July 2, 2013

What's in That Supplement?

Consumers now have help navigating the uncharted waters of the enormous supplement market.

Most of us take dietary supplements occasionally, and the numbers are growing. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over half of American adults use nutritional supplements.

Some people take supplements intensively to promote their health, while some use them to fill gaps in their nutrition or for deficiencies caused by metabolic issues. For others, they are like insurance markers for health — they take them just in case their diets are lacking a nutrient.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has launched the Dietary Supplement Label Database (DSLD) to provide facts about dietary supplements in one organized and searchable location.

The dietary supplement arena is filled with questionable claims and plenty of misinformation. People often take supplements without fully understanding what they are ingesting. And for those who seek credible information, dietary supplement manufacturers, multi-level marketers, and the Internet can make it hard to decipher fact from fiction.

Consumers will soon have a new resource to help them find information on supplements they are using or thinking of buying. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has launched the Dietary Supplement Label Database (DSLD) to provide facts about dietary supplements in one organized and searchable location.

The website shows the ingredients listed on the labels of about 17,000 dietary supplements. It is produced by the NIH’s Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) and the National Library of Medicine (NLM).

Phase One, For Researchers

This initial version of the DSLD is being developed for researchers and scientists. Eventually, it will be part of a broader resource that aims to: 1) provide ready access to all of the label information from every dietary supplement marketed in the United States; 2) provide data for the research community; and 3) serve as an educational and research tool for everyone from students to consumers to healthcare providers.

Products labeled as dietary supplements must, by law, have a Supplement Facts panel that lists their contents and other added ingredients (fillers, binders, and flavorings). All of the information found in the Supplement Facts panel, the equivalent of the Nutrition Facts label on food, is included in the new database. The accuracy of the information on the supplements' labels has not been independently verified by the NIH, CDC or FDA.

The database also lists the directions for use, any health-related claims, and warnings listed on the label. The database will include the hundreds of new products that hit the market each year, reformulations of existing products, and information on products that leave the market.

Highly Searchable
The database is searchable in a variety of ways. You can search for any ingredient or specific text on a label; search by Dietary Ingredients (an alphabetical list of ingredients is provided); search for a specific dietary supplement (an alphabetical list of products is also provided); eventually you will be able to search by supplement manufacturer or distributor.

“This database will be of great value to many diverse groups of people, including nutrition researchers, healthcare providers, consumers, and others,” said Paul M. Coates, Ph.D., director of the Office of Dietary Supplements. “For example, research scientists might use the Dietary Supplement Label Database to determine total nutrient intakes from food and supplements in populations they study.”

The Dietary Supplement Label Database is available here.

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