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HPRC Fitness Arena: Dietary Supplements
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) has produced a series of fact sheets on specific herbs and botanicals. Find information on common names, uses, potential side effects, and other information by choosing any of the 45 herbs or botanical fact sheets.
We’re bombarded with ads for health products when we read magazines, turn on the TV, and go to a store. Products claim to cure an illness, improve our looks, or just help with overall health, but how do we know how to spot a health fraud? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines a health fraud as: “Articles (drugs, devices, foods, or cosmetics for human or animal use) of unproven effectiveness that are promoted to improve health, well being or appearance.” Read their fact sheet for more information.
Food Safety News is reporting that Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) has asked the FDA to clarify its regulatory position on dietary supplements and food additives on the back of widespread concerns about the marketing of melatonin-containing baked goods. A recent HPRC Performance News post notes that there have been questions raised on commercially available products such as Lazy Cakes and Lulla Pies that are marketed as "relaxation" brownies - which contain high doses of the sleep aid melatonin.
These products are being sold as dietary supplements to help people relax and fall asleep, rather than foods containing additives. Senator Durbin contends that these foods are being sold as dietary supplements but are really foods containing a dietary ingredient additive, which would require FDA approval. He has asked U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret Hamburg to see if she has the authority "to oversee the safety of foods containing dietary supplement additives."
The vast array of dietary supplement products come in the form of tablets, capsules, powders, drinks, and energy bars. You can learn about dietary supplement labels, effectiveness, quality standards, safety and risks, and other important information about these products from the National Institute of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements publication “Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers to stop using dietary supplement products that claim to be antimicrobial (antibiotic, antifungal, or antiviral) drugs. These products are falsely promoted to treat upper respiratory infections, sinusitis, pneumonia, bronchitis, and colds, and they look like antimicrobial products sold in Mexico. More information, including product names, is provided in the FDA Press Release.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a press release to consumers warning them about a counterfeit product being represented as the dietary supplement "ExtenZe.” The counterfeit product has hidden ingredients, including tadalafil or a combination of tadalafil and sildenafil, which are active ingredients of FDA-approved drugs, making these products unapproved drugs. Taking these products with prescription medications containing nitrates could lower blood pressure to dangerous levels. More information, including the lot numbers on the counterfeit packages, is provided in the FDA Press Release.
Lazy Cakes, Kush Cakes, and Lulla Pies are the names of melatonin-laced snacks that have been in the news lately as an antidote to the trend of energy/caffeinated powered beverages and products. But there is no research available on whether they are safe, or whether they actually work.
The New York Times reported on the sale of these products and others that are being sold online and in convenience stores and smoke shops. Some claim melatonin has a relaxing effect and can be used to alleviate jet lag or simply help induce sleep. But the Food and Drug Administration hasn't approved melatonin as a food additive or confirmed its safety when used as a sleep aid.
The HPRC began encountering stories of melatonin-laced brownie products back in March 2011, and we posted a Healthy Tip then that focused on the emergence of Lazy Cakes.
The sale of dietary supplements is a $27 billion-plus industry, and it continues to grow each year. Roughly half of the U.S. population now uses supplements, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. People take dietary supplements hoping they will improve their health and possibly reduce the risk of disease. But do supplements really improve a person’s health? We at HPRC pondered this question after reading a recent study published in Psychological Science.
The study looked at how people who take dietary supplements behave and whether they make healthier food choices than people who do not take supplements. One group was instructed to take a multivitamin, while the other group was instructed to take a placebo, but in actuality both groups actually received the placebo. It turned out that the group who thought they were taking a dietary supplement actually made less health-conscious choices, such as being less interested in exercise and choosing a buffet over an organic meal.
It seems as though the dietary supplements act like insurance for some individuals, as if their supplement of choice is a sort of a magic pill, as a result of which they don’t need to worry about food choices and daily exercise. But there are no magic pills, and it’s important to remember that dietary supplements aren’t meant to replace a healthy diet. According to the FDA, dietary supplements are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Eating a variety of foods daily is important for overall health.
Good sources of information on eating healthy are the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPyramid. While there is evidence that some dietary supplements can be beneficial—such as calcium and vitamin D for bone health, and folic acid for decreasing the risk of some birth defects—more research is needed on the effects of many other supplements. Due the assortment of active ingredients in dietary supplements, we need to be aware of their potential effects on our bodies.
Taking dietary supplements doesn’t automatically make a person healthy, and it doesn’t guarantee an individual will be free of health problems. The recent study mentioned above showed that taking supplements actually can lead people to make poor health decisions, so it’s a good idea to follow the simple principles of a healthy lifestyle: a varied, nutritious diet combined with daily exercise.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is seeking to bar deceptive claims made by websites posing as reputable news sites to entice consumers to buy acai berry weight-loss products. The FTC says these companies are not “news-gathering organizations” and their claims that acai berry supplements can cause rapid weight loss are unsupported. For more information, read the FTC release: “FTC Seeks to Halt 10 Operators of Fake News Sites from Making Claims About Acai Berry Weight Loss Products.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued warning letters to several companies selling unproven products claiming to treat, cure, and prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). These products—such as Medavir, Herpaflor, Viruxo, C-Cure, and Never an Outbreak—violate federal law because the FDA has not evaluated them for safety and effectiveness. Some are marketed as dietary supplements, but the FDA considers them drugs since they are offered for the treatment of disease. More information is provided in the FDA Press Release.