While many Americans naively pop vitamin and mineral supplements and guzzle various types of protein supplements and powders thinking they are helping with overall health and vitality, the reality is that many of these supplements can be downright dangerous! In fact, according to last week’s Chicago Tribune headliner, the 28 billion dollar supplement industry has serious and widespread manufacturing flaws that have the potential to harm our health. From quality control issues to formulary issues, the product you are ingesting may not be what you are thinking it is. There may be much more or too little of a specific nutrient, or even contamination with lead, arsenic, or rodent feces.
As a potential consumer, it needs to be understood that the supplement industry is a self-regulating industry. That means the government does not directly oversee the quality control of a supplement. In fact, quality control issues are largely left to the company producing the supplement. Under current laws, the FDA does not screen supplements for safety before they hit the consumer market. The FDA only takes action regarding supplements on the market once there is a documented issue with the supplement. In fact, the FDA is also relying on manufacturers themselves as well as consumers to report those adverse effects.
So, without hiring a lab to test your own supplements, here are some proactive steps to take to protect yourself:
- Buy name brand supplements. Well-known brands may have better “in-house” quality control standards because the reputation of the company is at stake. Steer clear of companies you have not heard of.
- Look for the USP label. This label means that the supplement has been at least evaluated for ingredients stated on the label and it will dissolve in your digestive tract rather than passing straight through your body. The symbol does not guarantee any other health or safety advantages of the supplement.
- Look at the Nutrition Fact Label on the supplement. Note the percent daily value of the nutrients. If you see values of many nutrients far exceeding 100%, don’t be duped into thinking this is a good thing. Consumers need to understand that too much of a nutrient can be very harmful. We have upper limits of safety for many nutrients and we should avoid exceeding those upper limits of safety.
- Consider using the Internet to investigate your supplement before taking it. Consumer Labs is an independent testing lab that evaluates supplemental products and makes the test results available for a small subscription fee. The analyses and data are extensive and informative.
- Consider having a dietitian evaluate your current diet. A dietitian can evaluate nutrient shortcomings and make appropriate recommendations to meet those dietary deficits with the correct dosages of nutrients. Or better yet, a dietitian can help you find the foods you like to eat to give you the nutrients you need! Afterall, mother nature does the best nutrient packaging of all.
Do you ever think about safety issues regarding supplement use?