Printer Friendly
The Free Library
22,728,043 articles and books

Tips for the savvy supplement user: making informed decisions and evaluating information.

Food and Drug Administration

FDA, See Food and Drug Administration.

FDA, the abbreviation for the Food and Drug Administration.
, as well as health professionals and their organizations, receive many inquiries each year from consumers seeking health-related information, especially about dietary supplements Noun 1. dietary supplement - something added to complete a diet or to make up for a dietary deficiency
diet - a prescribed selection of foods

vitamin pill - a pill containing one or more vitamins; taken as a dietary supplement
. Clearly, people choosing to supplement their diets with herbals, vitamins, minerals, or other substances want to know more about the products they choose so that they can make informed decisions about them. The choice to use a dietary supplement can be a wise decision that provides health benefits. However, under certain circumstances, these products may be unnecessary for good health or they may even create unexpected risks.

Given the abundance and conflicting nature of information now available about dietary supplements, you may need help to sort the reliable information from the questionable. Below are tips and resources that we hope will help you be a savvy dietary supplement user. The principles underlying these tips are similar to those principles a savvy consumer would use for any product.

* Basic Points to Consider

* Tips on Searching the Web for Information on Dietary Supplements

* More Tips and To-Do's

Note: Links to non-Federal government organizations found on this site are provided solely as a service to consumers and do not represent an FDA endorsement of these organizations or their products. (For resources see Selected References.)

Basic Points to Consider

* Do I need to think about my total diet?

Yes. Dietary supplements are intended to supplement the diets of some people, but not to replace the balance of the variety of foods important to a healthy diet. While you need enough nutrients, too much of some nutrients can cause problems. You can find information on the functions and potential benefits of vitamins and minerals, as well as upper safe limits for nutrients at the National Academy of Sciences Web site at:

* Should I check with my doctor or healthcare provider before using a supplement?

This is a good idea, especially for certain population groups. Dietary supplements may not be risk-free under certain circumstances. If you are pregnant, nursing a baby, or have a chronic medical condition, such as, diabetes, hypertension or heart disease, be sure to consult your doctor or pharmacist pharmacist /phar·ma·cist/ (fahr´mah-sist) one who is licensed to prepare and sell or dispense drugs and compounds, and to make up prescriptions.

 before purchasing or taking any supplement. While vitamin and mineral supplements are widely used and generally considered safe for children, you may wish to check with your doctor or pharmacist before giving these or any other dietary supplements to your child. If you plan to use a dietary supplement in place of drugs or in combination with any drug, tell your health care provider first. Many supplements contain active ingredients An active ingredient, also active pharmaceutical ingredient (or API), is the substance in a drug that is pharmaceutically active. Some medications may contain more than one active ingredient.  that have strong biological effects and their safety is not always assured in all users. If you have certain health conditions and take these products, you may be placing yourself at risk.

* Some supplements may interact with prescription and over-the-counter medicines.

Taking a combination of supplements or using these products together with medications (whether prescription or OTC OTC

See: Over-the-counter.


See over-the-counter market (OTC).
 drugs) could under certain circumstances produce adverse effects, some of which could be life-threatening. Be alert to advisories about these products, whether taken alone or in combination. For example: Coumadin (a prescription medicine), ginkgo biloba Ginkgo Biloba Definition

Ginkgo biloba, known as the maidenhair tree, is one of the oldest trees on Earth, once part of the flora of the Mesozoic period. The ginkgo tree is the only surviving species of the Ginkgoaceae family.
 (an herbal supplement), aspirin (an OTC drug) and vitamin E vitamin E
 or tocopherol

Fat-soluble organic compound found principally in certain plant oils and leaves of green vegetables. Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant in body tissues and may prolong life by slowing oxidative destruction of membranes.
 (a vitamin supplement) can each thin the blood, and taking any of these products together can increase the potential for internal bleeding For the death metal band, see .

