I heard a radio ad yesterday claiming men could regain their virility if they took their product, a testosterone-like formula. WOW! Their marketing department really knows how to get a man to part with his money fast! But is it true? Is it safe? Will it react negatively with any other medications or conditions that man may have in addition to low libido? Do they care?
Supplements were created to provide nutrients people could not get enough of with normal food intake. As we began to rely on heavily processed food, we lost many natural nutrients. We began fortifying and enriching our foods with the very vitamins and minerals that were lost in the processing. (Hence, a good argument for returning to whole, unprocessed foods, but that’s for a future blog entry.) Supplements helped cure conditions of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. They came into existence for excellent reasons. But what happens when the free market sees it as a big money-making opportunity? In our culture of “more is better,” does this apply to supplements too?
Most people don’t realize a very few important things: (1) there is such a thing as a toxic level for certain vitamins and minerals, (2) some minerals interfere with how our body uses the nutrients we take in and (3) the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) does not regulate supplements the way drugs are regulated. When you buy a drug, the quantities, effects and trials ensure you are getting what you think you are getting. When you take a supplement, it is truly “buyer beware.”
Many reputable supplement manufacturers follow good manufacturing practices (GMP), which are industry defined. The government regulates supplements like it does food, which only ensures that they are produced under sanitary conditions and are produced consistently. There is no guarantee of safety, that they contain what the manufacturer claims they do, that they are free from harmful substances like pesticides (in herbals) or lead (if produced outside the US where manufacturing and labeling is even less reliable). You really can’t be sure what is in that capsule you are taking, in hopes of keeping you healthy. If you are sure it makes you feel better, remember the placebo effect can be a factor too.
There is no testing requirement and no warning of side effects, long terms affects, food or drug interactions, or precautions, like there is with drugs. There is no guarantee of consistent quality and there is no guarantee that the supplement does what it promises to do.
This is not to say that supplements don’t have their place or that some manufacturers are more reputable than others. But when dallying in self-prescribed pharmacopeia, one must know it is not without possible harm or even danger.