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Know ‘red flags’ of dietary supplements

By Tywanna Sparks | IACH PAO | October 10, 2013

They are lined on grocery and nutrition store shelves with claims to speed weight loss, regulate blood pressure or reduce arthritic pain. Some may know others who have used them or they may have used them themselves, but what dangers do dietary supplements pose?

"Before you decide to purchase dietary supplements, do the research and don't make a decision on your own when it comes to your health," said Capt. Trinity Storey, chief, Nutrition Care Division, Irwin Army Community Hospital. "When you take a dietary supplement, you have no idea what's in it because they are not regulated like prescription medication."

According to the Food and Drug Administration website, dietary supplements are not approved by the government for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed. If the dietary supplement contains a new ingredient, that ingredient will be reviewed by the FDA and not approved prior to marketing, but only for safety, not effectiveness.

The Human Performance Resource Center website at www.hprc-online.org is a Department of Defense initiative under the Force Health Protection and Readiness Program.

The common access card-enabled site provides the latest information on dietary supplements to include alerts and resources.

For those using or considering using a dietary supplement, the following red flag questions can minimize the risk of consuming harmful products.

Is it a high-risk dietary supplement?

High-risk product categories include:

• Bodybuilding products

• Weight-loss products

• Diabetes products

• Various sexual enhancement products

Does the supplement's product label have statements like the claims below? These claims often indicate the supplement may contain substances not on the ingredients list, prescription drug analogs or banned substances.

• An alternative to or claiming to have similar effects to an FDA-approved drug – "All natural alternative to XYZ."

• "Do not take if you have any medical condition, if you are taking any prescription medications or if you are pregnant."

• "May cause a positive result in a performance-enhancing drug test."

If the supplement makes a claim about a dietary ingredient affecting normal body structure or function, "helps promote bone health," is its product label missing the following statement?

• "These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease."

Does the label:

• Claim to cure a wide range of unrelated diseases, e.g., cancer, AIDS, in addition to diabetes?

• Promise quick fixes, like cures XYZ in seven days, lose weight in nine days, shrink tumors in one week, cure impotency in two weeks, etc.?

Does the label have:

• Text in a foreign language?

• Directions or warnings that resemble FDA-approved drug products?

• Claims it is as effective as an FDA-approved drug?

• Inadequate or absent safety warnings?

• A black-box warning?

Is the label missing a third-party certification label? Third-party verification programs evaluate and certify dietary supplements for purity and/or quality. Examples are:

• U.S. Pharmacopeia, or USP

• Informed-Choice, HFL Sport Science

• NSF International

• ConsumerLab.com

• Banned Substances Control Group, or BSCG

Is the product marketed with personal testimonials about amazing results from using the product?

Were solicitations or emails received, offering products in the high-risk product categories?

Is the product rated seven or lower by the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, or NMCD?

The NMCD rates commercial products based on safety, effectiveness and quality. Each product gets a rating of one to 10, with 10 being the best and one being the worst.

For more information, contact the Nutrition Care Division, IACH, at 785-239-7644.

If answering "yes" to several of these questions, a person may be consuming an unhealthy or harmful product. Be an informed consumer and choose wisely. However, remember a supplement cannot replace regular exercise, medical drugs or a healthy diet.

Tag health