Internal bleeding is bleeding occurring inside the body. Causes
It may be caused by high blood pressure (by causing blood vessel rupture) or other forms of injury, especially high speed deceleration occurring during an automobile
. Combining St. John's Wort St. John’s wort

indicates animosity. [Flower Symbolism: Flora Symbolica, 177]

See : Hatred

St. John’s wort

defense against fairies, evil spirits, the Devil. [Br.
 with certain HIV HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), either of two closely related retroviruses that invade T-helper lymphocytes and are responsible for AIDS. There are two types of HIV: HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-1 is responsible for the vast majority of AIDS in the United States.  drugs significantly reduces their effectiveness. St. John's Wort may also reduce the effectiveness of prescription drugs prescription drug Prescription medication Pharmacology An FDA-approved drug which must, by federal law or regulation, be dispensed only pursuant to a prescription–eg, finished dose form and active ingredients subject to the provisos of the Federal Food, Drug,  for heart disease, depression, seizures, certain cancers or oral contraceptives Oral Contraceptives Definition

Oral contraceptives are medicines taken by mouth to help prevent pregnancy. They are also known as the Pill, OCs, or birth control pills.

* Some supplements can have unwanted effects during surgery:

It is important to fully inform your doctor about the vitamins, minerals, herbals or any other supplements you are taking, especially before elective surgery elective surgery Surgery Any operation that can be performed with advanced planning–eg, cholecystectomy, hernia repair, colonic resection, coronary artery bypass . You may be asked to stop taking these products at least 2-3 weeks ahead of the procedure to avoid potentially dangerous supplement/drug interactions--such as changes in heart rate, blood pressure and increased bleeding--that could adversely affect the outcome of your surgery.

* Adverse effects from the use of dietary supplements should be reported to MedWatch:

You, your health care provider, or anyone may report a serious adverse event or illness directly to FDA if you believe it is related to the use of any dietary supplement product, by calling FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088, by fax at 1-800-FDA-0178 or reporting on-line at: FDA would like to know whenever you think a product caused you a serious problem, even if you are not sure that the product was the cause, and even if you do not visit a doctor or clinic. In addition to communicating with FDA on-line or by phone, you may use the MedWatch form available from the FDA Web site.

* Who is responsible for ensuring the safety and efficacy of dietary supplements?

Under the law, manufacturers of dietary supplements are responsible for making sure their products are safe before they go to market. They are also responsible for determining that the claims on their labels are accurate and truthful. Dietary supplement products are not reviewed by the government before they are marketed, but FDA has the responsibility to take action against any unsafe dietary supplement product that reaches the market. If FDA can prove that claims on marketed dietary supplement products are false and misleading, the agency may take action also against products with such claims.

Tips on Searching the Web for Information on Dietary Supplements

When searching on the Web, try using directory sites of respected organizations, rather than doing blind searches with a search engine. Ask yourself the following questions::

* Who operates the site?

Is the site run by the government, a university, or a reputable medical or health-related association (e.g., American Medical Association American Medical Association (AMA), professional physicians' organization (founded 1847). Its goals are to protect the interests of American physicians, advance public health, and support the growth of medical science. , American Diabetes Association The American Diabetes Association, or the ADA, is an American health organization providing diabetes research, information and advocacy. Founded in 1940, the American Diabetes Association conducts programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, reaching hundreds of , American Heart Association American Heart Association (AHA), a national voluntary health agency that has the goal of increasing public and medical awareness of cardiovascular diseases and stroke, and thereby reducing the number of associated deaths and disabilities.
, National Institutes of Health, National Academies of Science, or U.S. Food and Drug Administration)? Is the information written or reviewed by qualified health professionals, experts in the field, academia, government or the medical community?

* What is the purpose of the site?

Is the purpose of the site to objectively educate the public or just to sell a product? Be aware of practitioners or organizations whose main interest is in marketing products, either directly or through sites with which they are linked. Commercial sites should clearly distinguish scientific information from advertisements. Most nonprofit and government sites contain no advertising; and access to the site and materials offered are usually free.

* What is the source of the information and does it have any references?

Has the study been reviewed by recognized scientific experts and published in reputable peer-reviewed scientific journals, like the New England Journal of Medicine The New England Journal of Medicine (New Engl J Med or NEJM) is an English-language peer-reviewed medical journal published by the Massachusetts Medical Society. It is one of the most popular and widely-read peer-reviewed general medical journals in the world. ? Does the information say "some studies show ..." or does it state where the study is listed so that you can check the authenticity of the references? For example, can the study be found in the National Library of Medicine's database of literature citations (PubMed link -

* Is the information current?

