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Label guide

 

 

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Label guide

Many medications were developed for one purpose.  As more people take the drugs and their effects are studied, new uses come to light.  Imagine a drug that can relieve headaches, reduce arthritis pain, help prevent heart disease, ease athletic injury pain, and possibly reduce the risk of colon cancer.  It's aspirin of course!  And it was modeled after a compound found in the bark of the white willow.

 

 

So many benefits, too good to be true? the difference between USA and Canada health supplement labels

How to read a label

The hype factor

 

So many benefits... too good to be true?

In the US

When you buy supplements and herbal products in the US, the labels may list a variety of functions and benefits for a single herb or ingredient.  You might wonder if this is more marketing hype than fact.  You should not rely on US label claims because the government does not scrutinize them for accuracy.  Make sure you know why you want to take a particular supplement, and that you fully understand what it does, its common uses, and possible interactions with other drugs.  When in doubt, always consult your doctor and/or pharmacist.

In Canada

The situation is different in Canada.  Manufacturers of vitamins and mineral and herbal health supplements are restricted as to what claims they make and the language they use in advertising, packaging, and labeling.  This may cause more confusion because so little information is given on a label.  All vitamins are issued a DIN (drug identification number) and herbal supplements are more regulated. 

 

How to read a label

Understanding the information provided on a label is crucial if you want to buy the product you want to provide the health benefits you want to achieve.  There are so many different brands and all vary in prices, how do you choose the best product?  Is the most expensive the best?  Is the cheapest the worst?  Is there really a difference between synthetic and natural?

Many herbs have traditionally been combined with others that have similar effects to enhance their benefits (example: valerian and chamomile, both act as sedatives).  Some of these combinations can promote good health and may also save you money.  In addition, you may find that fewer pills are needed to obtain the same desired effect.  Combination formulas may cost less and be more convenient and beneficial than individual health supplements.

What's on the label?

Name of product

Function claim:  statement clarifying the beneficial effect of the product and/or its effect on general wellness;  example:  Vitamin C is a factor in the maintenance of good health and helps the normal development and maintenance of bones, cartilage, teeth and gums.

High potency:  this term is not defined in Canadian regulations and the meaning may vary from product to product.  It is not a reliable claim and you should be wary.  However, in the US, the meaning of "high potency" is very precise.  It may be used only if a single nutrient supplement contains 100% or more of the daily value, and in a multi-ingredient product, two-thirds of the nutrients for which the daily value is known must supply 100% of the daily value.

Directions:  manufacturer's suggested dosage and when or how to take it; how many pills to take, take with meals or on an empty stomach, at bedtime, can you take all suggested pills at one time or should you spread them over the course of the day.

Ingredients:  THE most important part of the label and should list all medicinal ingredients;  binders, fillers, coatings, preservatives, coloring agents, etc., do not have to be listed on labels, although some manufacturers voluntarily list them.  The first ingredient on the list is the MAIN component of the product.  If the list is quite long, the last ingredients may or may not even appear in the product or barely contain a trace of it. Sometimes the last ingredient(s) is used for marketing purposes only.  The closer to the beginning of the list an ingredient is listed, the more of this particular ingredient there is in the product.  The closer to the end of the list, the less of it is in the product.  This is not only true for health supplements, this guide is true for ALL labels.

Some also list ingredients that are not in the product but are included on the label to inform those who may be sensitive, intolerant, or allergic to common additives - example:  sodium-free, lactose-free.

Child warning:  most manufacturers include a child warning statement;  also, products which contain high levels of iron and fluoride must carry a specific warning about the dangers or accidental overdose in children.

Storage advice: most supplements should be kept in a cool, dry place which means that they should not be stored in the bathroom or the refrigerator where moisture can damage them. The label should advise if a particular product should be refrigerated after opening.

Company or manufacturer name, address, and phone number

Expiration date

"For therapeutic use only":  when this appears on a label it means that the product contains more than what is normally required for a healthy diet.  The product is intended for people who have a known deficiency or a metabolic problem.  You should consult your doctor first to see if you really need this supplement or to know what dosage would be best for you.  Although in most cases taking too much of a particular supplement is harmless, it's not the case for all of them.  You CAN overdose and experience nasty side effects with vitamins or herbal supplements.

 

The hype factor

In an effort to distinguish one brand from another, supplement manufacturers have come up with their own jargon in promoting their products.  The following terms commonly appear on supplement labels and in advertisements.  Each term implies a superior product, but none has a standard definition agreed upon by experts or by the regulations governing the manufacture and sale of supplements. 

Pay attention to the specific ingredients and directions on a label rather than the hype of these terms:

  • clinically proven
  • essential
  • guaranteed potency
  • highly concentrated
  • maximum absorption
  • natural (or naturally occurring)
  • nutritionally comprehensive
  • pure
  • quality extract
  • scientifically standardized
  • special extract