Good day, All! I hope your week is going “Well”. 🙂

On to the day’s topic – dietary supplements. If there is one subject we spend a considerable amount of time discussing in my health and human performance classes, it’s supplement use.

It’s interesting…as an undergraduate (many moons ago), I didn’t think much about the topic. Yet somehow I developed a passion for it as a master’s student at UW and decided to make it the focus of my research and thesis work. It is still a subject I study to this day.

Like any topic in exercise, health, and fitness, there is a substantial amount of “.com” advice, nutrition quackery, and plain bad and irresponsible information propagated by unqualified and nonscientific “practitioners” (or – as I share with my students – “quack-titioners”)  taking creative liberties with the truth. In short, we can find ourselves in a tangled web quite quickly if we don’t search for truth and examine the scientific facts. Hopefully the words and resources I share will bring light to an otherwise murky topic.

Before we go on, let’s identify what constitutes a supplement (for the purposes of this post): vitamins, minerals, herbs and botanicals, sports nutrition/ergogenic aids and other specialty supplements.

On to the big picture and takeaways. The supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. I’ll say it again – multi-BILLION. The last statistic I read noted that weight loss and ergogenic aids made up almost $20 billion of the US Nutrition Industry (Coleman, 2010). So what drives consumers to “invest” in such a market? According to Coleman, “there seems to be something in the human psyche that makes all of us vulnerable to unreasonable, illogical, and fatuous beliefs” (2010). Well-said, Ellen Coleman. I don’t think she’s far wrong.

This is not to say that there aren’t quality supplements or dietary support agents on the market; there are! However, it takes a supplement savvy consumer to locate the true supplement from the run of the mill potions, pills, powders which almost always over promise and under deliver.

Why is it that the supplement industry is NOT black and white and easy to navigate? The answer: Legislation. Courtesy of the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), dietary supplements are not subject to  rigorous oversight and testing. In other words, a product does NOT have to be proven safe or effective before being placed on the open market. This means there is no guarantee that the ingredients listed on the label are actually in the product. WHAT?! Yes, it’s true. The information found on supplement product labels is not always accurate nor does the information guarantee the purity, quality, or efficacy of the product.

Purchasing any dietary supplement without consulting a primary health care provider, pharmacist, dietitian or other reputable source may put your health and wallet at risk. So, how do you know? Here are a few points to keep in mind…

  • Tricky Terminology – .  Many products should not be consumed in combination with other medications or supplements. For example, St. John’s Wart may interfere with some depression medications and cancer treatment protocols. Yikes!
  • Questionable Testimonials – many products come with glowing testimonials from “actual consumers”. If the product is not backed by anything other than a handful of individuals championing its success, question the accuracy of the claims. It is extremely challenging to validate the accuracy of individual reviews.
  • Ingredient Purity and Quality – unlike food labels, the ingredient lists of some products can be misleading. Because supplements are not heavily regulated, the manufacturers of the products are responsible for the label and the contents. Keep in mind, manufacturers often have a financial interest and investment in the product, which may impact the quality and accuracy of the ingredients stated on the label.
  • Research, Research, Research – in addition to the questionable products available, there are many supplements with proven health benefits backed by true and sound scientific evidence. For instance, we know calcium is good for us and helps prevent the onset of osteoporosis. Women are encouraged to consume adequate amounts of folic acid to help prevent certain birth defects. We also know iron can be beneficial when prescribed for individuals with low iron stores. The bottom line – research supplement information from reliable sources such as Mayo Clinic, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, or the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. One of the top sources for this type of information includes the Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov) whose primary interest is in consumer safety. This organization works to protect the consumer from unethical and unfair business practices. Also, looking for products which bear the U.S. P. seal (http://www.usp.org/?gclid=CPakvdvZjswCFQusaQod-GEGyA) are top quality and verified to be so. You can even search for quality products on this site. Knowing where to look is the first step!

Dietary supplements can be beneficial and worth the investment if we remember to do some homework. This includes speaking with a primary health care provider, pharmacist, dietitian or searching for information on reputable organization websites such as those mentioned above.

Those manufacturing such drivel would be well-served to simply place table sugar in a vile and label it “hope” because that’s all they’re selling. Don’t swallow your hard-earned cash unless you’re certain of the quality, purity and effectiveness of the item. A good rule of thumb – okay two rules of thumb: 1) nothing, including opinion from “actual users” and purported manufacturer claims, replaces sound scientific evidence; and 2) if it sounds too good to be true, it more than likely is.

When it comes to your health and well-being nothing is too good – you have the right to expect quality, accuracy, and validity! Tell the “quack-titioners” to quack off someplace else! Protect your health and your income.

Until next time! Meet you at The Well.

E

Categories: Nutrition

Erin Nitschke

Passionate wife, mother, college educator, writer, blogger, and health and fitness professional.

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