The Dangers of Supplements for Menopause-Age Women

When millions of women around the time of menopause take supplements to promote health, they may not always be getting what they pay for. Much of the recent evidence on supplements has been negative or neutral, and it is not clear whether most people benefit from taking them

by The North American Menopause Society
supplements
Photograph: Shutterstock.com

Three new studies of dietary supplements with dismal results were released this week (Annals of Internal Medicine). The problem is very basic — most supplements on the market have not been tested for safety and have not even been tested to see if they actually work. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates 50,000 adverse reactions to dietary supplements every year. Supplement sales in the U.S. reached $28 billion in 2010. That is a lot of money to give away for no benefit and possible harm. Another recent study on fish oil supplements found that many products do not contain the amounts of omega-3s claimed on their packaging.

On the positive side, a few manufacturers do provide a written guarantee that the product is made under the FDA’s “good manufacturing practice” conditions and a Certificate of Analysis assuring that what is written on the label is what is in the bottle. That’s good, but it’s not common enough. If you are taking supplements, look for “USP Verified” on the label -- it means the supplement has been inspected and approved under the United States Pharmacopeia Convention. Unfortunately, less than 1% of the 55,000 products on the market have this label. 

“The real answer is that, until the day comes when medical studies prove that these supplements have legitimate benefits, and until the FDA has the political backing and resources to regulate them like drugs, individuals should simply steer clear,” write Dr. Paul Offit and Dr. Sarah Erush of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in an op-ed in the New York Times this week. You can learn more from The North American Menopause Society

Photo courtesy of Maxx-Studio/Shutterstock.com

Next: HPV and Menopause: What Women of the Sexual Revolution Need to Know

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It was truly disturbing to me when I read the article referring to the dangers of supplements for menopause-age women. There have been many statements over the last few years avowing that taking vitamins/supplements are worthless and/or dangerous. Actually, misrepresenting the entire industry is dangerous. The statement says, "The FDA estimates 50,000 adverse reactions to dietary supplements every year." But this number is most likely comprised of weight loss, body building and other such physical enhancement products. There are many reputable companies producing good quality vitamins and supplements. A consumer with little knowledge about what products to purchase could go to a high end health food store such as Whole Foods Market. All the products they carry meet very strict guidelines before they are carried in the store. As for there being little or no value in taking them, I beg to differ. Over two decades ago, I started my journey into the world of alternative medicine after listing to a wonderful radio doctor out of NYC. Then, I started reading, "Prescription for Nutritional Healing", which is still one of my favorite reference books to this day. I was going through menopause at the time and dealing with various medical problems that I wanted to resolve or treat without medications and their side effects. Vitamins, supplements, herbs and homeopathic remedies provided me with relief and a source of well being I really had never felt before. In a perfect world, we would all be eating well on a daily basis and maybe, get most of the vitamins and minerals we need. But for the vast majority of people, that is not the case and many of the physical problems that plague us are related to nutritional deficiencies in our diet. I can only submit my own personal experiences as proof, being a 67 year old, active, healthy female who takes no medications! My blog, healthymenaturally.com is a work in progress detailing my experiences and journey to alternative medicine. Oh yes, I passed through menopause without the use of hormones or any other drugs!

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