Science behind Supplements More Needed

To show a supplement's effectiveness and its active ingredients, more good research is needed! Good research provides data from randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind studies—not just one study, but several that duplicate the results. In reality, current laws do not require manufacturers to conduct research. See chapter 24 for defined research terms.

To further complicate what's known and unknown, many supplements—for example, botanicals—have two or more active ingredients. Yet, all the bioactive substances haven't been identified, nor do we know what they do. Potencies differ when the same herbal supplement derives from different parts of a plant or different varieties. Growing conditions may affect the potency of bioactive substances. Even if sound research exists for the safety and effectiveness of one active ingredient, it may not exist for all ingredients, and usually not for the combination. Typically the potency of active ingredients in combination prod-

For up-to-date, reliable information about safe, effective supplement use, check these Web sites:

  • Office of Dietary Supplement—ods.od.nih .gov
  • U.S. Pharmacopoeia—www.usp.org
  • National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine—nccam.nih.gov ucts is less than the amount used in single ingredient studies. More unknowns: There's not enough scientific evidence to know how much of a supplement or its bioactive substitutes offer benefits, how much may be harmful, the health effects of dosages beyond the label dosage, or any interaction with food or medication.

In the future, sound research data may become available for more supplements from the National Institutes of Health, including the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) and the National Center for Complementary Medicine and Alternative Medicine. Until then, the best advice: a healthy skepticism.

See chapter 24 for more about judging nutrition information, scientific reports, and nutrition quackery.

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