Avoiding hype

When the label promises something that's too good to be true — "Buy me! You'll live forever" — you know it's too good to be true. The FDA doesn't permit supplement marketers to claim that their products cure or prevent disease (that would make them medicines that require premarket testing). But the agency does allow claims that affect function, such as "maintains your cholesterol" (the no-no medical claim would be "lowers your cholesterol").

Another potential hype zone is the one labeled "natural," as in "natural vitamins are better." If you took Chem 101 in college, you know that the ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in oranges has exactly the same chemical composition as the ascorbic acid some nutritional chemist cooks up in her lab. But the ascorbic acid in a "natural" vitamin pill may come without additives such as coloring agents or fillers used in "regular" vitamin pills. In other words, if you aren't sensitive to the coloring agents or fillers in plain old pills, don't spend the extra dollars for "natural." If you are sensitive, do. What could be simpler? (For more on "natural" versus "synthetic" food ingredients, see Chapter 22.)

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