The supplement aisle of any supermarket or natural grocery store can be overwhelming. There are hundreds of products on the shelf, all claiming different benefits. Some are labeled with a letter of the alphabet, others are named after a tree root, and some seem like they belong on the spice aisle.
With an industry so big and so confusing, it’s alarming that there are still no strict regulations for these over the counter products. This has been an on going health frustration, leading doctors and legislators to speak out.
In 1994, President Clinton signed the Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act (DSHEA). This placed dietary supplements as a subcategory of food. Therefore supplements can go to market without submitting proof of safety or efficacy to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 17 years later, this law remains despite the stories of harm and the urging of physicians for change.
Under the freedom of the DSHEA, the U.S. now has over 150 million residents using supplements to round off their diets, prevent sicknesses, and treat diagnosed conditions.
The alarming factor to physicians is that many of these people are forgoing conventional treatment and taking untested supplements recommended by an untrained store clerk.
These topics were all addressed in a recent article from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The article included many stories of patients being told by a store employee, with no medical certification, that they could cure their issues with a supplement. Or other stories involved patients being advised to stop taking their prescribed medication and instead begin a supplement regimen.
The article indicated that many physicians were very frustrated with the lack of regulation on supplements. Dr. Josh Umbehr of Atlas MD shares the same irritations.
“Generally, vitamins do have a role in supporting overall health, but unfortunately due to the lack of regulation, many products are able to make fantastic claims of health benefits with no substantial evidence.”
As health conscience consumers, what can be done? Are vitamins a waste of time and money? Are there any beneficial supplements on the market?
Dr. Umbehr referred to the Mayo Clinic’s stance on vitamins. Essentially, the Mayo clinic recommends that all vitamins and nutrients should be obtained from fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. But both Dr. Umbehr and the Mayo Clinic recommend a multivitamin to aid in the gaps our diets may create.
“I’m very positive about a daily vitamin as a general supplement for the days when we don’t get many nutrients,” says Dr. Umbehr, who also stated that the inexpensive store brand vitamin is completely acceptable.
So, if the mulitvitamin is worth our trouble, what about the dozens of other options on the shelf? Are there any other types of supplements we should trust? Dr. Umbehr said, “Yes, many specific vitamins are beneficial as part of a targeted approach to replace deficiencies in our diets.”
Calcium, iron, and vitamin D made his list of common and appropriate supplements one may need if their diet is naturally low in these nutrients.
Dr. Umbehr discussed how doctors are typically thought to oppose natural medicine and supplement care because it takes their business away. He was quick to mention the untruth in those thoughts. He explained that doctors just want results- tested and studied results.
He brought up two natural treatments that have been tested and proven to be beneficial. Red yeast extract is a natural treatment for high cholesterol that has been well studied. He also promoted high praise of the folate/B12 supplement. As part of the prenatal vitamin, it has nearly eliminated spinal cord problems for newborns.
The supplement and vitamin subject is broad. There are so many products on the market. Unless a new law comes into place, consumers are going to have to do more work. If a product claims to have benefits, research it, see if there is any truth to the claims. It seems as though many of those bottles are just a waste of money and a potential source of harm.