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The Scoop - June 2011

The Scoop: A Newsletter for Consumers from the Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health Department of Health and Human Services sealexternal link icon  Office of Dietary Supplements logo

June 2011

In The News

Dietary Supplement Use Among U.S. Adults Has Increased

Photo: Hand selecting a supplement from a shelfexternal link icon

According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half (53 percent) of U.S. adults take dietary supplements.

More women (59 percent) than men (49 percent) report use of supplements. The report also found that multivitamins/multiminerals are the most commonly used (taken by 40 percent). Vitamin D intake from supplements has increased in some age groups, including women age 60 and older. Calcium supplement use also increased in women age 60 and older, from 28 percent in 1988–1994 to 61 percent during 2003–2006.

This report, coauthored by several Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) scientists, is based on the results of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which examined dietary supplement use by adults from 2003 to 2006, and compared it to use between 1988 and 1994. The full reportexternal link icon is available on the CDC Web site.

Iodine and Nuclear Radiation Accidents

Radiation warning symbol

After the recent nuclear accidents in Japan, sales and use of potassium iodide, a form of iodine, have increased. Public health experts agree that people in the United States should not take potassium iodide unless specifically notified or instructed by public health officials or their doctor. Extra iodine can help reduce the risk of thyroid cancer after nuclear radiation exposure, but very little radiation from the accidents in Japan has reached the United States.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies potassium iodide as an over-the-counter drug and has approved two different forms of potassium iodide—tablets and liquid—that people can take by mouth after a nuclear radiation emergency. Potassium iodide can cause serious health problems if taken when not necessary or in the wrong dosage. Potassium iodide sold as a drug should not be confused with potassium iodide sold as a dietary supplement, which contains much lower amounts of iodine.

For more information on potassium iodide use in nuclear accidents, check out the following fact sheets and alerts:

CDC – Potassium Iodide (KI) Key Factsexternal link icon

FDA – Frequently Asked Questions on Potassium Iodide (KI)external link icon

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – FTC Consumer Alertexternal link icon

To learn more about the role of iodine in health and iodine supplementation in general, check out the ODS Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet.

Fake News Web Sites Promote False Weight Loss Benefits of Açai Supplements

Federal Trade Commission sealexternal link icon

The FTC is cracking down on Web sites falsely advertising açai berry weight loss pills. Açai, a dark purple fruit from a palm tree found in Central and South America, is claimed to have antioxidant properties and has become popular in recent years. Scientists are just starting to study the açai berry, so they don't know yet if it has weight loss or other health benefits. The FTC has filed charges against companies and individuals whom they say are using fake news Web sites to promote deceptive advertisements urging consumers to buy açai berry products. Although often legitimate looking, the fake news sites have links to other Web sites where consumers can buy the products or sign up for “free” trials. Read more at the FTC Web site:

FTC Consumer Alert: Fake News Sites Promote Bogus Weight Loss Benefits of Açai Berry Supplementsexternal link icon

Considering Dietary Supplements? Consider This

Photo: Woman standing before a wall of dietary supplements

Thousands of dietary supplements such as vitamins, minerals, and other products are available for purchase in local supermarkets, drugstores, and health food stores. But, how do you know whether to take them? Here are several things to consider.

Photo: A variety of supplements

What are the potential health benefits of this product?

If you do not eat a nutritious variety of foods, some supplements might help you get adequate amounts of essential nutrients. However, supplements cannot take the place of the variety of foods that are important to a healthy diet. Good sources of information on eating well include the Dietary Guidelines for Americansexternal link icon and My Plateexternal link icon.

Scientific evidence shows that some dietary supplements are beneficial for overall health and for managing some health conditions. For example, calcium and vitamin D are important for keeping bones strong and reducing bone loss; folic acid decreases the risk of certain birth defects; and omega-3 fatty acids from fish oils might help some people with heart disease. Other supplements need more study to determine their value. The FDAexternal link icon does not determine whether dietary supplements are effective before they are marketed.

Photo: hand holding dietary supplements

Does this product have any safety risks?

