In our quest to find the best, most nutritious foods for ourselves and our families, many shoppers have become more like detectives.
They carefully read ingredient lists, take note of where items were made and, if they are buying from local farmers markets, they often get to know the growers behind the food.
Shouldn’t we be just as curious when it comes to our nutritional supplements? Recent studies have shown that more than half of all adults in the United States are taking one or more nutritional supplements that have not been recommended to them by their doctors.
They’re buying them online or over the counter, trying to make the best decisions they can for their health. But this raises an issue: What do we know about the quality of those supplements?
Are supplements regulated?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a different oversight structure for supplements than it does for pharmaceuticals.
Unlike drug products that must be proven safe and effective for their intended use before marketing, there are no provisions in the law for the FDA to “approve” dietary supplements for safety or effectiveness before they reach the consumer.
The FDA does set standards for Good Manufacturing Practices, or GMP, for supplement makers to serve as guidelines when it comes to ingredient purity and strength. But dietary supplement manufacturers do not have to get the agency’s approval before producing or selling these products.
Beware of claims too good to be true
Given this less stringent regulation, some supplement labels have broad claims that may not be true or not backed by scientific evidence. Health experts say to watch out for these red flags:
- Products that claim they can diagnose, treat, cure or prevent diseases.
- Supplements advertised as “all natural” but not backed by information about specific ingredients.
- Any supplement label with claims that sound too good to be true.
Some supplement companies use independent testing organizations to verify the quality of their ingredients and products, such as U.S. Pharmacopeia and NSF International.
These third-party testers are set up to ensure the supplements were manufactured properly, that they contain the ingredients listed on their labels, and that they do not have harmful levels of contaminants. So, next time before taking that pill make sure it’s NSF or Independent third party certified.
Traceability in supplements
Because nutritional supplements are not regulated in the same way medications are, it’s important to learn about the quality standards of the manufacturer. You want to buy from trusted companies that use third-party testing to evaluate their products, and those who have a long history of transparency when it comes to their ingredients.
As consumers, it is important to know where the ingredients in our supplements are coming from. With that information, we can make the best decisions and feel good about the products we are buying for ourselves and our families.