Your Dietary Supplement: Does It Contain What It ‘Says’ It Does?

Your Dietary Supplement: Does It Contain What It ‘Says’ It Does?

Consumers need to know where to go to find out more honestly what is and what is not in their dietary supplement. According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, a dietary supplement will say “dietary supplement” on its package label and will have one or more of a vitamin, mineral, herb, or other botanical.

What do you need to know before you buy a supplement?

Can a dietary supplement make a claim to treat or cure a disease?
NO. Even though there may or may not be some positive health effects from taking it, a dietary supplement may not list on the label that it can treat, cure, or prevent a disease. The label may tell how it will affect the body, but it is against the law for the makers to list anything about a specific disease. This protects the public from being misled by supplement manufacturers.

Who makes sure the supplements are safe? The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA, pronounced ‘da-shay’), requires the product maker to be sure the product is safe before it reaches store shelves. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can only remove a product AFTER proving it is not safe.

What about the quality of the supplement?, is a private, non-government, company that offers free information about supplements. There are many products listed on their website, such as herbals, supplements, vitamins and minerals and nutrition products. The company buys products, runs tests in the lab, and lists what they find on their website. Only products that have the same amount of each ingredient in their product that their label says it does pass the “quality” test. For example, after testing a batch of Gingko Biloba Brand A 60mg capsule, if the tests to do not show there is 60mg in each capsule, that Brand A does NOT pass the quality test. Brand A will NOT be listed on the website. The list will only include the brands that did pass the quality tests. It is also good to re-check the website for any new results on products.

You should never think that a product is right for you just because a product passes a quality test on this website. You must always check with your doctor before taking any kind of supplement. The reason you need to check with your doctor first is that supplements can be dangerous, especially if you are taking other medicines at the same time.

Where do I report a problem with a dietary supplement? First, if you think you are having a health problem after using a dietary supplement, call your doctor right away. Next, you or your doctor, are encouraged to call the FDA to report the problem. This step will help protect others and is a good way to keep track in case a product is dangerous. The FDA’s MedWatch hotline is: 1-800-FDA-1088, or by fax 1-800-FDA-0178, or by website The Internet website even offers a free, postage paid MedWatch form that you can mail instead.

Where can I find more information? For more reading on dietary supplements, product labels and safety, try a government website. Here are some sites you can try:

  • – a private company that lists products that pass their quality check, but not the best source to find out the amount of supplement that each person needs or how a supplement may work for you.
  • – a government site, the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
  • – a government site, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
  • – Retired Psychiatrist, Stephen Barrett, MD, comments on latest myths, fads, etc.

Use caution because not all websites have accurate information. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist to be sure that the information you are reading is accurate.

What if I have questions? Check with your pharmacist. The pharmacist is a good source of information.

Be sure to ask about any side effects and drug interactions that could occur with other medicines that you are taking. Tell your pharmacist about any other supplements or remedies you are using as well. If you are going to use supplements, discuss the choices with your doctor and pharmacist before you spend your hard earned money.

Knowledge is power, so be sure to get as much information as you can before you start taking a supplement. Your pharmacist is your best source for information because he or she is working in the community. Do your homework and then talk to your pharmacist so you can be smart about buying and using supplements.

Michelle M. Noonan, PharmD Candidate 2004 University of Missouri-Kansas City, Kansas City, MO Prepared during Consumer Health Information Corporation Clerkship McLean, VA

© 2003 Consumer Health Information Corporation. All rights reserved.

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