Which products are the perpetrators on the crowded shelf? The most questionable claims and safety involve weight loss products, products to improve sexual performance, and body building products. Many of these so called natural supplements have been found to contain prescription drugs or steroids. Liver and kidney function, blood pressure can be adversely affected as well as the possibility of heart attack or stroke have been linked to the use of these supplements.
Other dietary supplements have been found to contain contaminants such as pesticides, or heavy metals. FDA rules do not extend to the companies that provide the herbs or other materials that are manufactured in the US. The fine print on bottles of supplements can sometimes come with a disclaimer that the FDA has not verified the manufacturer’s claim.
Protein drinks are a billion dollar product. Claims they advance are weight loss, energy boost, building muscle, and delay of aging.
Protein drinks have been proven to contain the following heavy metals: arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. It can take years or decades for the body to eliminate these toxins which is a concern for teens, who are a significant part of the protein drink market.. The danger of these contaminants increases with the amount consumed and directions on the packages do not discourage maximum consumption. Studies have shown that most Americans consume enough protein without adding to their diet. Excess protein consumption can tax kidney function and the body can turn it to fat or cause calcium to be excreted from bones. These are concerns for teenagers and expectant mothers. The drinks are expensive. For instance, a half a chicken breast or 3 glasses of milk have approximately the same amount of protein as one scoop of a particular drink yet the meat costs 62 cents the milk 60 cents and the drink $1.61.
What is a consumer to do? First, read all the fine print before you decide which supplement to buy. See if the claims they make are validated by scientific studies on a meaningful number of participants over a period of time. Keep in mind that most testing on supplements doesn’t last longer than six months. Mayo Clinic advises against taking a supplement for longer. When reading the fine print look for disclaimers, vague or questionable language such as cures, quickly, for example. Does the supplement list possible side effects? Make sure to note any asterisks. Also consider the maximum recommended dosage, will it empty your wallet? In the example of the protein powder cited above, one scoop cost $1.61. The maximum dosage was 3 scoops a day.
If the supplement has the USP Verified mark US Pharmacopeia has established its quality purity, and potency of its raw material and finished product. A list of these verified products can be found at their website www.uspverified.org. Other useful websites are listed below.
Natural doesn’t automatically equal safe, and supplement means to add to a healthy life.
Ask yourself could lifestyle changes have more of an impact on my health than trying to find the answer in a bottle or can?
Mayo Clinic Book of Alternative Medicine 2009
Consumer Reports July 2010, and September 2010.
www.consumerreportshealth.org (note parts of the site require a subscription)