The Truth About Nutrition Supplements
4 Ways to Protect Yourself
Until adjustments like these are put into place, it's buyer beware. But there are steps you can take to prevent your own private supplement scare.
Be independent. If you or a member of your family takes a lot of supplements, Gurley recommends subscribing to an independent testing service, such as the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database ($92 a year, naturaldatabase.com) or ConsumerLab.com ($27 per year or $44 for two years), to keep tabs on your preferred brands. Quackwatch.org also regularly surveys the supplement industry.
Seek out well-tested products. If you're not interested in joining a subscription service, look for supplements that carry the seal of the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), a nonprofit public-health organization that charges manufacturers a fee to conduct independent product testing. The USP seal doesn't indicate that a particular ingredient is safe or effective, but it does ensure that the product you're buying contains what the label says it does, that it's free of contaminants, that it will be properly absorbed into your body, and that it was made using safe manufacturing processes.
Beware of complicated ingredient lists. "The more complex a product is, the more likely it is to have problems," says Dr. Cooperman. And be wary of products that tout a "proprietary formula" or a "uniquely formulated blend." "Those are wiggle words for putting all kinds of things in there without having to explain what they are or why they're there," he says.
Get educated. The Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (cfsan.fda.gov/list.html) is ground zero for information on the products of most concern. Click on the "Dietary Supplements" tab to see recent announcements and warnings, or subscribe to the Dietary Supplements/Food Labeling Electronic Newsletter to have them e-mailed to you. If you do experience side effects that you believe may have been caused by a supplement, file an adverse event report with the FDA via the provided link. One person's so-so side effect might be another's really bad one.
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