How Do I Read The Supplement Bottle?

From drug stores to next-day delivery, access to supplements continues to rise. However, with so many supplements on the market, understanding labels can be inaccessible and challenging. Before taking any sort of daily dose, understand the rules and regulations required of the supplement industry. In cases of supplements, natural doesn’t always mean safer. An informed decision on vitamins helps reap health benefits and minimize potential risks and interactions. While supplements provide specific health benefits, the efficacy depends on the type and quality of the vitamin.

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Decoding the labels

Before even picking up a supplement bottle, get to know the process behind the label. To ensure safety throughout the supplement market, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates both finished dietary supplement products and dietary ingredients. After 1994’s Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), the FDA required specific labels for supplements. Today, labels are required to have nutrition information on the bottle, including the serving size, the number of servings per container, and a listing of all dietary ingredients in the product. As another line of defense, the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) works independently to set stringent standards for the identity, strength, quality, and purity of medicines and dietary supplements. In short, the USP-verified mark on a dietary supplement label officially confirms the contents of the bottle.

No, natural does not mean better

With today’s modern medicine, plant-derived medicines work more efficiently than ever. Naturally occurring compounds provide the basis for household painkillers, including aspirin. However, the supplement market lacks the same transparency. As a result, a foundation of supplement language and regulatory laws helps patients cut through the noise. As of 2022, the US government does not regulate the word natural in the dietary supplement space. Consequently, seeing natural on a label can be good or bad, depending on the application. For example, while classified as a naturally occurring bacteria, botulism spores spread one of the most lethal known toxins. In short, natural doesn’t ensure health benefits, when seen on vitamin bottles. Looking into known supplement interactions, consulting with a doctor, and other forms of vetting ensure patient health and safety.

What about multivitamins?

As a rule of thumb, a healthy diet should provide all necessary nutrients. Various fruits, vegetables, cereals, dairy, and protein offer more health benefits than ingesting nutritional supplements. In specific cases, oral medication helps balance nutrients throughout the body. Older adults may benefit from a combination of low-dose calcium and vitamin D for bone density. Vegetarian patients may benefit from B12 supplements, to make up nutrients commonly found in animal products.

Supplementing your diet

While natural compounds can be positive, many common toxins occur naturally as well. To reap the benefits of supplements, patients must first understand the administrative process behind labels. Just because a product boasts natural components does not equal safe consumption for the average patient. Properly vetting a vitamin before starting a daily dose can minimize the risk of side effects and potential interactions. However, in the majority of cases, supplements should act as a secondary line of defense. A balanced diet provides a comprehensive set of nutrients, eliminating the need for supplements for many patients. Supplements can provide key health benefits, depending on the type of vitamin, but reaping the benefits hinges on the proper understanding of the labels.


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