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
How to read a label
The hype factor
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.
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.
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
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
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:
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
"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
Pay attention to the specific
ingredients and directions on a label rather than the hype of these
- clinically proven
- guaranteed potency
- highly concentrated
- maximum absorption
- natural (or naturally occurring)
- nutritionally comprehensive
- quality extract
- scientifically standardized
- special extract