Take a walk down the aisle of your local pharmacy, health food or favorite retail store and you'll notice the shelves are filled with different types of dietary supplements. With so many choices, it can be confusing to figure out the best supplement to purchase.
While the array of choices may seem overwhelming at first, there are some key things to look for on product labels:
Outrageous Claims. Some supplements promise to help make us thinner, smarter, stronger or faster without making any other changes in lifestyle. Just as with other products, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Catch Phrases. In an effort to appeal to today's health-conscious consumers, many supplements claim to be "all natural." Unlike "organic," the phrase "all natural" is not an official term that is regulated by the federal government and does not offer any guarantee as to a product's safety. Other phrases to watch for include "clinically tested/proven" and "pharmaceutical strength." There is no such thing as pharmaceutical strength for over-the-counter supplements.
Certification Marks. While there are several organizations that offer testing of supplements, the testing methods and standards used vary. Several years ago, NSF/ANSI 173 – Dietary Supplements was developed to provide a uniform standard for testing dietary supplements.
This standard helps confirm that what's on the label is actually present in the product. In addition, products are tested to confirm there are no unlisted ingredients present and that there are no unsafe levels of contaminants in the product such as heavy metals, pesticides and herbicides.
The NSF Certified for Sport® program takes certification to NSF/ANSI 173 one step further by including testing for banned substances in individual products, which is particularly important for college and professional athletes.
Look for the appropriate NSF certification mark on the label of the product to help confirm that the product is truly certified under current American national standards.
Other Types of Certification. Not all certifications promoted by manufacturers apply to the products themselves. GMP Certification is a type of facility certification that confirms a manufacturer's production operation is observing good manufacturing practices established for their industry. Unlike other certifications, no testing is conducted on the products being produced at the facility to confirm content or labeling accuracy.
While dietary supplements can play an important role in overall health, they are not a quick fix or a replacement for a healthy lifestyle, so be sure to do your research and talk with a trusted health care provider before heading to the store. There's no substitute for becoming an educated consumer before purchasing your next supplement.
For additional information about supplements, visit the NSF Dietary Supplement Web page or contact the NSF Consumer Affairs Office at firstname.lastname@example.org. A list of NSF Certified dietary supplements is available online as well.