7 Supplement Myths Debunked
There is a lot of noise in the supplement industry, and often manufacturers claim or use language that might be confusing to consumers.
According to Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) consumer survey, more than 68% of Americans take dietary supplements. The supplement industry spends millions of dollars on marketing, and sometimes the marketing collateral can be confusing and lead to consumers believing in statements that might not be true.
Here, we want to debunk:
7 Supplement Myths that you have believed to be true but are not.
Myth 1: Supplements are regulated like drugs and are held to the same standards.
A simple way to think about this is that:
Drugs are considered Unsafe until proven safe.
Dietary Supplements are considered Safe until proven Unsafe.
(American Cancer Society)(2)
According to US Food and Drug Administration, Vitamin products are regulated as “dietary supplements,” and the FDA law defines dietary supplements, “in part, as products taken by mouth that contain a “dietary ingredient” intended to supplement the diet.”
What are dietary ingredients?
They are minerals, vitamins, amino acids, botanical products, enzymes, etc. They can also be extracts or concentrates, and 1994 Dietary supplement health and education act requires that they should be labeled as dietary supplements.
All prescription & non-prescription drugs regulated by FDA but “dietary supplements” are treated more like special foods.
And since supplements are not considered drugs they DO NOT go thru rigorous safety regulations and requirements as drugs do. However, the manufacturing of some supplements may receive Good Manufacturing Process (GMP) registration by the NSF International body which is regulated by the FDA to ensure they are produced in accordance with the same standards that prescription medications must adhere to.
Myth 2: Supplements are approved by the FDA before going on the market.
As we discussed above, dietary supplements are considered safe until proven unsafe.
In 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services put out best manufacturing practices to cover a subset of supplement makers who go through the registration process.
The DHHS guidelines require that dietary supplements follow what’s called ‘Good Manufacturing Practices” (American Cancer Society)(3)
- Supplements must be produced in a quality manner.
- They cannot contain impurities and contaminants.
- They must be labeled correctly with ingredients that are actually in the product.
Keep in mind that these are guidelines and do not stop dishonest sellers from selling their supplements in the market.
You should buy supplements from manufacturers that follow GMP registration guidelines and certifications and state that on their supplement label.
Myth 3: Supplement labels can be trusted to show actual ingredients in the amounts indicated.
According to the study by American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the quantity of Melatonin in supplements, a popular sleep aid was dramatically different from what was stated on the label.
“Results show that melatonin content did not meet within a 10-percent margin of the label claim in more than 71 percent of supplements, with the actual content ranging from 83 percent less to 478 percent more than the concentration declared on the label.
The study also found that lot-to-lot variability within a particular product varied by as much as 465 percent.” (6)
They also found that some of these supplements also contained brain chemical Serotonin. And excess consumption of serotonin & melatonin might lead to side effects that range from mild to life-threatening. (7)
Myth 4: “Supplements labeled ‘Natural’ are safe to use and come from organic or natural ingredients
When consumers see the word “natural” written on supplements, vitamins, food labels, etc. they assume that it is good for us and/or made from natural ingredients.
The FDA did not establish an official definition of “natural.” They have considered the term “natural” to mean “nothing artificial or synthetic (including color additives) has been included in, or has been added to, food that would not normally be expected to be in that food.”
According to FDA guidelines (9):
“ The FDA also did not consider whether the term “natural” should describe any nutritional or another health benefit.”
When you see the word “natural” on a supplement, do not assume that is 100% made from natural ingredients and is right for you.
Email, or call the manufacturer to find out how they define natural and what does the supplement contains. If they are hesitant about giving out that information, you should reconsider buying from that manufacturer.
Myth 5: Supplements with higher amounts of ingredients are better.
Just because a supplement contains large quantities of specific ingredients, it does not mean that it’s better.
The Daily Values (%DV) are based on the daily value recommendations for nutrients you would need based on 2000 calorie diet. It was created by FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) back in 1994.
Like most of us, you might not be keeping track of how many calories you are consuming per day. But you can still use this as a reference guide.
If the %DV is listed as 50% DV, that means that one serving will provide you with 50% of the daily value of that nutrient.
If the supplement contains more than 100% DV for a nutrient, that just means, you are taking more than suggested daily amount of that nutrient. Taking more than required, usually does not have any added value, and in some cases may be harmful.
Myth 6: Health adults can get all their nutrients from a well-balanced diet.
Herrington says, “Most adults can get all their needs thru a well balanced, healthy diet, full of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains.”
However, if your diet is lacking intake of certain vitamins and/or minerals you can compliment it by taking supplements.
But supplement intake should be tailored with respect to your diet, medical history, blood work, etc. and you should always check with a registered nutritionist, dietician and/or your doctor.
Just because you are of a certain age, does not mean that by default you need supplements.
Myth 7: All supplement marketing claims are tested and backed by science.
Just because marketing documents from the supplement company makes specific claims, it does not mean that they are all true.
FDA prohibits, supplement manufacturers from making claims that their product (supplement) can “prevent, cure, diagnose or treat” a disease.
These claims can only be made by drug manufacturers of prescription and/or nonprescription who’s products have gone through FDA approved rigorous drug testing methods. These companies have to back up their claims with clinical evidence and test results.
That is one of the reasons why supplement manufacturers/distributors use the words “supports,” “boost,” “promote” etc. energy, brain health, memory, etc. They hardly ever use words as “prevent, “cure,” or “treat” so they do not have to go thru FDA required drug testing protocols.
As you can see, there is a lot of misguided information in the supplement industry, and the way terminology is used, it could be confusing to an average consumer.
Next time when you purchase supplements, be aware of the language used by the manufacturer and don’t blindly accept all the claims made by them. Our goal is to provide you information that debunks supplement myths so you can make informed decisions.