Check the date when the material was posted or updated. Often new research or other findings are not reflected in old material, e.g., side effects Side effects

Effects of a proposed project on other parts of the firm.
 or interactions with other products or new evidence that might have changed earlier thinking. Ideally, health and medical sites should be updated frequently.

* How reliable is the Internet or e-mail solicitations?

While the Internet is a rich source of health information, it is also an easy vehicle for spreading myths, hoaxes and rumors about alleged news, studies, products or findings. To avoid falling prey to such hoaxes, be skeptical and watch out for overly emphatic language with UPPERCASE LETTERS and lots of exclamation points exclamation point: see punctuation.

exclamation point - exclamation mark
!!!! Beware of such phrases such as: "This is not a hoax Hoax
Balloon Hoax, The

news story in 1844, reporting the transatlantic crossing of a balloon with eight passengers. [Am. Lit.: The Balloon Hoax in Poe]

Piltdown man

missing link turned out to be orangutan. [Br. Hist.
" or "Send this to everyone you know."

More Tips and To-Do's

* Ask yourself: Does it sound too good to be true?

Do the claims for the product seem exaggerated or unrealistic? Are there simplistic sim·plism  
The tendency to oversimplify an issue or a problem by ignoring complexities or complications.

[French simplisme, from simple, simple, from Old French; see simple
 conclusions being drawn from a complex study to sell a product? While the Web can be a valuable source of accurate, reliable information, it also has a wealth of misinformation mis·in·form  
tr.v. mis·in·formed, mis·in·form·ing, mis·in·forms
To provide with incorrect information.

 that may not be obvious. Learn to distinguish hype from evidence-based science. Nonsensical lingo Lingo - An animation scripting language.

[MacroMind Director V3.0 Interactivity Manual, MacroMind 1991].
 can sound very convincing. Also, be skeptical about anecdotal information from persons who have no formal training in nutrition or botanicals, or from personal testimonials (e.g. from store employees, friends, or online chat rooms and message boards) about incredible benefits or results obtained from using a product. Question these people on their training and knowledge in nutrition or medicine.

* Think twice about chasing the latest headline.

Sound health advice is generally based on a body of research, not a single study. Be wary of results claiming a "quick fix" that depart from previous research and scientific beliefs. Keep in mind science does not proceed by dramatic breakthroughs, but by taking many small steps, slowly building towards a consensus. Furthermore, news stories, about the latest scientific study, especially those on TV or radio, are often too brief to include important details that may apply to you or allow you to make an informed decision.

* Check your assumptions about the following:

* #1 Questionable Assumption--

"Even if a product may not help me, it at least won't hurt me." It's best not to assume that this will always be true. When consumed in high enough amounts, for a long enough time, or in combination with certain other substances, all chemicals can be toxic, including nutrients, plant components, and other biologically active ingredients.

* #2 Questionable Assumption--

"When I see the term `natural,' it means that a product is healthful health·ful
1. Conducive to good health; salutary.

2. Healthy.

healthful·ness n.
 and safe." Consumers can be misled if they assume this term assures wholesomeness, or that these food-like substances necessarily have milder effects, which makes them safer to use than drugs. The term "natural" on labels is not well defined and is sometimes used ambiguously to imply unsubstantiated benefits or safety. For example, many weight-loss products claim to be "natural" or "herbal" but this doesn't necessarily make them safe. Their ingredients may interact with drugs or may be dangerous for people with certain medical conditions See carpal tunnel syndrome, computer vision syndrome, dry eyes and deep vein thrombosis. .

* #3 Questionable Assumption--

"A product is safe when there is no cautionary information on the product label." Dietary supplement manufacturers may not necessarily include warnings about potential adverse effects on the labels of their products. If consumers want to know about the safety of a specific dietary supplement, they should contact the manufacturer of that brand directly. It is the manufacturer's responsibility to determine that the supplement it produces or distributes is safe and that there is substantiated evidence that the label claims are truthful and not misleading.

* #4 Questionable Assumption--

"A recall of a harmful product guarantees that all such harmful products will be immediately and completely removed from the marketplace." A product recall of a dietary supplement is voluntary and while many manufacturers do their best, a recall does not necessarily remove all harmful products from the marketplace.

