FEATURE — There have been many studies showing the health benefits and effectiveness of taking nutritional supplements. There are many reasons why most of us should be taking supplements, including poor diet choices, erratic eating habits, food sources, health conditions and even nutrient depletion due to prescription medications.
It is important to understand that all supplements are not created equally.
There are supplements that have good, better and best qualities and companies. We now need to add bad to the list. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, referred to as the FDA, does regulate finished vitamin and herbal products and dietary ingredients, the agency does not require these supplements to go through the same verification processes as “conventional” foods and drug products to ensure that the products are appropriately labeled and safe for consumers.
We have all seen TV infomercials and internet ads about fantastic results and cures for everything from acne to weight loss. These products usually contain a few inexpensive vitamins and an herbal “proprietary formula” with a large price tag and automatic shipments billed to your credit card. At best, these are supplements that are just overpriced, and at worst, they contain dangerous ingredients. There are many reports of sickness and hospitalizations.
Some reports expose brands that do not have what is labeled. The Washington Post reported in February that the New York Attorney General’s office has ordered four major retailers — Wal-Mart, Target, Walgreens and GNC — to stop selling “adulterated” and “mislabeled” herbal supplements that independent lab tests show do not contain labeled ingredients.
“Only 4 percent of Wal-Mart’s supplements (“Spring Valley” brand) actually contained the ingredients listed on the label, while 18 percent did at Walgreens (“Finest Nutrition” brand), 22 percent at GNC (“Herbal Plus” brand) and 41 percent at Target stores (“Up & Up” brand),” the Attorney General’s office said.
When it comes to dietary supplements, we don’t always get what we pay for. Consumer Lab conducts tests and acts as a watchdog for the supplement industry. Their tests have found often wildly fluctuating prices for essentially the same products.
“There are plenty of rip-offs out there,” Dr. Tod Cooperman, Consumer Lab president, said.
About one out of every five products tested fails to pass basic quality standards that include having too much or not enough of the amounts claimed on the package — and sometimes none at all. Others contain dangerous levels of lead or other potentially dangerous ingredients.
The supplements discussed above are all considered “food grade” by the FDA. The other is “pharmaceutical grade,” which means that they are subjected to the same rigorous testing and quality as pharmaceutical medications and the FDA will monitor for proper potency and labeling. These would be considered to be the best supplements on the market.
It is important to purchase supplements from someone who studies and has firsthand knowledge about the manufacturers and products they sell. The price difference may only be a few dollars a month between a good and a great supplement.
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Written by Cliff Holt for St. George Health and Wellness magazine and St. George News.
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