Should I take those pills?

Dear Lucy: I’m thinking of trying a nutritional supplement from Standard Process Laboratories. Do you know anything about that manufacturer? Are their products valid? —Seeking Supplemental Savvy

Dear (3)S: Lucy’s no expert on the ins and outs of nutritional supplements. Fortunately, she knows just where to turn for the answers to such inquiries: MIT Medical’s own Anna Jasonides — registered dietician and no-nonsense nutritionist. 

Not surprisingly, Jasonides did not mince words. “My antennae go up whenever I hear the phrase ‘nutritional supplements!’” she says. “It’s almost impossible to evaluate any particular manufacturer,” she continues. “This is because the supplement industry is not regulated at all. What this means is that the label on the bottle may not match the actual contents. Tests have shown that one batch often varies from another—even within the same brand.”

That said, Jasonides notes that some manufacturers voluntarily submit to product testing. While not every batch is tested, a seal of certification from one of four testing labs is a good indication that the supplement contains the advertised ingredient in the correct amount and isn’t contaminated with dangerous substances, such as arsenic, bacteria, or lead.

But such “certification” doesn’t mean the product has any therapeutic value, Jasonides emphasizes. Health claims made by supplement manufacturers are often “not evidence based,” she explains.

“Questions like this one often make me want to ask even more questions in return,” she sighs. “What supplement are we talking about? For what purpose would you be taking it?” 

The bottom line, Jasonides says, is that nutrients found in “real food” are usually the best solution to nutritional needs. But, she adds, a supplement may be necessary in some instances, and both she and Lucy encourage you to discuss that question in an actual conversation with your primary care provider or a nutritionist. —Lucy


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