Dietary supplements-where do you get your information from?

I am a big believer in trying to avoid dietary supplements if at all possible as I think it is much better to get your nutrients through a varied and healthy diet. I do realize however that people may lack certain nutrients in their diet for a variety of reasons, in which case a well-researched supplement may be the best alternative. But with all of the information out there, how do you know who to trust? And as scary as it is, to an extent you do have to trust. Keep this notice from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in mind when looking for your next supplement:

What is FDA’s role in regulating dietary supplements versus the manufacturer’s responsibility for marketing them?

In October 1994, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) was signed into law by President Clinton. Before this time, dietary supplements were subject to the same regulatory requirements as were other foods. This new law, which amended the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, created a new regulatory framework for the safety and labeling of dietary supplements.

Under DSHEA, a firm is responsible for determining that the dietary supplements it manufactures or distributes are safe and that any representations or claims made about them are substantiated by adequate evidence to show that they are not false or misleading. This means that dietary supplements do not need approval from FDA before they are marketed. Except in the case of a new dietary ingredient, where pre-market review for safety data and other information is required by law, a firm does not have to provide FDA with the evidence it relies on to substantiate safety or effectiveness before or after it markets its products.

Also, manufacturers need to register themselves pursuant to the Bioterrorism Act with FDA before producing or selling supplements. In June, 2007, FDA published comprehensive regulations for Current Good Manufacturing Practices for those who manufacture, package or hold dietary supplement products. These regulations focus on practices that ensure the identity, purity, quality, strength and composition of dietary supplements.


That’s right-although a company has to notify the FDA when they are going to be marketing a new product, the product itself does not have to be evaluated by the FDA. The company that produces the supplement is responsible for ensuring they are not making misleading claims. Seriously? Sigh-this is why I try to avoid them when possible. But as usual, I digress. Where to go if you realize you are lacking a nutrient and need reliable intel?

The FDA webpage is a good place to go for the latest warnings and advisories. They even post copies of warning letters to pharmaceutical companies who improperly label manufactured ingredients as “dietary ingredients”. You can check out the FDA dietary supplement website here.

Another website I love is actually geared towards service members, but has great info that is applicable to everyone. The Human Performance Resource Center has an entire section on dietary supplements here.

Finally, has a comprehensive overview of dietary supplements including how to shop for supplements wisely. Because the contents of supplements are not federally regulated, there is no site that can provide a comprehensive list of what is contained in each product. They do give you tips and tricks to shop wisely however.

Hope this helps!

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2 Responses to Dietary supplements-where do you get your information from?

  1. Tim says:

    Well we don’t always see eye to eye on everything and I think I am sure that we probably agree on this topic 90%. On the window sill I keep three bottles of supplements, fish oil, a multivitamin and something new that I am trying…velvet deer antler. The velvet deer antler is kinda weird but it’s one of those things that has been around in the Asian culture for about 2000 years and the benefits seem to be what I am looking for so I am giving it a shot. I am adamantly opposed to “performance enhancing supplements” i.e. thermogenics, creatine, nitric oxide, HMB, blah, blah, blah but I think you get the point. In my younger days I had tried them all and I can honestly say they are no different than doing a drug. You get your fix for your workout and then its done. There are no sustained beneficial effects of taking these types of supplements. I guess my point in this conversation is that if you are going to take a supplement be intelligent about it. All three of my supplements have an accreditation…obviously not by the FDA but I will detail what these are to strengthen my point about “intelligent supplementation”. First, fish oil, it is not approved by the FDA but it is strongly recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA). The AHA recommends 2-4 grams of fish oil a day for optimal heart health. What they are really recommending is the EPA/DHA Omega 3 fatty acids. You could eat a lot more fish but that is slightly inconvenient. Not all fish oil is fish oil if you know what I mean. So fish oil has a third party testing and accreditation body called the International Fish Oil Standards Program (IFOS). IFOS tests a lot of fish oil and provides a consumer report on the companies and ingredients that are used in the product. Some companies use fish from contaminated waters. So if you are looking to start using fish oil go to the IFOS website first and see if the brand you are looking at has been tested and accredited. Second, the multivitamin, well its a multivitamin…I use “one a day”. It is not evaluated by the FDA but it is a reputable product distributed by Bayer Healthcare which make A LOT of drugs that are evaluated by the FDA. As such they have a lot riding on reputation and I would surmise to say that they are not interested in bringing the Feds in for an inspection over fraudulent advertising of some vitamin E…if you know what I mean. Lastly is this velvet deer antler, I would have never bought into this stuff if not for one reason…Banned Substances Control Group (BSCG). BSCG is also a third party operation that supplement companies can voluntarily submit their products to. If a BSCG certification label is on the product, it means it has tested and passed as 100% drug free, meaning it is an all natural product. So in my case of the velvet deer antler it is 100% unaltered powdered velvet deer antler….Mmmmm. So to reiterate my point, if you are going to take a “dietary supplement” do some research before you purchase because as it has been stated…the FDA doesn’t do the research for you in this case.

  2. People who take dietary supplements tend to be healthier than those who do not take dietary supplements. But it’s because that first group also tends to eat better, exercise, etc. It’s not because of the supplements. I’ll paraphrase Michael Pollan: Be like people who take supplements, but skip the supplements.

    Dietary supplements are a gigantic scam. At best they’re a waste of money and at worst they’re a risk to health.

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