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Supplement your knowledge about vitamins

by Stephanie Ditmer
Dietetic Intern
Creatine, chondroitin, calcium, Omega-3, magnesium, zinc; vitamins A, B-complex, C, D, E, K…. The list of available dietary supplements is endless. And while the average consumer may be quick to buy vitamins, herbs and other such products, few have important information about supplements; what they could do and cannot do for the person taking them. What are the regulations behind these various pills, and how do dietetic professionals feel about their popular use?
Dietary supplements are defined by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 as products (other than tobacco) intended to supplement the diet. Many of these are products are labeled with disclaimers, such as, “This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA),” or “This product is not intended to treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”
The way dietary supplements are regulated is very different from the way that food from a grocery store is regulated. In fact, the government’s regulations on the manufacturing and marketing of dietary supplements are less strict than they are for foods and prescription supplements, such as ferrous sulfate (iron) and potassium. For over-the-counter dietary supplements, the FDA requires neither registration nor approval before production unless the supplement contains a “new dietary ingredient,” or one marketed after 1994. It is solely the manufacturer’s responsibility to provide truthful product information on their labels that is not misleading. The FDA’s role is to take action against any unsafe supplement on the market. Unfortunately, as in the cases involving ephedra and tryptophan, the agency’s intervention usually is triggered by fatal events related to some products’ consumption.
If lax regulations and policies on supplement safety and legitimacy don’t discourage continued use, consider a little more research about some of the most common supplements. In terms of water-soluble vitamins (B-vitamins and vitamin C), the body uses what nutrients it needs and excretes any unnecessary extras in the urine. Therefore, when taking vitamin C supplements to boost immunity to colds  for example, the extra supplementation consumed normally translates into money down the toilet, literally.
Trying to bulk up those muscles via creatine? Studies have found that creatine monohydrate supplementation (CMS) in a typical “load” phase dose did not significantly improve strength volume nor increase pre-post “maximal bench press output” when compared to a placebo group. In fact, extra protein is either incorporated into new proteins or converted into energy or fat, which is the opposite of the goal for desirable muscles.
Chondroitin, a dietary supplement to treat osteoarthritis, has had mixed reviews. However, in 2000 a University of Maryland research team found that 26 of the 32 chondroitin products they tested contained less than 90 percent of the chondroitin sulfate stated on the label with only five of the 32 containing the actual stated amount. This also could be a waste of money.
The American Dietetic Association’s view on supplements is clear. They have stated that “dietary supplementation should be complementary to diet (i.e., efforts to improve diet to meet nutrient needs should be made prior to, or in conjunction with, dietary supplementation).” It is strongly encouraged that nutrients be obtained from the diet provided by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Guide Pyramid (USDA). The American Medical Association also recommends a daily multivitamin.
Nutrient needs should be based on the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) provided by the USDA. If there is a concern about meeting the recommended intake of a nutrient, you should contact a medical professional before purchasing dietary supplements. This action could save you from wasting your time and money. More importantly, it could save you from compromising your health.
For more information about other nutritional supplements, visit

Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012
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