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Changing Our Views on Nutritional Supplements

The use of vitamins in pill form has been around for over fifty years. Herbal treatments have been used for centuries. The sheer number of vitamins and herbal supplements on the market today is staggering. With this increase in the commercial availability of herbal and vitamin supplements, even the health care professional community has been forced to take a look at the potential health benefits.

This focus has resulted in countless studies over the past decade, which offers compelling evidence that the regular use of certain vitamins, minerals, and herbs may help prevent, slow, or even reverse serious disease.

Despite the research, however, there are still countless unsubstantiated benefits attributed to the use of vitamins, minerals and herbs. The two leading complaints from the medical professional community regarding these studies are that they tend to leave the impression that anything “natural” is safe, and many of these studies have been on a very small scale.

Diet and Exercise

The feeling of unreliability on the studies have led the health care professional community to place a higher emphasis on lifestyle changes than the use of supplementation. Eating a more health conscious diet, weight control, and exercise, can effectively relieve common complaints as well, such as backache, constipation and mild depression.

There seems to be no middle ground where the marketing of supplements are concerned, the legislators continue to make a concerted effort to separate them from pharmaceutical drugs. By current law, the drug manufacturers of both over the counter and prescription medications can make explicit claims about a product’s ability to treat or prevent conditions, illness or disease.

However, these claims have to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, which must first prove the drug’s reliability and safety. A supplement, however, would fall under the Dietary Supplement Health And Education Act. This Act regulates the marketing of supplements and requires that they contain one or more of the following; vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, and/or other natural substances.

Supplements therefore, are not subjected to the rigorous testing that pharmaceutical drugs are. Therefore the labels cannot legally claim to treat, cure or prevent illness, disease or a certain medical condition. However, the label can list potential health benefits such as “aiding in digesting”, “boosting the immune system”, and “promoting healthy cholesterol levels”.

The claims on some supplement labels have drawn concern from the medical professional community, simply because under current law, the supplement manufacturer does not have to submit any supporting data prior to making said claim.

Supplement manufacturers are given a sort of “blanket disclaimer” by being allowed to make their health benefit claims without this supporting data, by simply following the claim with: “… not supported by the Food and Drug Administration.”

Herbs_01

The primary reason vitamins, minerals and herbs aren’t subjected to these same testing standards that pharmaceutical drugs are is because they can be derived directly from plants and other natural sources – therefore making them ineligible for patent.

Without the patent, there is little reason for the drug manufacturer to pour resources into the supplement to have it tested and approved to reach the status of a drug. Without holding the patent, once the supplement did reach drug status, any company could legally manufacture and sell the product.

This being the case, some clever supplement manufacturers and even a few supplement supporters, have used this as a marketing technique. You may have even heard supplements marketed in this way: “The Federal Drug Administration doesn’t want you to use herbs as drugs, because they can’t make money off the sale of herbs!” This is a misleading form of advertising at best.

The regulations were put into place to protect the interests of the drug manufacturers, true enough. But the Federal Drug Administration would not stop the manufacturing or sale of a natural cure if the required testing had been done, and the natural cure had received their approval to prescription drug status. This does not necessarily mean that the “powers that be” are withholding potential cures from the general pubic because they can’t patent them.

Your access to herbal treatments, vitamin supplements, and all natural compounds is in no way limited. However, you should bear in mind, these supplements have not been subjected to the same rigorous testing that pharmaceutical drugs have. The “claims” that they make of potential health benefits, may well be just that; claims.