A Prescription for Safe Supplements

Many consumers think their nutritional supplements are just as safe as their prescription medications. After all, they’re sold in the same store, right? Wrong. Prescription drugs must be approved by the FDA before they can be prescribed and sold through the pharmacy. This approval process is rigorous and lengthy and requires the drug companies to do clinical studies to prove the safety and efficacy of their drugs.

No such approval is required for nutritional supplements. The FDA does publish Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP’s) for the manufacturers to follow, but the agency does not have the resources to audit every one of them. And, practically anyone can manufacturer and market a nutritional supplement. So, as a consumer, you’ll have to do some homework to vet a new brand of supplement.

First, pay attention to the language on the label or web site. Reputable supplement brands know they cannot claim their product cures or treats a disease. For instance, a bottle of fish oil cannot legally say, “lowers cholesterol”. But it can say, “supports healthy cholesterol”. Also, beware of bursts on the label that exclaim “Verified” or Approved”. These are meaningless. The FDA does not issue any seal of approval for supplement manufacturers. Also, a burst that says GMP with “Good Manufacturing Practices” in small print means pretty much nothing.

There are, however, third-party labs that inspect and certify supplements. Organizations like USP, NSF International, ConsumerLab.com and UL offer audit and verification services. They generally test for purity, potency and adherence to GMP’s. Supplement brands have to pay for these services. So a seal on the label from one of these third-party labs proves that the brand has a stake in its reputation and is more likely to be credible and trustworthy.

So the next time you’re evaluating a new brand of nutritional supplement, look at its label. Does it claim to cure or treat a disease? Where is the company located? Is a physical address missing from their web site? Does the label contain bursts with meaningless accolades? Is the label devoid of third-party seals? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you had better keep looking.

Bentley Brands is a brand communications firm that helps clients in the natural products industry grow their brands through unique, effective and highly personalized services.

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