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
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