Vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino-acids, compounds, and substitutes…they are everywhere and we all heard about them. We love our nutritional supplements and we buy them daily. In fact, Americans are so in love with their vitamin and mineral pills, tablets and shakes that they spend $122 billion every year on them. And that figure is no surprise when you take into consideration that almost 35 percent of Americans will take some sort of dietary supplement today. We take them to lose weight, get stronger, feel more energetic and, some of us, out of pure habit.
But are they really as effective as advertised? Do those labels have any truth in them? Can you really use them to boost your health? Or is it all just snake oil? How can you find out?
Nutritional supplement labeling – knowing the truth behind what’s advertised
Labels are the first things most customers come into contact with when buying anything, and that applies to dietary supplements as well. While most labels are correct and do provide the right information, there are some labels which are downright misleading and wrong.
In a case that hit the headlines back in February 2015*, the New York Attorney General targeted dietary supplements sold by four major retailers (Target, GNC, Walmart and Walgreens) for being misleading to customers. According to the Attorney General, the supplements were labeled as including herbal extracts which can potentially be harmful. What’s more, several other samples didn’t include the advertised substances at all. Other samples included substitute herbal ingredients, like rice, asparagus or common houseplants, but also dangerous additives.
The New York case is, unfortunately, not unique. Similar tests were done in other areas of the country, all pointing to frightening results. A study done in 2013 by the BMC Medicine journal on 44 bottles manufactured by 12 different companies, found that a third of the dietary supplements tested were missing important ingredients. These ingredients were advertised on the label, but they were nowhere to be found in the product itself. What’s more, several bottles contained filler ingredients such as powdered wheat or rice, which can pose a health risk to people with certain allergies, with no allergy warning notices provided on the label.
Labeling and fact-checking – the reasons
The labeling chaos in the supplement business is happening because the appetite for profits is huge, but government agencies are also to blame.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a limited regulatory power over supplements, mainly because they are not considered drugs. They are defined as food supplements or foods, so control over manufacturers is limited. The FDA generally pays attention to this industry, but only after the product was sold to customers, by keeping tabs on reports of adverse effects. This passive control is minimal, so there are a lot of dangerous supplements out on the market every day.
In addition, the dietary supplement business is poorly regulated by internal organizations. There are a lot of manufacturers who buy their supplies from foreign countries or online and simply can’t verify their origins. What’s more, these ingredients are sometimes poorly made, they do not have the required purity or can be spoiled.
What can you do?
Unfortunately, all this information paints a rather sorry picture for dietary supplements consumers in the country. The industry is thinly regulated and there are a lot of pitfalls you’ll need to avoid.
Essentially, there isn’t a lot you can physically do, but you can be informed and know about the problem. That is, after all, a very important step – to acknowledge the problem. Next, your best bet is to contact or access an independent review company which works with nutritional supplements. Labdoor.com, for instance, is a great resource for anyone who wants to do a little fact-checking before buying any nutritional supplements. You’ll get independent reports on supplements like Garcinia Cambogia, probiotics, multivitamins, prenatal vitamins, fish oil, and anything else you might find on the market today.
Staying informed about dietary supplements and their potential risks is the easiest and most natural step towards using them effectively, which means even better results for you and your well-being.