“Burn fat while you sleep!”
“Cure depression and anxiety!”
“Lower your blood pressure and raise your good cholesterol with just one pill!”
Nutritional supplements are often seen as an easy shortcut to greater health. In fact, supplements can provide dietary aid, relief from common ailments, and sometimes a natural alternative to medical intervention. But how do you know if the promises of late-night infomercials are true? Many supplements lack the safety of prescription medicines, which can lead to potentially harmful risks. Here’s how to choose the supplements you need and avoid those you don’t.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the safety and effectiveness of supplements that are sold in stores, so choosing one is definitely a buyer-beware situation. However, some manufacturers participate in voluntary measures to ensure that their products are reviewed for safety by an organization called the U.S. Pharmacopeia. Once reviewed, these products will have “USP Verified,” on their label. Looking for this designation provides additional confidence.
Do your research
Common sense and a skeptical eye are your best allies in the vitamin aisle. If a product’s claims sound too good to be true, they probably are. Because supplements are not regulated by the FDA, manufacturers can make any claim they want without having to provide research as proof. Even when research is provided, it may not be true or valid. Do your research and ask your doctor for guidance before taking any supplement. A good place to start is the National Institute of Health Office of Dietary Supplements or a reliable consumer advocacy source like Consumer Reports. After you have checked the label for U. S. Pharmacopeia verification, check to make sure the supplement provides sufficient quantities of each vitamin. Your vitamin should provide 100% of the recommended daily value of Vitamin B-1, Vitamin B-2, Vitamin B-3, Vitamin B-12, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and folic acid.
Consider the Alternatives
Expensive supplements can be avoided by simply eating a nutrient-rich diet. Did you know that spinach is a good source of protein? Or that a handful of almonds can provide almost as much calcium as a glass of milk? Many nutrient deficiencies can be solved through better nutrition; learn about the nutrient contents of the foods you already love, and if you want to increase a specific nutrient, look it up at the USDA Nutrient Database of the National Agricultural Library.
Before you take anything, consult your doctor. Supplements can interact with medications or other supplements you are already taking or can trigger adverse side effects that are likely not advertised on the packaging. Use common sense and research to make a qualified decision about what supplements are right for you. With consumer tools and your doctor’s guidance, you can avoid those late-night infomercials by knowing that your health doesn’t need a quick remedy after all.