* Contact the manufacturer for more information about the specific product that you are purchasing.

If you cannot tell whether the product you are purchasing meets the same standards as those used in the research studies you read about, check with the manufacturer or distributor. Ask to speak to someone who can address your questions, some of which may include:

1. What information does the firm have to substantiate the claims made for the product? Be aware that sometimes firms supply so-called "proof" of their claims by citing undocumented reports from satisfied consumers, or "internal" graphs and charts that could be mistaken for evidence-based research.

2. Does the firm have information to share about tests it has conducted on the safety or efficacy of the ingredients in the product?

3. Does the firm have a quality control system in place to determine if the product actually contains what is stated on the label and is free of contaminants?

4. Has the firm received any adverse events reports from consumers using their products?

NOTE: You may obtain more information on how FDA regulates dietary supplements and on the manufacturers' responsibilities for the products they market at "Questions and Answers."

Selected References

THE FOLLOWING ARE SELECTED REFERENCES THAT MAY HELP USERS UNDERSTAND AND EVALUATE INFORMATION ENCOUNTERED ON THE INTERNET OR IN THE MARKETPLACE. (Links to non-Federal government organizations found on this site are provided as a service to our users and do not represent FDA endorsement of these organizations or their materials. FDA cannot monitor other sites to ensure that the information is the most current available.)

Evaluating Research

10 Things to Know About Evaluating Medical Resources on the Web A short guide developed by the National Cancer Institute, NIH, to help you evaluate medical Web sites. (July, 1999)

How to Understand and Interpret Food and Health-Related Scientific Studies This article provides an overview for understanding and interpreting food and health-related scientific studies (from the International Food Information Council, May 2000).

Making Sense of Health and Nutrition News Provides tips for evaluating science.(IFIC, Food Insight. Jan/Feb 2001

Navigating the Internet

Medical products and the Internet. A guide to finding reliable information. This document provides advice from the World Health Organization to help internet users Internet user ninternauta m/f

Internet user Internet ninternaute m/f 
 obtain reliable, independent, and comparable information on the internet. /library/qsm/who-edm-qsm-99-4/medicines-on-internet-guide.html

"Navigating for Health: Finding Accurate Information on the Internet". (IFIC Food Insight article, November-December, 2000)

Health Information On-line This article provides tips and links for finding information on the web as well as advice to help you determine the reliability of different web sites.

Quality of Health Information. Several links to other government and private sector web sites compiled by the Department of Health and Human Services' Healthfinder web site to help you evaluate online health information.

Product Claims and Labeling

"Claims That Can Be Made for Conventional Foods and Dietary Supplements" An FDA explanation of the various kinds of claims that can be made for foods and supplements. (Updated April, 2001.)

"Staking a Claim to Good Health". Reviews the health claims that FDA has authorized for use on food labels. (FDA Consumer article, November-December 1998.)

FDA Dietary Supplement Questions and Answers. Provides information about what dietary supplements are, and how they are regulated, including the labeling and claims that can be made for supplements.

Questions You Can Ask About Health Claims. "Improving Public Understanding: Guidelines for Communicating Emerging Science on Nutrition, Food Safety and Health." These questions were developed to help journalists and scientists accurately convey health information. You can ask yourself these questions to help judge whether the information you are reading is fairly presented (the International Food Information Council, 1998)

"Miracle" Health Claims: Add a Dose of Skepticism This FDA/FTC joint agency information piece focuses on how to assess claims and seek advice, and avoid becoming a victim of health fraud. The information discusses how to minimize being cheated out of money, time, and health. (September 2001)

The Story of the Laws Behind the Labels. This article on the history of food and drug laws provides useful insights on the regulation of health claims over the years. (FDA Consumer, June 1981.)

Advertising Dietary Supplements

"Dietary Supplements: An Advertising Guide for Industry". This document describes the factors that FTC takes into account in deciding whether an ad is truthful and not misleading. You can use them to judge the advertisements you see.

Dietary Supplements and Kids

"Promotions for Kids' Dietary Supplements Leaves Sour Taste" (FTC article, May 2000.)

Other Sources

MedWatch. FDA Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program.

The Food and Nutrition Food and Nutrition
See also cheese; dining; milk.


Rare. the act or habit of reclining at meals.


