Even Your Doctor Doesn’t Know What’s in Your Supplements

A recent investigation by the New York Attorney General’s office found that many of today’s leading “over-the-counter” (OTC) dietary supplement products did not contain the health-boosting ingredients claimed on the labels. If you’re worried about which ones are good, and which aren’t, you’re forced to play a real guessing game. Even your doctor can’t help you figure it out.

New York State attorney general Eric Schneiderman recently announced the findings of his office’s investigation into supplement ingredients, and the findings were shocking.

For instance, Schneiderman claimed that DNA testing had discovered that some very popular supplements did not contain the ingredients that were listed on the label.

The DNA tests uncovered St. John’s wort supplements that contained garlic, rice and cassava – but no St. John’s wort. A popular brand of ginko biloba tablets was found to contain mustard, wheat and radishes – but no ginko biloba.

Many Americans, after reading these stories, may turn to their family doctors for guidance. But, as chronicled in a recent article in Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind publication, most doctors don’t really know what is contained in these supplements, either.

This is because dietary supplement products are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the way prescription drugs are. They don’t have to pass the same stringent tests for either the effectiveness of their ingredients, or the existence of those ingredients in the products themselves.

Your doctor may even give you misleading information due to misunderstandings many healthcare professionals have about the dietary supplement products.

Less than half of physicians and pharmacists polled by PublicMind, “…correctly stated that OTC products are regulated and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), while dietary supplement products are not. “

On overwhelming number of them (85%) thought that there were FDA-approved “OTC” omega-3 products, (there are none, in fact). And these physicians and pharmacists had mistakenly recommended omega-3 products to patients, thinking that they had been cleared by the FDA.

Also, 30% of pharmacists and 22% of physicians were under the mistaken impression that dietary supplements purporting to be omega-3 products had similar strength and effectiveness as prescription omega-3 products do. Again, they do not.

So, how can you know what you’re getting?

A recent article in Business Insider listed some things you can look for on the packaging of the supplements you buy:

For instance, the non-profit United States Pharmacopeia sets standards for medicine, food ingredients and dietary supplements — and issues its seal of approval for products that meet those standards. This “USP Verified” seal can be found on the labels of qualifying products. Remember, though, unless it says “USP Verified,” it isn’t.

You can also look for the blue and white “NSF Certified for Sport” seal on product packaging. This signifies that the product meets the standards of the non-profit NSF International, an organization that tests supplements.

Business Insider also suggests that you look online for the ConsumerLab.com and LabDoor sites. These organizations tests products, and maintain records of their findings. (However, these websites charge fees for access to their data.)

Even with these independent validations, there is still going to be uncertainty about the supplements you buy. When the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, or DSHEA, was passed in the 1990s, it essentially placed dietary supplements into a permanent gray area – one in which their makers were not required to prove their effectiveness.

While many of these products are sold by reputable companies – and contain the ingredients printed on the label – the fact remains that this law provides a loophole for disreputable companies to operate freely in this space, (at least until they get caught, which is an expensive process involving DNA testing). Until, or unless, that legal loophole is closed, consumers will never be 100% of what they’re getting when they buy these products.

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