According to Harvard Health Publishing, over 90,000 products generate around $30 billion each year in the US, which makes over-the-counter dietary supplements a big business. Older adults, in particular, make up a huge part of these sales, too.
A survey of approximately 3,500 adults with ages 60 and above published Oct. 1, 2017, in the Journal of Nutrition discovered that 70% use a daily supplement (either an individual vitamin or multivitamin, or mineral), 54% take one or two supplements, and 29% take four or more.
However, due to limited regulation, how will you know you are taking supplements that are of high quality? Also, are they a waste of money or potentially dangerous?
Learn more about what supplements are and how to ensure you are getting a quality product.
What is a Health Supplement?
HealthHub Singapore defined health or dietary supplements as “a diverse group of products typically consumed for the purpose of enhancing health and supplementing the diet.” They are not medicines and are not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent, mitigate, or cure diseases, according to the US Food and Drug Association.
They usually come in dosage forms such as soft gels, capsules, and tablets. Some examples of health or dietary supplements include minerals (e.g., iron, calcium, magnesium), vitamins (fat-soluble vitamins and water-soluble vitamins), and herbal supplements (e.g., Guarana, Echinacea).
However, Harvard Health Publishing warned that “even though supplements are popular, there’s still limited proof that they provide any significant health benefits.” In fact, a study by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology published online on May 28, 2018, as cited by Harvard, reported that the four most commonly used supplements–vitamin D, multivitamins, vitamin C, and calcium–did not protect against cardiovascular disease.
Then again, Healthline clarified that individuals who are at increased risk of inadequate nutrient intake or with nutrient deficiencies, such as pregnant women, can benefit from taking health supplements as recommended by their physician.
Are There Any Risks in Taking Health Supplements?
The greatest problem with health supplements, as mentioned by Harvard, is that they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Association before they hit the market. Dr. JoAnn Manson, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, told Harvard Health Publishing that “health supplements can appear on the shelf without having proof that they offer any benefits.”
Dr. Manson also added that “with limited oversight and regulation, it is also difficult to know for sure if the supplements are free from contaminants and contains the ingredients on the label.”
Most health or dietary supplements are safe to take, but there are exceptions. For instance:
- Extra vitamin D and calcium may increase the risk of kidney stones.
- High doses of beta carotene have been associated with a higher risk of lung cancer in smokers.
- Vitamin K can hamper blood thinner’s anti-clotting effects.
- High doses of vitamin E may lead to stroke caused by bleeding in the brain.
- Taking great amounts of vitamin B6 for a year or longer has been linked to nerve damage that can impair body movement (the symptoms often go away after quitting intaking supplements)
The research cited by the GI Associates & Endoscopy Center, which was published in the AASLD Hepatology journal by a liver specialist in Philadelphia, found that of the 700 cases of liver damage recorded in the study, 130 were linked to supplements. In 2004, dietary supplements and herbal remedies were noted as the culprit to 7 percent of liver damage cases, but in 2014, health supplements caused 20% of liver damage cases.
The supplements that pose the highest risk include weight loss and bodybuilding supplements, many of which are over-the-counter at local drug stores or are available online. That’s why it’s crucial to be smart and choose a trusted online pharmacy like pharmacy delivery Malaysia to ensure you are purchasing products that are of high quality and tested before they are sold in the market.
Who Needs Health Supplements?
While there are reports of risk posed by taking health supplements, there are also reports where supplements can play a significant role for some high-risk groups. For example, a number of studies cited by Harvard have revealed that B-complex vitamins and folic acid may diminish the risk of stroke.
Moreover, the Physician’s Health Study conducted by Harvard researchers and published in 2012 reported that men who took a daily multivitamin for 11 years had a 9 percent lower risk of cataracts and 8 percent lower risk of cancer compared with a placebo group.
For instance, some research has shown that folic acid and B-complex vitamins may decrease the risk of stroke. Also, the Physicians’ Health Study II, published in 2012 by Harvard researchers, found that men who took a daily multivitamin for 11 years had an 8% lower risk of cancer and a 9% lower risk of cataracts compared with a placebo group.
The Eufic site also listed a couple of individuals from high-risk groups who may benefit from supplements, including:
- People over 50: Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Folate (Frail elderly may benefit from a low-dose multivitamin supplement.)
- Women of childbearing age: Vitamin D and Folic acid, possibly iron
- Children under age 5: Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin D (Although children with a good appetite who eat a broad variety of food may not need them.)
- Breastfeeding individuals: Vitamin D
- People with darker skin or with insufficient sun exposure: Vitamin D
- Vegans: Vitamin D12, Vitamin B12
How to Ensure You Are Getting a Quality Product
Read the Labels, Facts, and Claims
According to the Office of Dietary Supplement of the National Institutes of Health, products sold as dietary or health supplements should come with a supplement facts label that lists the active ingredients, the dose or amount per serving, along with other ingredients such as binders, fillers, and flavorings. Readers’ Digest also added to look for supplement label information that indicates scientific claims or is supported by published studies.
Take note that the manufacturer recommends the serving size, but your physician might decide a different amount that is more appropriate for you.
Do Research on the Ingredients
Robinson MD advises looking for c-GMP to ensure the supplement follows Good Manufacturing Practices. For over-the-counter vitamins, inspect the USP-verified stamp to check if the company has their product tested for purity.
Choose a Respected Brand
Persona Nutrition encouraged buyers to pick brands that have a good reputation, certify their products, and have done the work to test. Check the company’s customer ratings and product to see if they have a positive track record for satisfaction.
Look for a Third-Party Verification on the Bottle
In the interview conducted by Reader’s Digest to Taylor Engelke, MS, RDN, CD, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Neenah, Wisconsin, Engelke suggested that buyers should look for labels that bear the certification mark from organizations like NSF International. The certification indicates that the company has presented its products to be tested and certified by an independent organization for contents, potency, and quality.
He also added that the NSF product certification mark indicates that the supplement has been tested for harmful levels of specific contaminants such as arsenic and lead. It also means that the product has been tested to ensure the ingredients listed on the package are the actual ingredients the product contained and there are no other additives added unless listed.
Evaluate the Site when Buying
The US Food and Drug Association advises that when searching on the web, consumers should try using directory sites of respected organizations, instead of doing blind searches with a search engine. The FDA also recommends asking yourself the following questions:
Who Operates the Site? It should be run by a government, university, health-related association, or written or reviewed by experts.
What is the Purpose of the Site? The objective is to educate. Beware of sites marketing their products.
What is the Source of the Information, and Does it have any References? The site should be reviewed by recognized scientific experts and references should be found in the National Library of Medicine’s database of literature citations.
Is the Information Current? New evidence can change earlier studies.
How Reliable are the Internet or Email Solicitations? Be skeptical and watch out for over-emphatic languages.
In a nutshell, some population groups are advised to take certain health or dietary supplements. But the overall message here is to carefully read labels of supplements, follow a healthy, balanced diet, as well as to avoid taking multiple doses that exceed the Recommended Daily Amounts (RDAs). In case of doubt, it’s best to seek advice from a medical doctor or dietitian prior to buying or taking a dietary or health supplement.