While there are a lot of really great health supplements on the market today, consumers need to be educated about the health benefits of these products. Unfortunately, there is very little government regulation when it comes to supplements - though there are rules about labelling and marketing (i.e. you can't claim a product is a miracle cure if it's not), poor government oversight translates to poor compliance in the industry. So, before you purchase any health treatments, you should take the time for due diligence and educate yourself about health supplements. What are your responsibilities as a consumer concerned about your health? Let's take a closer look.
Health Sanctions or Warnings
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Health Canada are the government bodies responsible for ensuring all health and wellness products are safe for use in the United States and Canada respectively. Fortunately, their websites maintain listings of advisories, warnings, and recalls on all food and health products that may pose a danger to consumers.
Still, the health supplement industry is massive - as a more than $30 billion industry in the USA alone, it should come as no surprise that new products are entering the market on an almost daily basis. As such, it's worthwhile to do some online research about any product before you buy. You may find concerns expressed by other consumers, or you may find rave reviews.
You can also dig deeper into the ingredients in your health supplement. If there are ingredients that you've never heard of, do a quick online search to make sure there are no major warnings.
Ideally, you want to only buy health supplements that have been tested by independent labs. Independent labs have no affiliation with the product manufacturers or distributors, so there should be no incentive for them to skew their results. As a result of inadequate legislation in North America, many health product companies have dubious quality control procedures. In fact, recent tests conducted by the New York Attorney General's office found many supplements labelled as containing herbal medicines mostly contained fillers that had no health benefits. What's more disconcerting about these findings is that major retailers in the United States (including Walmart, Target, and GNC) were selling these products.
Independent laboratory reviews by non-profit organizations can help you ensure your supplements are safe. The United States Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) and NSF International operate programs where health supplement manufacturers can voluntarily submit their products for review. If the products pass testing, these supplements will carry these organizations (USP or NSF) seals.
Don't Believe Everything you See or Hear
Sometimes good common sense is all you need to have to know a product is not legitimate. If a company is marketing a pill as a "weight-loss miracle" and promising unprecedented results, you need to save your money. While the law prohibits false claims in supplement health marketing, some companies are happy to make as much money as they can before they're exposed. There are no miracle cures or magic drugs - heed caution when you come across a product that promises significant or instant results.
Also, look for products that provide empirical evidence rather than personal testimonies as support for their efficacy. Many drugs, herbs, vitamins, minerals, and other health supplements have been vigorously tested to determine their effects on the human body. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the USA is an excellent resource for information about the most popular supplements and their known effects.
Consider your Need
Finally, consult your doctor before introducing any new health supplements - especially innovative or radical products. Vitamin C is perfectly healthy to take on a daily basis, and its effects have been long-studied. However, new products should be met with some level of skepticism, and talking to your doctor will help you better understand your health needs and whether supplements are even necessary.