Have you ever taken, or considered taking a dietary supplement? If so, you’re not alone. Dietary supplement use has increased dramatically in the last twenty years and annual sales have grown from a reported $4 Billion in 1994 (US figures) to over $30 Billion dollars today! If you regularly take dietary supplements or are just considering it I have a few tips that will help you to make informed decisions:
1. Consider safety and effectiveness
This seems like pretty basic advice but sometimes good information is hard to find! Food marketing is everywhere and claims made aren’t necessarily backed by scientific evidence. In addition, media outlets often misinterpret or inflate research findings. Please note: ‘natural’ does not mean safe. Arsenic, botulism, and cyanide are natural but most certainly not something you want to intentionally ingest!
2. Check your source
The internet is full of information – some good, some bad. Government (.gov) or educational institutions (.edu) are usually good choices for research-based information that is not biased by industry ties. Someone who is selling a product or received money (advertising or other) from a supplement company is not likely to be offering unbiased information.
3. Beware of bargain shopping, consider quality/purity
Poor quality control and outright fraud are pervasive in the supplement industry. Recent DNA testing of 44 different herbal supplement products found that 17% were completely authentic, 59% were adulterated with fillers (soy, wheat, rice), and 25% contained no trace of the purported main ingredient! Bodybuilding supplements, weight loss supplements, and sexual enhancement supplements are the most common types recalled due to mislabeling and safety concerns. A few 3rd party companies help to certify that products meet purity standards: USP, Consumer Lab, and NSF certifications are evidence that a product is pure. Please remember, however, that these just evaluate purity…not safety or effectiveness.
4. Speak with an unbiased health care professional
If the internet isn’t your thing (beyond this blog, of course!) and you’re looking to talk to a real person about supplements then doctors, pharmacists, and registered dietitians are usually good places to start. They should be able to help identify the risks and benefits of any supplements you are considering.
Most dietary supplements are taken with the hope or belief that they will create a positive health outcome. Unfortunately for most supplements (and supplements users!) the evidence does not support this. Though most dietary supplements are at least safe, very few have real scientific evidence to back their health claims. Your time and money is much better spent getting real nutrients and real health benefits from real food. Kentz Willis, M.S., is the University Extension Educator in Nutrition and Food Safety for Northeast Wyoming.