Supplement Safety: What does it mean to you?

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SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. — Most people would rather place their trust in multivitamins and other supplements over prescription medications, thinking them to be safer and more natural due to their over-the-counter availability.

The truth of the matter is that supplements are not regulated the way that prescription medications are – and that can be dangerous.

“We use them because it is easier to take a pill and feel you are more healthy than actually working for it,” said Capt. David Shook, 20th Aerospace Medical Squadron flight surgeon. “For example, a commercial stating you can lose 10 pounds in one month with this supplement for only $1 a day sounds easier and can be more swaying than buying a gym membership and actually going to the gym every day.”

This mindset, as well as ease of access, has the supplement industry growing exponentially. But how can a potential buyer be sure they’re getting what they pay for, and safely?

“There’s no surefire way to ensure the safety of your supplements,” said Janine Reinholtz, 20th AMDS registered dietitian. “However, by looking for third party verifiers, there is a higher chance you’re going to get a better product.”

In order to be verified, these supplements have to go through strict tests of purity and concentration in order to prove that the company is being truthful about the product. Before considering buying a supplement, it’s wise to look for approval from organizations such as the National Science Foundation and United States Pharmacopeial Convention.

Even if members have researched the supplement and are using the product or have plans to use it, they should inform their medical providers, Reinholtz stressed.

“It’s best to tell your PCM so that in the case that you become very sick, they can determine if the supplement is the cause,” said Reinholtz. “Your medical provider has the ability to document adverse reactions in order to bring it to the attention of the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration). If these negative responses go undocumented, then there is a high probability that other people can get sick as well.”

The FDA only reviews products when reports of adverse reactions are made, so reporting bad reactions to supplements can save someone else down the road – but don’t wait until it gets to that point.

Do the research. Talk to a medical provider. Become informed, and stay safe.