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The Scoop - September 2013

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

September 2013

In the News
Senior couple discussing their dietary supplementsexternal link icon

Why U.S. Adults Use Dietary Supplements

About half of U.S. adults use dietary supplements. Multivitamin/mineral supplements are the most commonly used, followed by calcium and omega-3 fatty acids or fish oil. Most adults say they use dietary supplements to improve or maintain their health, according to a recent studyexternal link icon co-authored by several Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) scientists. But it turns out that those who use supplements tend to have healthier habits to begin with, like eating healthfully, exercising, and not smoking. Only about a quarter of the dietary supplements adults take are recommended by their health care provider; the rest are used by personal choice. ODS suggests you discuss the use of dietary supplements with your health care provider.

Patient talking with doctorexternal link icon

Few Patients Talk to Their Physicians About Dietary Supplements

In three of four outpatient office visits—about 75 percent of the time—health care providers and their patients do not discuss dietary supplements. These are the findings of a recent studyexternal link icon that analyzed audio transcripts of over 1,400 primary care visits throughout the United States. The researchers concluded that patients might make better decisions about taking supplements—particularly about the risks, effectiveness, and costs of dietary supplements—if they discussed the matter with their health care providers.

MyDS

MyDS Mobile App

The ODS MyDS app is an easy way to keep track of the dietary supplements you take and to have this information at your fingertips during a visit with your healthcare provider.

What does the Supplement Facts panel on a dietary supplement tell me?

Simple sample Supplement labelexternal link icon

All products labeled as dietary supplements carry a Supplement Facts panel that is similar to the Nutrition Facts panel found on food products. It lists the active ingredients and their amounts, plus other added ingredients like fillers, binders, and flavorings. It also gives a suggested serving size, but you and your health care provider might decide that a different amount is more appropriate for you.

In the Supplement Facts panel, the amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients like dietary fiber are listed as a percentage of the Daily Value or %DV. Each nutrient has one DV that applies to all people age 4 and older. For example, the DV for vitamin C is 60 milligrams (mg) and the DV for the B-vitamin biotin is 300 micrograms (mcg).

The %DV allows you to see how much a product contributes to your approximate daily needs for that nutrient. For example, if a supplement provides 50% of the DV for calcium, it contributes about half of your daily needs for calcium.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has Web pages that describe the DV in more detailexternal link icon and provide DV values for all nutrientsexternal link icon.

What about quality?

Companies sometimes put terms like “standardized,” “verified,” or “certified” on labels to suggest their products have consistent quality. But because these terms are not defined in U.S. law, these terms on a label do not guarantee product quality or consistency.

The FDA has rules companies must follow that address the identity, purity, strength, and composition of dietary supplements; however, the FDA does not approve or certify dietary supplements. Because of this, the quality of various dietary supplements may vary, and people often wonder how to compare the quality of one product with another.

To find a good quality dietary supplement, there are some things you can do. First, you may wish to ask your health care provider to make a recommendation. You can also look for dietary supplements that carry certain “seals of approval” from third-party, independent organizations. These organizations provide verification services for dietary supplements and give you some assurance that the product was properly manufactured, that it contains the ingredients and amounts listed on the label, and that it does not contain harmful levels of contaminants. Organizations offering these programs include:

Various supplement bottle labels

How can I compare the ingredients and doses in one product with those in another?

The newly released Dietary Supplement Label Database (DSLD), free of charge and hosted by the National Institutes of Health, contains label information from thousands of dietary supplement products available in the U.S. marketplace. You can use it to search for things such as a specific ingredient in a product, a particular supplement manufacturer, text on a label, or a specific health-related claim.

The DSLD can also help you find contact information for a dietary supplement manufacturer or distributor.

Hundreds of new dietary supplements products are added to the marketplace each year, while some are removed. Product formulations are frequently adjusted, as is information on labels. The DSLD will eventually include most of the dietary supplement products in the U.S. marketplace.

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 Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health 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 personal 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.

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About ODS

The Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS)external link icon is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s medical research agency----supporting scientific studies that turn discovery into health.

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