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Dietary Supplements: Not All They're Cracked Up To Be

Advances in our understanding of nutrition and its daily value have led to numerous products and supplements aimed at improving our lives today and in the future. While these products are supposed to make us healthier and extend our lives in the process, new information from the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS) shows how some supplements may be more detrimental than beneficial.

The information was presented at the AAPS Dietary Supplements Forum at the end of June. At the forum, consumers were recommended to conduct thorough research before purchasing any supplement in which they were interested. This recommendation came from meeting chairman Dr. Larry Augsburger, an immediate past president of AAPS and a professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. Augsburger said consumers should research each supplement because reading labels and comparing prices does not give the customer concise information about the efficacy of supplements or possible side effects.

"Until government or industry standards are put into place, consumers must take it upon themselves to learn the nuances of dietary supplements and to protect themselves from potential dangers, not to mention from wasting their money no less-than-efficacious products," Augsburger said.

He said customers should be able to answer these questions about supplements:

  • Could the product interact negatively with your prescription medications? For example, one particular energy bar for women does not warn about excessive Vitamin-K that may interfere with certain blood-clotting medications.

  • Is the product absorbable in its purchased form? Substances added to herbs or botanicals to create a capsule or pill can affect their ability to be adsorbed. In one study, two of nine commercial Melatonin products did not disintegrate after more than 20 hours.

  • Are there additional warnings or cautions about the category of dietary supplements that the manufacturer chose to omit? A popular over-the-counter memory concentrate with ginkgo biloba has potential drug interactions with medicines that prevent blood-clotting, yet the label contains no warning.

Augsburger also recommended that consumers only use products cited positively in clinical trials, and that they not choose products based on price, since there is no relation to price and quality.

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