Medicine. thescience of nutrition.


 Board The Food and Nutrition Board (FNB FNB First National Bank
FNB Food Not Bombs
FNB Food and Nutrition Board (Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences)
FNB Food and Beverage (industry)
FNB Front Nouveau de Belgique
), National Academy of Sciences, as part of its mission, establishes principles and guidelines of adequate dietary intake. The FNB issues reports such as "Dietary Reference Intakes dietary reference intakes (DRIs), a set of nutritional guidelines concerning the intake of vitamins and minerals from food rather than supplements.
: Thiamin thiamin
 or vitamin B1

Organic compound, part of the vitamin B complex, necessary in carbohydrate metabolism. It carries out these functions in its active form, as a component of the coenzyme thiamin pyrophosphate.
, Riboflavin riboflavin: see coenzyme; vitamin.
 or vitamin B2

Yellow, water-soluble organic compound, abundant in whey and egg white. It has a complex structure incorporating three rings.
, Niacin niacin: see coenzyme; vitamin.
 or nicotinic acid or vitamin B3

Water-soluble vitamin of the vitamin B complex, essential to growth and health in animals, including humans.
, Vitamin B vitamin B
1. Vitamin B complex.

2. A member of the vitamin B complex, especially thiamine.

vitamin B, vitamin B complex

a group of water-soluble substances described separately.
6, Folate folate /fo·late/ (fo´lat)
1. the anionic form of folic acid.

2. more generally, any of a group of substances containing a form of pteroic acid conjugated with l-glutamic acid and having a variety of substitutions.
, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid pantothenic acid (păn`təthĕn`ĭk): see coenzyme; vitamin.
pantothenic acid

Organic compound, essential in animal metabolism.
, Biotin biotin: see vitamin; coenzyme.

Organic compound, part of the vitamin B complex, essential for growth and well-being in animals and some microorganisms.
, and Choline choline: see vitamin.

Organic compound related to vitamins in its activity. It is important in metabolism as a component of the lipids that make up cell membranes and of acetylcholine.

NUTRITION.GOV NUTRITION.GOV, a new federal resource, provides easy access to all online federal government information on nutrition, including dietary supplements. facts&subtopic sub·top·ic  
One of the divisions into which a main topic may be divided.
=dietary supplements

MEDLINE The online medical database of the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) whose parent is the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD. MEDLINE contains millions of articles from thousands of medical journals and publications. The consumer section of the site (http://medlineplus.  Plus Health Information: Vitamin and Mineral Supplements MEDLINE Plus Health Information is a service of the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, that provides information on health topics, including vitamin and mineral supplements..

International Bibliographic Information on Dietary Supplements (IBIDS IBIDS International Bibliographic Information on Dietary Supplements ) The International Bibliographic Information on Dietary Supplements (IBIDS) NIH, Office of Dietary Supplements is a database of published, international, scientific literature on dietary supplements, including vitamins, minerals, and botanicals.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, established in 1998 as a Center of the National Institutes of Health. Supports and conducts research on complementary and alternative med-icine and informs healthcare pro-fessionals about
, NIH. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM NCCAM National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NIH)
NCCAM National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month (March) 
) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH, is dedicated to exploring complementary and alternative healing alternative healing Natural healing A philosophical stance based on alternative medicine principles, in which a person is returned to a state of well-being through a therapy that is not 'mainstream' in nature. See Alternative medicine.  practices in the context of rigorous science; training CAM researchers; and disseminating authoritative information.

This document was issued in January 2002. For more recent information on Dietary Supplements See
COPYRIGHT 2002 U.S. Food & Drug Administration
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 Reader Opinion




Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:Pamphlet by: Food and Drug Administration
Article Type:Pamphlet
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 2, 2002
Previous Article:Products that consumers inquire about. (U. S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition).
Next Article:OxyContin: questions and answers. (Drug Information).

Related Articles
Clinical Trials: What You Should Know Before Volunteering to be a Research Subject.
Don't fall for phony headlines.
Save Voters' Pamphlet.
Not total, but welcome.
Voters' Pamphlet c.o.d.
Approach to communicating with patients about the use of nutritional supplements in cancer care.
Sending men the message about preventive care: an evaluation of communication strategies.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2014 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters