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Supplements not always what they claim to be

SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. -- Dietary supplements are a topic of great public interest. Whether you are in a store, using the Internet, or talking to people you know, you may hear about supplements and claims of benefits for health. Supplements are easily purchased over the counter and many supplements promise an extra edge. However, along with the promises come potential long and short-term side effects.

Dietary supplements are generally taken orally and contain a dietary ingredient intended to supplement the diet.

Some examples include vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals, amino acids, enzymes and hormones. Supplements come in different forms, such as tablets, capsules, softgels, gelcaps, liquids, and powders.

The National Health Interview Survey estimates that Americans continue to take dietary supplements at an increasing rate, with 33.9 percent of adults using a vitamin and mineral supplement within the past year, up from 23.2 percent in 1987 and 23.7 percent in 1992.

In addition, Americans report consuming supplements not only as insurance for an inadequate diet, but also to prevent or treat disease, increase energy levels, or reduce the risk for infectious illnesses. Yet, how can consumers be sure that what is in the bottle is safe?

The Food and Drug Administration does regulate supplements, but they are regulated as foods rather than drugs. In general, the laws about putting foods, including supplements, on the market and keeping them on the market are less strict than the laws for drugs.

The United States Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine suggests that the best way to be safe with supplements is to consider the following guidelines:

- Never diagnose yourself or use a supplement instead of a proven medical treatment.

- Do not start using a supplement until you have discussed your desire to use a supplement with your medical provider.

- If you decide, in consultation with your healthcare provider, to use a supplement, be sure to read product labels, and closely follow directions for use. Start with a single product, and take the lowest dose. Increase the dosage gradually to no more than the recommended amount.

- If you feel worse after taking it or if you develop new symptoms, discontinue use.
wIf you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking prescription over-the-counter medications, check with your health care provider first. Some supplements can interact negatively with certain drugs or foods.

- Purchase supplements from the most reliable producers. Established manufacturers and major companies are more likely to produce a quality product. Terms such as natural do not assure safety.

- Be wary of sensational claims. Remember the adage, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

- Check the FDA Web site for consumer warnings and general information.

Remember, there is no substitute for a healthy diet and proper exercise. This is the only natural way to stay healthy. If we do this, supplements are not needed.
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