doesn’t tell them is those “all-natural” ingredients may have nasty side effects or adversely interact with other medications. Same goes for “non-GMO.” Just because something hasn’t been genetically modified doesn’t make it good for you.
Confusing as it is, consumers can easily choose the right supplement—if they take a few precautions and do their homework. You can no longer get by on hype, nor should you. Those days are long gone, and that’s a good thing.
1.) Most physicians are getting savvier about dietary supplements and can provide guidance on whether they may cause harm or do nothing. The National Institutes of Health’s MedLine Plus site details supplement interactions with other medications.
2.) There are a ton of great sites that will tell you—and your potential customer--what an ingredient is and what it does. The National Institutes for Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements is a wonderful resource. The FDA also hosts a site with research and information.
3.) Consumers can find out if the supplement they’re considering has ever been recalled for health concerns by visiting the FDA’s Recalls, Market Withdrawals & Safety Alerts page.
I take two dietary supplements, one for immune defense and another for brain health. I did my homework and talked to my physician before starting. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Couldn’t hurt.” Made me wonder if he meant the one might keep me from getting sick or that I could really use the mental help. Maybe doctors need labels, too.