Many supplements contain active ingredients that can have strong effects on your body. Always be alert to the possibility of unexpected side effects, especially when taking a new product. Supplements are most likely to cause side effects or harm when people take them instead of prescribed medicines or when people take many supplements together. Some supplements can increase the risk of bleeding or, if you take them before surgery, they can affect your response to anesthesia. Dietary supplements can also interact with certain prescription drugs in ways that might cause problems. Here are just a few examples:

Vitamin K can reduce the ability of the blood thinner Coumadin® to prevent blood from clotting.

St. John’s wort can speed the breakdown of many drugs (including antidepressants and birth control pills) and thereby reduce these drugs’ effectiveness.

Antioxidant supplements, such as vitamins C and E, might reduce the effectiveness of some types of cancer chemotherapy.

Photo: Woman in green examining dietary supplements at a store

How much should I take?

All products labeled as dietary supplements carry a Supplement Facts panel that lists the contents, amount of active ingredients per serving, and other added ingredients (such as fillers, binders, and flavorings). The manufacturer suggests the serving size, but you or your health care provider might decide that a different amount is more appropriate for you.

Keep in mind that some ingredients found in dietary supplements are added to a growing number of foods, including breakfast cereals and beverages. As a result, you may be getting more of these ingredients than you think, and more might not be better. Taking more than you need is always more expensive and can also raise your risk of experiencing side effects. For example, getting too much vitamin A can cause headaches and liver damage, reduce bone strength, and cause birth defects. Excess iron causes nausea and vomiting and may damage the liver and other organs.

Be cautious about taking dietary supplements if you are pregnant or nursing. Also, be careful about giving them (beyond a basic multivitamin/mineral product) to a child. Most dietary supplements have not been well tested for safety in pregnant or nursing women, or in children.

Photo: Man talking to his doctor

Talk with Your Health Care Provider

Let your health care providers (including doctors, pharmacists, and dietitians) know which dietary supplements you are taking so that you can discuss what is best for your overall health. Your health care provider can help you determine which supplements, if any, might be appropriate for you.

Keep a record of the supplements you take, just as you should be doing for all of your medicines. Note the specific product name, the dose you take, how often you take it, and the reason why you use each one. You can also bring the products you use with you when you see your health care provider. ODS has developed a free mobile app for consumers called My Dietary Supplements (MyDS)—an easy way to keep track of the vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other products you take.


Keep in Mind

Do not decide to take dietary supplements to treat a health condition that you have diagnosed yourself without consulting a health care provider.

Do not take supplements in place of, or in combination with, prescribed medications without your health care provider’s guidance.

Check with your health care provider about the supplements you take if you are scheduled to have any type of surgical procedure.

The term “natural” does not always mean safe. A supplement’s safety depends on many things, such as its chemical makeup, how it works in the body, how it is prepared, and the dose used. Certain herbs (for example, comfrey and kava) might harm the liver.

Places to Look for Reliable Information on Dietary Supplements

Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), National Institutes of Health (NIH): ODS provides accurate and up-to-date scientific information about dietary supplements.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), NIH:external link icon NCCAM Information Clearinghouse: 1–888–644–6226

National Library of Medicine, NIH:external link icon Medline Plus

NIH Health Informationexternal link icon

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA):external link icon The FDA issues rules and regulations and provides oversight of dietary supplement labeling, marketing, and safety.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC):external link icon The FTC polices health and safety claims made in advertising for dietary supplements.

The Scoop provides information from the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) on vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other dietary supplement ingredients. The Scoop is not copyrighted and is in the public domain. If you copy or distribute its content, please credit the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements and include the publication title and date. Do not use our information in any way that suggests we endorse any commercial product or service.

We welcome your comments and suggestions for future issues of The Scoop. To contact ODS, go to the Contact Us page of the ODS Web site. Please note that we cannot answer specific medical questions, make referrals, or provide guidance on the use of dietary supplements. Those questions are best answered by a physician or other qualified health care provider who can tell you if dietary supplements are right for you and what effects they could have on your health.

About ODS

The Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the principal biomedical and behavioral research agency of the United States Government. NIH is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Contact Us

Office of Dietary Supplements
National Institutes of Health
6100 Executive Blvd., Room 3B01
Bethesda, MD 20892-7517

Email: ods@nih.gov
Web site: http://ods.od.nih.gov