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Do You Know What’s in Your Dietary Supplements?

Are you one of the 14 million Americans who takes dietary supplements? If you are taking supplements to help you lose weight, please do your homework first. According to this story in the New England Journal of Medicine, you may be getting way more than you paid for.pills

“A police offer who had been encouraged by his doctor decided to try a weight-loss supplement to help him shed his extra pounds. But instead of losing weight, he lost his job. His diet pills, which were imported from Brazil and sold in the United States, contained vitamin E, centella, senna, and cascara, among other “natural” ingredients. Not included on the label was the amphetamine detected in his urine drug screen. The now-unemployed sergeant is not alone. Such contaminated supplements represent an emerging risk to public health.”

The bottom line is you really have to be careful with what you trust as “safe.” In August 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found more than 140 supplements that contained undeclared active pharmaceutical ingredients. DRUGS! These represent only a fraction of the contaminated supplements on the market.

The culprit is lack of regulation in a market where “empty promises” and “quick fixes” sell. Today, dietary supplements are presumed to be safe and can be marketed with very little oversight. Supplements manufacturers are required to report serious supplement-related adverse events to the FDA, but by and large they don’t. The FDA estimates 50,000 adverse events each year go unreported.

As a nutrition expert, I make it my a priority to look at the medications and supplements my new client is taking and ask them what they take each for. It is shocking to see what they are taking and how little they can explain about what the supplement is supposed to do. While I can’t go into detail and review every supplement in this post, here is what I would recommend.

  1. Think before you buy. What is in it? Do you need it? Are all the ingredients safe? Do any of the ingredients compromise a pre-existing health condition or interact with medications? What is the cost? Is it effective?
  2. Research the company. Has the company been around for a long time? Does it appear reputable? What is its Better Business Bureau rating?
  3. Consider the messenger. I’ve heard it all from my clients, anything from “my co-worker sells them to me and they cured her brother’s skin cancer” to “my chiropractor said this cleanse would help me lose five pounds” to “the person at the supplement store said this was the best.”

There is no assurance that hazardous dietary supplements will be identified or removed from the market in a timely fashion. You have to be the cop.

Via New England Journal of Medicine

October 16th, 2009

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