I was at
a national conference in 1994 (yes, Iím that old) when a
speaker from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) told us
big changes were on the way in the field of dietary
supplements. How right she was.
Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act (DSHEA) removed
dietary supplements from the strict scrutiny of the FDA, the
agency that regulates the safety and effectiveness of
medications sold in this country. This law was a turning point
for a number of issues we have with dietary supplements today,
says Dr. Paul Coates, Director of the Office of Dietary
Supplements at the National Institutes of Health.
are exuberant users of dietary supplements in the United
States," Coates explains. Yet because manufacturers of
these products do not necessarily have to prove that their
product is safe or effective before it hits the market, sales
of dietary supplements far outdistance the research we have
about them. In fact, says Coates, we spend 100 times more
money to buy these products than we do researching them.
definition, a dietary supplement is intended to supplement the
diet. It can be anything from an herb to a nutrient to a
"zoochemical" ó an animal-based product such as
bee pollen or creatine. We need to remember that a dietary
supplement is just that: It adds to what may be missing in our
diets. It does not replace healthful foods.
dietary supplements have been well studied, according to the
Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of
Health (https://ods.od.nih.gov/). Calcium and vitamin D, for
example, can help maintain bone strength if oneís diet lacks
these nutrients or, in the case of vitamin D, if sun exposure
is limited. By the way, both animal-based (D3) and plant-based
(D2) forms of vitamin D are equally effective, according to
Dr. Johanna Dwyer, a prominent nutrition expert at Tufts
acid, a B-vitamin, protects against serious birth defects when
women of childbearing age get 400 micrograms daily from
dietary supplements and/or fortified foods. And omega-3 fatty
acids from fish oils can lower blood triglyceride levels and
may help guard against heart disease.
not always better, however. Excess vitamin A, for example, can
bring on headaches, liver damage and birth defects in pregnant
women. And "natural" products are not necessarily
more safe. Naturally poisonous mushrooms can kill you.
to have this idea that only prescription medicines have
unwanted side effects. Yet anything we put into our bodies
will affect us in some way. Dietary supplements have active
example, St Johnís wort ó a plant-based dietary supplement
ó has shown in a few small studies to ease the effects of
depression. It can also increase oneís sensitivity to
sunlight and weaken the intended action of several medications
including antidepressants, contraceptives and anticoagulants,
say researchers. Certain herbs such as comfrey and kava can
cause liver damage.
more facts about dietary supplements at www.ods.od.nih.gov.