The Scoop - February 2013

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

February 2013

In the News

Some Dietary Supplement Claims Fail to Meet Federal Requirements

Twenty percent of 127 weight-loss and immune-boosting dietary supplements purchased online or in retail stores had labels that made illegal claims to cure or treat disease, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Inspector General. Supplements making illegal claims could mislead people into using them as replacements for prescription medications or other medical treatments, with potentially dangerous results. The investigators also found little science to support the claimed uses for these supplements. Read more in this HHS report.external link disclaimer

multivitamins and label

Multivitamin Use and Men: Two Reports

Taking a daily multivitamin/
mineral supplement might modestly reduce middle-aged and older men’s cancer risk, but not their risk of dying of cancer, a recent study suggests. The Physicians’ Health Study II followed over 14,600 men, age 50 and older, for an average of 11 years. Those taking the supplement were 8 percent less likely to be diagnosed with cancer than those who took the placebo. The study also found that taking the daily multivitamin/mineral supplement did not prevent heart disease (including heart attack, stroke, or death), but taking it did not cause any harm. See our fact sheet on multivitamin/mineral supplements.

MyDS: ¡ahora disponible en español!

MyDS, the free ODS mobile app for consumers to track dietary supplement intake and access general information about supplements, is now available in a Spanish version. Visit our Web site for the English version.

MyODS espanol
Questions and Answers on Safety Concerns
About Natural Products
pile of nuts

Are Brazil nuts a good way to get enough selenium?

Yes, Brazil nuts are very high in selenium. But they contain so much selenium that it can be unsafe to eat too many of them.

Like other vitamins and minerals, selenium has a recommended intake and a safe upper limit. Adults should get at least 55 to 70 micrograms (mcg) of selenium, but not more than 400 mcg a day.

One Brazil nut has about 70 to 90 mcg of selenium. So eating one or two Brazil nuts a day is a great way to get enough selenium. But if you eat more than a small handful of Brazil nuts, you could easily go over the upper limit.

Getting too much selenium on a regular basis can cause several problems including an upset stomach, garlic breath odor, hair loss, white blotchy nails, and mild nerve damage. Have more questions? See our fact sheet on selenium.


I know that carrots are healthy and have lots of vitamin A. But I’ve also heard that too much vitamin A can be dangerous, so do I need to limit how many carrots I eat?

Vitamin A can be toxic at high doses, causing liver damage and birth defects if a woman is pregnant. However, this applies only to the form of vitamin A—called preformed vitamin A or retinol—that is found in foods from animals, such as beef liver, milk, milk products, and some dietary supplements.

Plant foods, such as carrots, spinach, and red peppers, contain a form of vitamin A called beta-carotene. Consuming high amounts of beta-carotene can turn the skin yellow-orange, but this condition is harmless. Beta-carotene does not cause birth defects or the other more serious effects caused by getting too much preformed vitamin A.

So enjoy plenty of carrots and other fruits and vegetables without worrying about getting too much vitamin A. Have more questions? See our fact sheet on vitamin A.


Is valerian a “natural” form of Valium®? And if so, how much should I take?

Although their names are similar, valerian and Valium® are not related to each other. Valium® is a medication available only by prescription. It is the brand name for the drug diazepam which is used to treat anxiety, panic attacks, and other conditions.

Valerian is an herb that is sold as a dietary supplement. It is found in some products promoted as mild sedatives and sleep aids, although it is not clear to what extent valerian is helpful for these conditions. Valerian, like all dietary supplements, should not be taken in place of, or in combination with, prescribed medications without your health care provider’s approval.

Like many herbs, scientists are not certain which components of valerian are responsible for its effects. Dietary supplements are not required to be standardized in the United States, so formulations of valerian products may vary. It can be difficult to compare one valerian product with another and determine appropriate doses. We recommend talking with your health care provider for advice. Have more questions? See our fact sheet on valerian.

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 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) is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s medical research agency----supporting scientific studies that turn discovery into health.

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Office of Dietary Supplements
National Institutes of Health
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Bethesda, MD 20892-7517

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