Take Dietary Supplements With A Grain Of Salt
You can find bottles on a grocery store shelf in the vitamins and minerals section with names like “Super Charge,” “Over Drive” and “Optimum Omega.” These products promise to “enhance natural killer cell activity,” “support cardiovascular health” and “support healthy joint function.” If these promises sound too good to be true, it’s because they are, says nutrition sciences professor Jerald Foote. He says that the majority of these products—called dietary supplements—never have been tested to support the claims they make, and they vary in quality, efficacy and safety.
“There are some big gaps as far as consumer safety is concerned,” he said. “It’s a buyer-beware situation.”
Since 1994, dietary supplements have enjoyed a separate status from drugs and foods because of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) passed by Congress. The DSHEA defines a dietary supplement as any product that is natural or is a natural metabolite and allows these products to be sold with far less regulation than food or drugs.
Foote studies contaminants in dietary supplements. Their purity appears to vary greatly from product to product because of variations in harvesting and processing techniques. Some supplements begin their product life as bark scraped off of South American trees and put in old gasoline cans, while other supplements are harvested carefully and go through processing procedures similar to those of regulated drugs. This creates drastically different contamination levels.
In addition, Foote also counsels clients about nutrition and spends time debunking myths about dietary supplements.
If people feel they must consume dietary supplements, they should ask their physicians to advise them about potential adverse drug interactions.
Unfortunately, doctors don’t always have enough information about dietary supplements to be able to dispense information.
Dietary supplements should be evaluated on a product-by-product basis because of variations in the pharmacology, toxicology and drug interactions, even among the same type of herb. And people should be especially wary of obscure herbs.
“With the more esoteric medicinal herbs, you are setting yourself up to be a guinea pig,” Foote said.