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How can I tell whether I'm getting a good quality supplement?

Manufacturers are required to follow "good manufacturing practices" (GMPs), which means their supplements have to meet certain quality standards. However, it has been found that some products may contain more or less of the ingredient than is stated on the label. Or, in some cases they may contain ingredients not listed on the label, including prescription drugs.

To be sure you're getting a good-quality product, look for a seal of approval from an organization that tests supplements such as the U.S. Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab or NSF International. Products that carry these organizations' seal must be manufactured properly, contain the ingredients listed on the label, and not include any harmful contaminants.

You can also call the product's manufacturer to find out what research they've done to confirm the supplement's benefits, what production standards they use, and what side effects have been reported from their product. Find out if the supplement hasn't been recalled, by checking the FDA's web site.

How do I know whether a supplement's claims are true or false?

Supplement makers are not allowed to claim their product diagnoses, treats, cures, reduces the symptoms of, or prevents disease -- and there needs to be a disclaimer statement to that effect on the label. Look for overblown claims on the label or box, such as "totally natural," "completely safe," or "miracle cure." If you're unsure about a product, ask your doctor or pharmacist. Or, call the supplement manufacturer and ask them what studies they've done to support the claims they're making.

Does the FDA regulate supplements?

Not in the way it regulates medicines. The FDA does regulate dietary supplements; however, it treats them like foods rather than medications. Unlike drug manufacturers, the makers of supplements don’t have to show their products are safe or effective before selling them on the market.

What does the word "standardized" on a supplement label mean?

"Standardized" means that manufacturers ensure every batch of their products is produced in a consistent way, with the same ingredients and same concentration of ingredients. It is usually a term that refers to extracts from plants ( herbal medicines), which contain a specific percentage of active ingredient(s). The term “standardized” does not necessarily reflect the quality of the product, however.

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