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Shopping for any kind of supplement can be confus- ing. A staggering array of multivitamins and other supplements crowd the shelves of pharmacies, gro- cery stores, and specialty stores, and many more are now available over the Internet. Before you buy, it’s wise to realize that some of these products may o er much more—or possibly less—than you really need to enhance your health.
Dietary supplements may legally contain vita- mins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, enzymes, organ tissues, and a few other substances—in short, practi- cally any ingredient promoted as a way to bolster your diet and, presumably, your health. e FDA does not certify supplements for safety or e ectiveness the way it monitors drugs. Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, the FDA cannot approve supplements or demand that manufacturers undertake rigorous studies to prove their worth. e FDA doesn’t set potency or dosage standards, either.
Manufacturers are le to police themselves. And before a worrisome supplement can be pulled o the market, the FDA has to prove that it creates a signi – cant health risk. is can lead to problems, as is made clear by a report from ConsumerLab.com, an industry watchdog organization. e organization tested the quality and contents of 75 leading multivitamin and multimineral products for adults and children sold in the United States and Canada. Several products con- tained dangerously high levels of niacin, vitamin A, magnesium, or zinc, while 12 products had less vita- min A, vitamin C, or folate than stated on the label. Some variation in the amount of vitamins and miner- als in a product is to be expected because supplements will slowly and naturally degrade over the course of their shelf life; pay attention to expiration dates on the packaging.
While supplement manufacturers can’t legally claim to prevent, treat, or cure speci c diseases, they can come pretty close. ey are allowed to make “structure-function” claims that sound impressive to most consumers. A product may “build strong teeth” or “improve memory” or “boost the immune system.” Manufacturers can make these assertions without supplying a stitch of proof to any agency. Your cue for healthy skepticism should be the words printed along- side: “ is statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.”
Certain health claims backed by substantial scien- ti c agreement and not limited to particular brands can appear on supplement bottles. For example, sup-plement manufacturers can advertise that “calcium helps protect against osteoporosis” and “folic acid may prevent neural tube defects in fetuses,” because these statements are borne out by science and have been carefully evaluated.