As I wonder thru the supermarket, there is a bountiful sea of color with an array of trendy packaging along Aisle 16. Melatonin, elderberry, probiotics, protein and other nutritional supplements overfill the shelves; they are full of spectacular healthy promises. But, is it OK to buy these products for our family? Are the pharmaceutical costs worth the anticipated health benefits?
Annually, these supplements can impact your bank account and cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars. More importantly, how do the physical benefits of (non-FDA approved) supplements stack up against potential risks?
Approximately 30% of children in the United Status use dietary supplements and approximately 6.7% will use herbal and nonvitamin supplements. In the United States, the most common dietary supplements (nonvitamin) include fish oil, melatonin, and probiotics.
In 1994, legislation allowed nonvitamin supplement products to enter the market without FDA approval. Since that time, (according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health), the numbers of these supplements have increased from 4000 to over 80,000 products on the market. Dietary supplements are no longer treated as drugs but as “special foods” and therefore bypass regulation which would oversee their contents.
A study published in Hepatology Communications (June 2019) used a form of chromatography and mass spectrometry to investigate contents in 272 herbal and dietary products collected from patients. Scientists found that 51% of studied herbal and dietary supplements were “mislabeled” and the “chemical contents” did not match the label ingredients. Apparently, the “appearance enhancement, sexual performance, and weight loss products” were more likely to be mislabeled and some of the discovered ingredients contained material that have been known to cause liver injury.
I will often remind patients that because a supplement comes from “natural” sources, does not mean it is healthy. For instance, tobacco come from natural sources and has been linked to many diseases including cancer.
Where does this leave us when it comes to our family’s health? I advise using caution when purchasing nonvitamin supplements and herbs. Instead, reassess your family’s dietary habits. A colorful diet with green vegetables, red fruit, fresh meats, etc., is far healthier than choosing a capsule or powdery substance to make up for poor food choices. In addition, it is vitally important to teach our kids about healthy eating so that they will be more likely to adopt their own healthy selections when they become adults.
Dr Meir Stamfer, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health recommends that healthy adults take a multivitamin and extra Vitamin D. Most importantly, be sure to share a list all supplements and vitamins with your medical provider as some ingredients may have drug interactions with your child’s existing prescription or over the counter medicine.