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Some people choose to use vitamin pills and other supplements to help fill in the gaps and give their bodies the vitamins that are not provided by the foods they eat. Because vitamins are sold over-the-counter at grocery stores, pharmacies, and health food stores, it may be natural to assume that all these products have been tested and are safe for anyone who wants to take them. This is not the case. Supplements do not have the same degree of regulation in the United States as prescription drugs or foods. Some supplements are of better quality than others and provide more valuable nutrients.
Before you chose a supplement, compare the labels to make sure you are really getting what you want. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates three different kinds of claims made on supplement labels to ensure they are accurate:
• Health claims – Supplements may claim to reduce the risk of a disease or other health-related condition based on the ingredients in the supplement.
• Nutrient claims – Supplement labels often claim to have a certain amount of a nutrient or other substance.
• Function/structure claims – Supplements may claim to affect certain systems of the body including certain organs. Function/structure claims cannot mention preventing or curing a specific disease.
It is important to note that the FDA assumes supplement ingredients that have been on the market prior to October 15, 1994 are safe based on their history of use by humans. These ingredients can be marketed without further review by the FDA. New ingredients (those not in use prior to October 15, 1994) must be approved by the FDA before they can be marketed as supplements.
The FDA requires supplements to have accurate labels in order to be sold for human consumption. This information must be included on the label:
• Name of product (must also indicate that the product is a supplement)
• Net quantity of contents
• Name and location of the business that is the manufacturer, packer, or distributor
• Instructions for taking the supplement