How to Make Sure Your Dietary Supplements are Safe

When it comes to supplements, it can be hard to tell fact from fiction. You buy vitamins and other nutritional supplements with the goal of improving your health, but do you know what's inside the package? Just because a supplement is labeled “all natural” doesn't mean that it's safe or effective. Dietary supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals, enzymes, amino acids, or other dietary ingredients. You take these products by mouth as a pill, capsule, tablet, or liquid to supplement your diet. To make sure you're consuming a good quality product, look for a seal of approval from an organization that tests supplements, such as the U.

S. Pharmacopeia (USP) or ConsumerLab. A USP verified product means that it contains the ingredients listed in the indicated concentration and is not contaminated with any other substance, such as heavy metals or microbes. Manufacturers must follow good manufacturing practices (GMP), which means that their supplements must meet certain quality standards.

However, it has been discovered that some products may contain more or less of the ingredient than indicated on the label. Or, in some cases, they may contain ingredients that aren't listed on the label, including prescription drugs. It's important to make sure your doctor and pharmacist know exactly what supplements and medications you are taking. Manufacturers are not required to test the safety and effectiveness of their products. Some ingredients in the supplement have been tested in animal or human studies.

For example, studies have shown that folic acid reduces the risk of birth defects in pregnant women. However, other ingredients in the supplement haven't been well studied or haven't been studied at all. Supplement manufacturers cannot claim that their products diagnose, treat, cure, reduce symptoms or prevent diseases, and there needs to be a disclaimer to that effect on the label. Look for exaggerated claims on the label or box, such as “all natural”, “completely safe” or “miracle cure”.If you are not sure about a product, ask your doctor or pharmacist.

Or, call the supplement manufacturer and ask them what studies they've done to back up the claims they're making. The FDA does regulate dietary supplements; however, it treats them as food and not as drugs. Unlike drug manufacturers, supplement manufacturers don't have to prove that their products are safe or effective before selling them on the market. A patented blend is a combination of ingredients used exclusively by a supplement manufacturer; no other company produces exactly the same combination of ingredients and it's difficult to tell the exact quantities of each ingredient in that mix from the label. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is the amount of a certain nutrient you should consume each day depending on your age, gender and if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

On a supplement label, you're more likely to see the acronym DV which stands for Daily Value; this represents the amount of nutrient that the supplement provides compared to a total daily diet. Sometimes, the DV contained in a supplement will be higher than the recommended daily dose for certain people; check with your doctor to make sure that your supplement doesn't contain too much of any nutrients. Used correctly, some supplements can improve your health but others may be ineffective or even harmful. For example, a systematic review that analyzes the possible effects of nutritional supplements on cardiovascular health suggests that few supplements help prevent heart disease; only omega-3 fatty acids and folic acid were effective. The same was true with dietary changes except for a low-salt diet.

Other research on self-reported dietary habits by a group of Americans linked daily doses of more than 1000 milligrams (mg) of calcium with a higher risk of death from cancer (although other studies suggest otherwise). In addition, data showed that people who consumed adequate amounts of magnesium, zinc and vitamins A and K had a lower risk of death but only if they got those nutrients from food rather than supplements. If you're feeling confused about dietary supplements and their safety and effectiveness, National Institutes of Health (NIH) fact sheets can provide detailed information on individual vitamins and minerals as well as dietary supplements in general so you can make an informed decision about what's right for you.

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