Dietary Supplements- Friend or Foe?
Over the last decade, there has been an increased awareness to the food we consume and the impacts that it has one our bodies. Nutrition is increasingly important, and people are looking to more alternative forms of therapy to maintain optimum health without the aid of prescription medications and remedies.
More and more people are turning to supplements, which can provide essential minerals vitamins to support optimal nutrition. In 2016, supplements accounted for 121.6 billion dollars globally with sports related, meal, homeopathic, and specialty supplements having the strongest growth (Morton, 2017)
It’s a fair assessment to say that every person reading this has either been recommended to take some form of vitamin, herb, or mineral or is currently consuming one of these now. Supplements are a great way to supplement nutritional/ dietary needs without having to consume the actual foods that contain them however, unlike pharmaceutical companies that have to endure rigorous testing and efficacy trials (as they should!), supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and do not go through this testing. In fact, the FDA merely regulates the labeling and marketing of supplements to ensure they are not misleading to consumers but consider supplements to be considered as food and therefore not subject to pre-market approval (McGinley, 2019). It is the responsibility of the manufacturing company to adhere to the rules and regulations established by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) and the FDA (FDA, 2011) with only a small portion of these being tested by third parties to ensure efficacy.
With less than 25% of manufacturing companies actually being tested, only a fraction of those companies is actually delivering the active ingredient you believe you are consuming. Most of supplements do not have the active ingredient and/ or have added fillers to their product. In a study conducted by the University of Guelph in Canada in 2013, DNA tested 44 dietary supplements and found that only TWO companies were free from fillers and substitutions (PBS.org, n.d)
Long story short, if you’re consuming dietary supplements of any kind and you don’t know how to look for quality products, you could be throwing your money away.
How do I know what to look for?
The FDA has recently released a statement acknowledging that the gap between testing and oversight of dietary supplements has grown exponentially and there is an increased need for more strict regulations and governance. Until then, there are ways to increase your odds of purchasing quality supplements.
1. Third Party Testing/ Independent Lab- If your supplement is being tested in a third-party lab, they will be happy to display this label on their packaging! The United States Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) runs a voluntary program to certify and inspect the quality of a company’s facilities and product (less than 1% of products have this seal). There are also a couple companies that randomly evaluate dietary supplements and post their findings to the public. LabDoor and ConsumerLab.com will provide general results for free and more detailed findings for a fee.
2. Health Warnings/ Recalls- Consumers can verify supplements on the FDA website to understand if there are any health claims or sanctions for a particular supplement.
Additionally, Consumer Reports has a list of supplements that are considered “The Dirty Dozen” because of know health implications, yet these products are still available to purchase. The Federal Trade Commission also has a list that can be found here.
3. Is the product too good to be true? If something sounds too good to be true, give yourself some space to pause. The LARGEST offender in the supplement game is supplements that are used for weight loss, body building, and sexual enhancement. Many of these products have been found to have substitutions like unapproved drugs, controlled substances, and possible cancer-causing agents (FDA, 2011)
4. Is there evidence supporting the dietary supplements? The National Institute of Health composes fact sheets for commonly used dietary supplements. PubMed also has an easy to use website where consumers can research supplements to understand efficacy.
5. Do you really need supplements? Could you already be consuming enough of the vitamin or mineral you are supplementing with? It’s always best to consult with your doctor/ dietician to ensure the best course of action.
It’s always best to consume the actual food versus taking a supplement, so here is a list of a few essential vitamins/ minerals and natural foods where you can find them:
Support eye health, growth development, teeth, and skin
Foods: Orange foods like carrots, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, and melons
Vitamin K: Blood clotting
Foods: Greens! Kale, spinach, brussels sprouts, and broccoli.
B Vitamins: Energy Production, immunity function, and absorption of iron.
Foods: Whole grains, bananas, chili peppers, beans, and potatoes, and yeast
Folic Acid: Cell renewal and prevention of birth defects
Foods: Leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, citrus fruits, beans, peas, seeds, buts, cauliflower, beets, and corn.
Vitamin C: Strengthens blood vessels, absorption of iron, anti-oxidants
Foods: Oranges, guava, green and red peppers, kiwi, grapefruit, Brussel sprouts
Vitamin D- Bone strength
Foods: You can get limited amounts of Vitamin D from eggs, fish, and mushrooms, though likely not all the vitamin D you require will come from food. The best way to stimulate Vitamin D production is to spend some time in the sun. If you would like more about Vitamin D, read my blog from April, 2018 here.
This is one supplement that is highly recommended (especially in MN where we are further away from the equator and do not have as much sun exposure)
Vitamin E: Supports blood circulation, and protection from free radicals.
Foods: Almonds, sunflower seeds, and tomatoes
Calcium: Health teeth and strong bones
Foods: Dairy like yogurt, milk, and cheese. Additionally, tofu and black molasses.
1. Morton, C. Top Takeaways on the 2017 global supplements market. New Hope Network. (November, 2017) Retrieved from https://www.newhope.com/market-data-and-analysis/top-takeaways-2017-global-supplements-market
2. McGinley, L. The FDA launches tougher oversight on supplements. Washington Post. (February 11, 2019) Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2019/02/11/fda-launches-tougher-oversight-supplements/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.cbe9f574500c
3. Beware of Fraudulent Dietary Supplements. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm246744.htm. March 2011
4. National Institute of Health. Dietary Supplements: What you Need to Know. https://ods.od.nih.gov/HealthInformation/DS_WhatYouNeedToKnow.aspx
5. FDA Statement. Feb 11, 2019. Statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., on the agency’s new efforts to strengthen regulation of dietary supplements by modernizing and reforming FDA’s oversight. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm631065.htm
6. Five Questions to Ask before When Considering Health Supplements. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/five-questions-to-ask-when-considering-health-supplements/
7. October, 2013. 11 Essential Vitamins and Minerals Your Body Needs. GoodNet. Retrieved from https://www.goodnet.org/articles/11-essential-vitamins-minerals-your-body-needs