Vitamin Chart

An estimated 40 percent of Americans take nutritional supplements, according to the Center of Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).  ”They’re no fools,” said the CSPI in the April 2000 issue of its newsletter, Nutrition Action.  ”For decades, [mainstream] health experts have issued platitudes like ‘You don’t need vitamins if you eat a balanced diet.’ ” But CSPI and a growing number of conventional medical practitioners recognize that many Americans “run short on some key nutrients, possibly raising their risk of heart disease or birth defects (folic acid), weaked bones (vitamin D), or irreversible nerve damage (vitamin B12).” Aging, digestive disorders, limited diets (vegetarian or weigh-loss), pregnancy and nursing, smoking, and drinking alcohol also increase the need for nutritional supplementation.

What’s a supplement?

Any product that contains amino acids, herbs, minerals, or vitamins and is ingested orally meets the definition of supplement under the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA).  Since supplements are different from drugs, they do not require review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they are sold.  However, the FDA does regulate the information a supplement manufacturer can provide consumers.  By law, supplement companies cannot state that a product will diagnose or treat a disease.  For example, it is illegal to claim that certain minerals will treat osteoporosis.  However, manufacturers can legally state that calcium lowers the risk of osteoporosis after the FDA has received scientific investigations that clearly link calcium intake with reduced incidence in humans.

A ruling by the FDA earlier this year has broadened claims for supplements that affect the “structure” or “function” of the body.  This separates natural states )such as adolescence, pregnancy, menopause, and aging) from disease states (such as toxemia during pregnancy or osteoporosis at menopause).  While this decision allows supplement manufacturers to make claims for natural products that ease natural or age-related conditions, claims for disease states remaining subject to the FDA’s review.

The Latest Labeling

Sample Suplement Label

It’s important for consumers to read supplement labels carefully.  Pay special attention to the expiration date and the recommended dosage.  Unless a nutritionally trained practitioner has prescribed therapeutic doses of vitamins and minerals, don’t exceed recommendations.  (To meet any person’s individual needs, nutritional screening may suggest larger doses than supplement labels endorse.  But don’t take them on your own.)

A product label also includes the brand name of the dietary supplement and its form and concentration as well as any structure/function claims. Under the rules of DSHEA, the manufacturer is required to include the following disclaimer: This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.  This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure.  or prevent any disease.

Supplement labels must also contain directions for use, any information that helps clarify structure/function claims (plus the FDA disclaimer), and nutritional facts.  Under the heading supplement facts, nutrients must be listed along with their daily values or a statement that a daily value has not been established. In addition, labeling must include other ingredients a complete listing of all ingredients in descending order according to volume) and the manufacturer’s or distributor’s name, address, and zip code.