Are Supplements Safe: Best Safety Standards to consider?
Dietary Supplements play an integral role in healthy living today
It's no surprise that nutritional supplements are a huge part today’s society, but did you know that they have been used since the ancient world? Back then “athletes and soldiers prepared for battle by consuming specific animal parts to confer agility, speed or strength associated with that animal.”
While modern medicine has certainly improved its understanding of supplemental nutrients and their effects on the human body; there is still constant improvement in the laboratory, their manufacturing safety standards, and their presentation in the market place.
General Industry Trends
Overall, the Global Dietary Supplements market is huge and still growing, some projections show it may reach as high as $220 Billion by 2022. Of this, the Global Sports & Fitness nutrition market leads the charge and are projected to hit $8.8 Billion by 2020.
Just the Asia-pacific area alone is growing at an estimated 12.5% CAGR (compound annual growth rate); while America makes up nearly 28% of the global total. And as our population ages, this trend will continue to rise.
New areas, such as surgery and injury recovery nutrition are becoming increasingly important in medicine and healthcare, as new research shows which micronutrients aid the healing process, help control pain, and reduce complications and costs.
Supplement Industry Improvements
As the dietary supplement industry grows, so has research and technology to ensure safety, effectiveness and quality. Recently, there has been a specific focus on the removal of unwanted ingredients such as stimulants (ex: amphetamine derivatives) and manufacturing aids (ex: Magnesium Stearate). And with the rise in FDA-Registered manufacturers, consumers can more easily enjoy the benefits of their favorite products with added safety and controls behind their supplement regimen.
However, just because the industry - as a whole - is improving; doesn't mean you can skip doing homework on the supplements you are buying and what benefits they can really provide. All to often, there are consumer misconceptions or worse, companies trying to sell "snake oil" in the pursuit of profit that tarnish the industry reputation and potentially harm consumers.
Always do your research - What to look for!
As with anything, you must always research and get your information from credible (preferably doctor and/or pharmacist reviewed) sources, speak with your physician, and make sure to always read the label. It's unfortunate that we still live in an age of “snake oil salespeople” trying to take advantage of the situation - but that's the reality.
While the FDA and FTC do not monitor supplement productions and claims as heavily as pharmaceuticals (for good reason), they do review and ensure that false label claims and improper ingredients are identified and pursued to protect the general public. If you want to know if your supplement manufacturer is up to FDA Standards, give them a call or look on the product for an emblem like this:
In addition, many companies have been publicly outed by private and third-party testing or certifications groups like, Labsmart, Consumer Labs, NSF, BSCG, and even university studies.
One big story from 2013, came from the Clarkson Study (at Clarkson University) requested of NY Attorney General Schneiderman.
This study “tested hundreds of bottles of store-brand herbal supplements sold as treatments for everything from memory loss to prostate trouble, and found 4 out of 5 contained none of the herbs listed on the labels. The investigation looked into numerous supplements, including: ginseng, St. John's wort, garlic, ginkgo biloba and saw palmetto, were contaminated with substances including rice, beans, pine, citrus, asparagus, primrose, wheat, houseplant and wild carrot. In many cases, unlisted contaminants were the only plant material found in the product samples.”
Other events included athletes who came under investigation for alleged doping activities. Interestingly, many of these incidents were found to be "by mistake" and usually occurred through extra ingredients added to routine vitamin and sports supplements.
Third Party Testing companies like the Banned Substance Control Group” run comprehensive tests on these products looking at anywhere from 275 “official banned substances” to over 450. When you see labeling specifically mentioning this on your bottle, you can be sure it is safe for consumption with professional sporting activities.
What matters most, what SHOULD you be looking at?
The most common things to research when purchasing supplements; whether for surgery or injury recovery, recovery nutrition, bodily and cognitive improvement, or just a tastier gummy multi-vitamin, etc. are:
Read the label and compare ingredients across different products by using the Dietary Supplements Labels Database, which is maintained by the National Library of Medicine.
Speak with your health professional. You can ask about what potential interactions and complications might arise from using supplements with various medications or anesthesia.
Contact the manufacturer. A reputable supplement manufacturer will be able to answer your questions about their ingredients, including their origin and preparation procedures.
