Filed under: Health information resources
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released MyPlate as the new Dietary Guidance graphic. MyPlate replaces the Food Guide Pyramid and is split into five sections for fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy and protein. The new recommendations focus on the importance of eating fruits and vegetables (half a “plate”). Go to www.ChooseMyPlate.gov for the new graphic and recommendations. For the USDA press release issued about MyPlate,
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.
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.”
Childhood obesity has become a significant health problem, putting children and adolescents at risk for developing asthma, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes, as well as other serious health risks. The American Academy of Pediatrics website has a parenting corner, helpful links, and resources on this topic. See their “Overweight and Obesity” section.
Heart disease is the number-one killer for both men and women. A well-balanced diet, along with regular exercise, can reduce the risk of heart disease. New heart disease guidelines were recently issued, with particular focus on illnesses that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease in women. For more information, read the news release and information about the new guidelines, which include information about the American Heart Association’s “Go Red for Women” campaign.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrition researchers publish a quarterly online newsletter with reports of discoveries from their laboratories. They also provide information on agricultural issues and health findings important to all of us. Click here to read about these recent nutrition and health findings.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently filed a complaint against POM Wonderful products due to deceptive advertising. POM Wonderful has claimed that its products will reduce (or treat) heart disease, prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction. The FTC says that these claims are not supported by scientific research.
So, what’s a health claim and what’s considered acceptable advertising as such?
A health claim statement has to have a food substance, food, or dietary ingredient, and a health condition or disease. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved certain health claims that, based on scientific evidence, show a link between a food or supplement and a health condition or disease. Health claims cannot state that a food product or supplement can treat or cure a disease. It may claim to minimize a disease risk; for example, a product advertised as low sodium can state the approved claim that “diets low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure, a disease associated with many factors.”
Health claims shouldn’t be confused with structure/function claims. These claims do not have to be approved and reviewed by the FDA, yet they must be truthful in stating that a substance maintains structures and/or functions of the body. We see these claims on many fiber-rich products, like “fiber maintains bowel regularity,” or a dairy product stating that “calcium builds strong bones.” Unlike health claims, structure/function claims cannot be linked to a health-related condition or disease. Also, an important point to keep in mind: if a dietary supplement label makes a structure/function claim, it must also state this disclaimer: “This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”
There are also nutrient content claims. These describe the amount of a nutrient in a product. Descriptions such as free, low, high, and rich in are used, or other terms that describe the nutrient content to that of the content in another product, such as reduced, lite, less, or more.
Manufacturing companies want consumers to buy their products. We, as consumers, must be savvy as we try to choose products that are healthy for our families and us. False health claims are used on food products as well as dietary supplements. They claim to help us lose weight, cure diseases, and prevent memory loss. The FDA has not approved claims that focus on the treatment of diseases. They have, however, set forth regulations to authorize health claims after the scientific evidence has been presented and reviewed.
Wandering down the aisle of a store looking for a dietary supplement can be overwhelming and intimidating. There are so many to choose from, and we often have to make our choices based on advertising claims and rely on the manufacturers for ingredient information. Does the supplement actually have the ingredients claimed on the label? Will it have the reported effect on our health?
The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database is the “scientific gold standard” for evidence-based information on dietary supplements and natural medicines, including drug interactions, effectiveness, safety and use, and more. HPRC has partnered with Natural Medicines Database to allow healthcare providers, Warfighters, and military families to search this comprehensive database in order to make informed decisions about dietary supplement use. The Natural Medicines Database also has “Natural MedWATCH,” which allows users to report an adverse event associated with the use of dietary supplements or natural medicines so that they can then forward the report on to the appropriate regulatory agency.
By going to the HPRC homepage, users can access any of the three database choices provided: Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database for Health Professionals, Consumers, or Natural MedWATCH. After choosing one of the sites, first-time users should sign up for an account, which is done with an active DoD email address. Once inside this vast database, a user can search for an individual natural medicine ingredient of interest or a brand name product.
The professional version of the database includes:
- Evidence-based monographs available for individual natural ingredients.
- Scientific names of ingredients
- Information on safety, effectiveness, mechanism of action, adverse reactions, interactions, and dosage/administration (which are not necessarily recommended or safe doses) of ingredients
- Patient handouts
- Brand-name product searches by ingredient
- “Natural Product Effectiveness Checker” for medical conditions
- “Natural Product Drug Interaction Checker” for a list of drugs/natural products interactions
- Comprehensive information on brand-name products, including ingredient lists and summary reports on effectiveness, interactions, and adverse effects.
- Up-to-date information for over 60,000 brand name products
The consumer version, for military families and Warfighters, contains the same research-based information on herbal remedies, dietary supplements and other natural products, but in an easier-to-understand version. An important point consumers should be aware of is that it may be necessary to research each individual ingredient in a product before making a decision to use it for health benefits.
So, if you want to find credible, evidence-based information on dietary supplements and/or natural products, search the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Evaluating natural health products can be daunting and there is no other comprehensive, reliable site like it to guide you in making your decision.