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What are some tips on searching the web for information on dietary supplements?
When searching on the Web, try using directory sites of respected organizations,
rather than doing blind searches with a search engine. Ask yourself the following
Who operates the site?
Is the site run by the government, a university, or a reputable medical or health-related
association (e.g., American Medical Association, American Diabetes Association,
American Heart Association, National Institutes of Health, National Academies
of Science, or U.S. Food and Drug Administration)? Is the information written
or reviewed by qualified health professionals, experts in the field, academia,
government or the medical community?
What is the purpose of the site?
Is the purpose of the site to objectively educate the public or just to sell a
product? Be aware of practitioners or organizations whose main interest is in
marketing products, either directly or through sites with which they are linked.
Commercial sites should clearly distinguish scientific information from advertisements.
Most nonprofit and government sites contain no advertising; and access to the site
and materials offered are usually free.
What is the source of the information and does it have any
references? Has the study been reviewed by recognized scientific experts and published
in reputable peer-reviewed scientific journals, like the New England Journal of
Medicine? Does the information say "some studies show " or does
it state where the study is listed so that you can check the authenticity of the
references? For example, can the study be found in the National Library of Medicine's
database of literature citations (PubMed link - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed/
Is the information current? Check the date when the material was posted or updated. Often new research
or other findings are not reflected in old material, e.g., side effects or interactions
with other products or new evidence that might have changed earlier thinking.
Ideally, health and medical sites should be updated frequently.
How reliable is the Internet or e-mail solicitations? While the Internet is a rich source of health information,
it is also an easy vehicle for spreading myths, hoaxes and rumors about alleged
news, studies, products or findings. To avoid falling prey to such hoaxes, be
skeptical and watch out for overly emphatic language with UPPERCASE LETTERS and
lots of exclamation points!!!! Beware of such phrases such as: "This is not
a hoax" or "Send this to everyone you know."
More Tips and To-Do's
Ask yourself: Does it sound too good to be true? Do the claims for the product seem exaggerated or unrealistic? Are there
simplistic conclusions being drawn from a complex study to sell a product? While
the Web can be a valuable source of accurate, reliable information, it also has
a wealth of misinformation that may not be obvious. Learn to distinguish hype
from evidence-based science. Nonsensical lingo can sound very convincing. Also,
be skeptical about anecdotal information from persons who have no formal training
in nutrition or botanicals, or from personal testimonials (e.g. from store employees,
friends, or online chat rooms and message boards) about incredible benefits or
results obtained from using a product. Question these people on their training
and knowledge in nutrition or medicine.
Think twice about chasing the latest headline.
Sound health advice is generally based on a body of research, not a single study.
Be wary of results claiming a "quick fix" that depart from previous
research and scientific beliefs. Keep in mind science does not proceed by dramatic
breakthroughs, but by taking many small steps, slowly building towards a consensus.
Furthermore, news stories, about the latest scientific study, especially those
on TV or radio, are often too brief to include important details that may apply
to you or allow you to make an informed decision.
Check your assumptions about the following:
#1 Questionable Assumption "Even if a product may not help me, it at least won't hurt me."
It's best not to assume that this will always be true. When consumed in high enough
amounts, for a long enough time, or in combination with certain other substances,
all chemicals can be toxic, including nutrients, plant components, and other biologically
#2 Questionable Assumption
"When I see the term 'natural,' it means that a product is healthful and
safe." Consumers can be misled if they assume this term assures wholesomeness,
or that these food-like substances necessarily have milder effects, which makes
them safer to use than drugs. The term "natural" on labels is not well
defined and is sometimes used ambiguously to imply unsubstantiated benefits or
safety. For example, many weight-loss products claim to be "natural"
or "herbal" but this doesn't necessarily make them safe. Their ingredients
may interact with drugs or may be dangerous for people with certain medical conditions.
#3 Questionable Assumption
" A product is safe when there is no cautionary information on the product
label." Dietary supplement manufacturers may not necessarily include
warnings about potential adverse effects on the labels of their products. If consumers
want to know about the safety of a specific dietary supplement, they should contact
the manufacturer of that brand directly. It is the manufacturer's responsibility
to determine that the supplement it produces or distributes is safe and that there
is substantiated evidence that the label claims are truthful and not misleading.
#4 Questionable Assumption
" A recall of a harmful product guarantees that all such harmful products
will be immediately and completely removed from the marketplace." A product
recall of a dietary supplement is voluntary and while many manufacturers do their
best, a recall does not necessarily remove all harmful products from the marketplace.
Contact the manufacturer for more information about
the specific product that you are purchasing.
If you cannot tell whether the product you are purchasing meets the same standards
as those used in the research studies you read about, check with the manufacturer
or distributor. Ask to speak to someone who can address your questions, some of
which may include:
What information does the firm have to substantiate the claims made for the
product? Be aware that sometimes firms supply so-called "proof" of their
claims by citing undocumented reports from satisfied consumers, or "internal"
graphs and charts that could be mistaken for evidence-based research.
Does the firm have information to share about tests it has conducted on the
safety or efficacy of the ingredients in the product?
Does the firm have a quality control system in place to determine if the
product actually contains what is stated on the label and is free of contaminants?
Has the firm received any adverse events reports from consumers using their
NOTE: You may obtain more information on how FDA regulates
dietary supplements and on the manufacturers' responsibilities for the products
they market at "Questions and Answers." http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/ds-faq.html