Check the FDA’s database of supplements illegally spiked with prescription drugs or the Banned Substance Control Group website. This database warns the public about tainted supplements, that contain illegal pharmaceuticals or deceptively labeled ingredients.
Other items to consider when purchasing dietary supplements:
Heavy Metals: Does the product test for heavy metals?
In general, the 4 most concerning elements found in poorly made and under-tested supplements are arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. While many supplements may contain trace amounts of these elements – well below anything toxic – they are still something you would be better without (obviously).
Some reports show that contaminants can leach into herbal remedies from pesticides, soil, and plants and since they are within normal expected exposure levels are less of a concern for the Government Accountability Office and FDA.
For general knowledge, please see below for the levels the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) has determined to be safe:
Arsenic – 15 micrograms (mcg) per day
Cadmium – 5 mcg per day
Lead – 10 mcg per day
Mercury – 15 mcg per day
It’s important to note that not all supplements are subject to the same type of contamination. So it really does depend on what supplement you are taking. That said, when they are present and in high enough concentrations, they can cause problems and some states like CA even go as far to test the bottles themselves as a potential source.
Allergens: What are the potential interactions and allergies that could be triggered?
Since 2004 “The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) requires that the product label for any supplement or food containing one or more of the eight major food allergens (or a protein derived from one of these major allergens) must explicitly state the presence of the allergen(s) in one of the legally-accepted formats.”
The 8 areas are: Milk, Eggs, Fish, Shellfish, Tree Nuts, Peanuts, Wheat and Soybeans. If a product is derived from or includes certain levels of them, then appropriate labeling is required. If there are none present a supplement may make claims such as “dairy free”, etc. “Two of the most common methods include protein specific options like ELISA (Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay)-based tests and DNA detection focused PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction)-based tests."
Always know your body and be sure to read the labels as mentioned (“Contains: xyz”). While it is rather rare for a person to become allergic to a vitamin ingredient, always start off by taking a new or unfamiliar supplement slowly and in increasing dosage levels to ensure your body is fine with it.
Banned Substances: Are the products made to prevent accidental conflicts with anti-doping standards?
Banned substances are those found on the NCAA website whose list can be augmented by third party certification programs such as BCSG. In general there are 8 categories of ingredients: Stimulants, Anabolic Agents, Alcohol and Beta Blockers, Diuretics and masking agents, street drugs, hormones related products, and Beta-2 antagonists.
Ultimately, various supplement products can run afoul of these banned substances by mistake, accidental leaching, or outright intent.
As a professional or serious athlete, be careful to check the labels and certification sites to ensure the performance related supplement product (or surgical and injury healing) are cleared. Recently, even some professional athletes have gotten into trouble for what they thought was harmless supplements that had trace amounts of banned ingredients.
Brand Transparency: Work with brands that are confident enough to be transparent with their formulas.
Lastly, it’s important to be able to trust your favorite or newly discovered brands. One of the measures we take at HealFast Products is to provide our third party tests results on demand for our potential customers to show that they are in good hands.
Not only do we provide the allergen, heavy metals, additives, and ingredients test results, but we also feel that maintain a transparent approach with our customers can help alleviate customers worries in their time of need. We transparently explain everything about our formula in our Science Section along with how and why the product works!
So if you are concerned with the quality of your supplements and want to know more, be willing to ask the manufacturer for their certificate of analysis and other certification results and cross reference them with the certification program’s website.
For any supplement, whether injury and surgery recovery, performance enhancement, or even a daily vitamin; always do your research, check the labels for certification logos and claims, cross check the product to the certification program’s website, and if desired review the product certificate of analysis.
For any potential allergies, start slow with your new product and speak with your trusted medical physician to ensure no complications with medicines or other conditions. The positive science on many supplements is mounting and we at HealFast want you to be ready to make informed decisions for your health and medical needs. Thanks for reading, and as always stay safe, be healthy, and keep informed!
We hope you enjoyed this post and feel confident in what to look for next time you are in the market for dietary supplements. If you have any questions, comments, or topics you would like covered, send us an email and our medical staff will review and provide a well researched answer!
General Disclaimer: All information here is for educational purposes only and is not meant to cure, heal, diagnose nor treat. This information must not be used as a replacement for medical advice, nor can the writer take any responsibility for anyone using the information instead of consulting a healthcare professional. All serious disease needs a physician.