Dietary supplements – The importance of potency and purity
Betty Chaffee, PharmD, is owner and sole proprietor of BetterMyMeds, a Medication Management service devoted to helping people get the maximum benefit from their medications.
What is REALLY in the supplement product you just purchased?
At first thought, it might seem a given that a product actually contains the ingredients listed on the label, in the listed amounts. But it turns out that for dietary supplements, that's not always the case.
The production and sale of dietary supplements is a booming industry, with nearly 3/4 of US adults using at least one supplement on a daily basis. At last check, dietary supplements were a $30 billion per year industry! All you have to do is walk into a pharmacy and look at the supplement shelves to see that many manufacturers have gotten into the game. Why? Because though supplements are often marketed to prevent or treat health conditions, they are not regulated by the FDA in the same way medications are. Fewer regulations result in lower costs to bring a product to market. Put that together with the increasing popularity of dietary supplements, and it's easy to see why many companies are eager to break into the industry.
In my last article, I mentioned that the FDA requires manufacturers to ensure that dietary supplements are safe and pure. The FDA periodically inspects manufacturing facilities to make sure good manufacturing practices are being followed, but the products themselves are not routinely tested by the the FDA for content in the way that FDA-approved medications are tested. Though many manufacturers of dietary supplements are reputable companies who strive to market products that improve the health of consumers, it's not unusual to find that a manufacturer of dietary supplements is selling a product that does not contain the ingredients listed on the label, as happened in New York a couple of years ago. So how can you have confidence that the product on your shelf IS what the label says it is?
Dietary Supplement Seals of Approval
Finding one of the three Seals of Approval shown above on the product label provides needed confidence in the content of a dietary supplement. NSF International, US Pharmacopeia, and ConsumerLab are independent agencies that test supplement products for ingredient potency and purity. USP and NSF require manufacturers to pay a fee and submit their own product sample for testing. ConsumerLab, on the other hand, works on behalf of consumers, choosing on its own what products will be reviewed and selecting random samples for testing. Though there are drawbacks to both the fee-for-service testing and the more consumer-driven testing, all three Seals of Approval provide a measure of consumer confidence that is not present in products without one of these seals on the label.
Purchasing dietary supplements online
It's tempting to make purchases online, whether it be dietary supplements or Christmas gifts. Online sellers make it easy for us to find an item, fill our carts, and check out efficiently all from the comfort of our own home. But the old adage "buyer beware" is doubly true when it comes to purchasing supplements online. There have been many instances in which dietary supplements purchased online have been found to lack potency and/or contain impurities, and this often results in negative health consequences.
Surveys have shown that a majority of consumers lack the skill to discern whether a website is being run by a reputable company or not. There are ways to gain confidence in an online seller, though. Research the company to learn where they're located, how to contact them, and how long they,ve been in business. Find out if ConsumerLab has tested their products, or if the company subscribes to the services of US Pharmacopeia or NSF International. Take a look at their advertisements - offers that look too good to be true often are.
Choose dietary supplements wisely
Your health depends on choosing supplements that have the stated potency and are free of impurities. Always look for a Seal of Approval on the label of the supplements you purchase, and be sure to choose internet suppliers carefully. Don't take a chance with your health! Have confidence that your supplements are safe and pure.