USP Urges the Public to Keep an Eye on Quality When Making New Year’s Resolutions

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Choosing a quality dietary supplement can make the difference in meeting health goals in 2015.

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If what is promised on the packaging advertises immediate and drastic results, you have the right to suspect that the dietary supplement may be adulterated with a synthetic chemical or is an example of false advertisement.

Countless people see the beginning of a new calendar year as an opportunity to resolve to improve some aspect about their lives and/or the lives of their families, especially related to their health. The list of the ten most popular New Year’s resolutions according to US government’s sources include: lose weight, get fit, save money, eat healthier, and manage stress.

In order to find success, many people will need more than willpower and resolve; they will need to make informed choices with an eye toward quality, especially if – like many Americans – they choose to use dietary supplements as a way to help reach their goals.

The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP), a scientific non-profit organization that sets quality standards for medicines, food ingredients and dietary supplements, looked at some of the top New Year resolutions and has some advice about choosing quality dietary supplements.

Lose weight. There are no miracle solutions for losing weight. When it comes to dietary supplements, Anton Bzhelyansky, M.S., a scientific liaison for dietary supplements at USP, cautions that “if what is promised on the packaging advertises immediate and drastic results, you have the right to suspect that the dietary supplement may be adulterated with a synthetic chemical or is an example of false advertisement.” In 2014 alone, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued more than thirty-five notification letters for weight loss products containing hidden drug ingredients, such as sibutramine, a controlled substance taken off the market in 2010 for safety concerns.

Get fit. Regular exercise is the best way to get fit, but many people believe they can improve their results with the help of dietary supplements. Again, Mr. Bzhelyansky cautions that body building supplements which promise rapid muscle growth and drastic increase in energy or endurance “may contain hidden steroids and other substances that alone or in combination with other drugs could be dangerous to your health.” One example is 1,3-dimethylamylamine, popularly known as DMAA. Even though the FDA has prohibited its use in dietary supplements, variations of this substance are still found in many products. Side effects from DMAA range from elevated blood pressure to shortness of breath and may even trigger heart attacks.

Save money. The Federal Trade Commission recently reported that one outcome of the recent economic downturn was an increase in spending on dietary supplement products, as many Americans seek to “save” money by managing their own healthcare and avoiding expensive doctor visits or prescription drugs. To truly save, though, it is important to know what you are buying so you can get good value for your money. Unfortunately, a recent survey by Consumer Reports, found that many Americans are confused about the quality assurances and regulation of dietary supplements. Twenty percent of respondents said they thought that the FDA tested and guaranteed the safety and effectiveness of supplements and, therefore, they felt confident taking them.

However, supplements are regulated like foods, not drugs, and this difference in regulation means that consumers need to be especially vigilant when purchasing dietary supplements. Unless it is a new dietary ingredient (introduced to market post 1994), there is no pre-market approval for dietary supplements, meaning manufacturers do not have to show evidence of safety, effectiveness or quality before selling their products in the U.S. Instead, manufacturers are expected to conduct their own tests and have evidence to support claims if challenged.

“Some of the ‘lifestyle’ supplements cost more money than you would expect”, says Mr. Bzhelyansky. Some unscrupulous people may attempt to build a brand by adulterating their products with a pharmaceutical so it will provide the desired effect, only to change the formula when it catches the attention of the FDA. “It is a cat-and-mouse game, and the consumer is the one losing money. So, if your New Year resolution is to save more money, stay away from products that overpromise. You could be wasting money and putting your health at risk with them,” adds Mr. Bzhelyansky.

Eat well. To maintain good health, it is important to eat a wide variety of foods. USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends “that nutrition needs should be met primarily through consuming foods.” But adds that “in certain cases, fortified foods and dietary supplements may be useful in providing one or more nutrients that otherwise might be consumed in less than recommended amounts.” If you and your healthcare provider decide a dietary supplement is necessary to improve and maintain your health, it is important to purchase one that has been tested for quality. USP’s Verified Mark on the label of dietary supplements is one way to ensure the product has been manufactured according to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and that it has been tested for identity and purity. USP has a list of products that have been verified through its Dietary Supplement Verification Program.

Manage stress. Volunteering is a great way to manage stress by working with your peers to contribute something positive to the wider community. As a volunteer-based organization, USP is very pleased to see “volunteer more” among the list of most popular resolutions. Volunteers are critical to our work establishing quality standards for medicines, dietary supplements and food ingredients, and we encourage members of the industry, academia and regulatory agencies to volunteer for our Expert Committees.

USP Expert Committees guide the work of USP scientists and provide a wide variety of perspectives and a wealth of information that helps ensure our quality standards are current, applicable and trust-worthy. Applications to become a USP expert volunteer are open until May 15, 2015.

For media inquiries please email mediarelations(at)usp(dot)org.

USP – Global Expertise, Trusted Standards, Improved Health

The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) is a global health organization that improves lives through public standards and related programs that help ensure the quality, safety, and benefit of medicines and foods. USP’s standards are used worldwide. For more information about USP visit http://www.usp.org.

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Claudia Costabile
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