Be Safe About your Supplements!

22 Jan

Vitamins, minerals, herbal and nutritional supplements seem to be a controversial topic. Should we take them, or should we avoid them?

In the 1920’s it was common to consume Atrium radium tablets, radium spring water, radium fortified bread or a radium solution for joint and muscular conditions. Ask any scientist now if it is safe to put radium in your body, and they will laugh in your face! Radium can cause diseases such as lymphoma, bone cancer, and diseases that affect the formation of blood, such as leukemia and aplastic anemia. We can now laugh at what people have done in the past, but in 50 years will the scientists look back on what supplements we are putting in our bodies now and laugh?
As dietetic professionals we base all of our decisions off of evidence-based science. Yes, things change with time, because science is fluid, and that is the beauty of science. Now, we must make the best decisions we can off of what we know to be scientific facts. Here are some RED flags that are JUNK science, and you should avoid all products that claim these things:

  • The product promises a quick fix
  • Sounds too good to be true
  • The regimen lists “good” foods to focus on, and and “bad” foods to avoid
  • The product and recommendations are based off of one single study or testimonial
  • The product only states “with research from a leading University,” and doesn’t state which EXACT university

Remember that dietary supplements have ZERO regulation, and do not require approval by the FDA or any government agency. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 states that:

  • Supplements do not have to prove that they work to be sold.

Example: Tarantula Hispanica. A tarantula spider is mashed up and dissolved in alcohol. Used to help reduce anxiety and eliminate mood swings. This product has not been proven to be effective, as well as any other supplement.

  • Supplements manufactures or companies that sell supplements do not have to prove their products are safe.

Example: Colloidal Silver. Claims various health benefits, but this supplement turns the skin blue and is permanent. Not to mention, it does not provide any health benefits based off of science. Also be aware that certain supplements can interact with your current medications.

  • Supplements can put any health claim in their label, as long as it is a structure/function claim.

Example: Helps maintain normal cholesterol function, provides relief of occasional constipation, suppresses appetite to aid in weight loss.

  • Supplements do not have to be manufactured according to any standards.

Example: Although they are not manufactured according to standards some companies choose to have the following verifications: USP verified, Consumer Labs, NSF Certification and GMP. It is always good to get a product with one of these verifications.

You can determine if a product is safe and effective by taking the approach that dietetic professionals use, Evidence-Based Practice. Use an evidence analysis library as a good source for dietary supplements. These libraries grade the research done on each supplement and shows the effectiveness of the product. For example, Omega-3,  and vitamin D/Calcium. These supplements have been proven to be very effective.Also be careful about the Ergogenic aids that may claim to enhance athletic performance.  Athletes believe that”ergogenic aids” like ginseng, steroids, human growth hormone, blood doping, ephedrine, caffeine,  creatine and carnitine my improve athletic performance. Most of the supplements bear no evidence that they will improve performance, most are expensive and may even be harmful to both health and performance.

Try using an natural medicine comprehensive database such as or to find information on natural products.

Be careful about taking large quantities of vitamins, minerals and supplements. Our bodies have natural stop gates. For example, we cannot drink 1 gallon of orange juice, so we probably shouldn’t be consuming a pill of Vitamin C that contains the same amount of vitamin C as a gallon of orange juice. We have to trust our bodies stop gates/balances and not consume mega doses of nutrients through synthetic pills. Have you ever heard of the 5 hour energy drinks? This little drink contains megadoses of vitamins, which alters the bodies normal body processes. We may need more time to understand what these megadoses do to our bodies. Let’s not look back in 50 years and laugh at ourselves. Be smart about what you are consuming, research and investigate products for yourself, do not let your friend or the bottle convince you to consume a product.

  • Remember, just because the product says it is natural, organic, alternative or complementary does not mean it is safe effective, beneficial or appropriate.

(based off of a presentation given by Sue Clarahan, RD, LD)

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