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Before buying dietary supplements, follow this advice

Walk down the dietary supplements aisle of your local pharmacy, health food store or retail store and you’re likely to be faced with hundreds of different options. However, what you may not know is that some of these supplements may not be all that they claim. Here are some things to consider to make a more educated decision when purchasing a supplement.


Do seek a medical opinion

Some supplements can interact with prescription medication or even have negative effects on recovery from surgery. So, before you head over to the supplement aisle, make sure to consult with your physician so you can understand which supplements are best suited for you and your health.

Do look for certification

Certification by an independent third-party organization, such as NSF International, can help bring you peace of mind about the safety of the supplement. Certification to American National Standard NSF/ANSI 173 confirms that the product has been tested and certified to be free of undeclared ingredients or harmful levels of contaminants. This helps protect consumers by verifying what is on the supplement label is in the package and that the product does not contain other undeclared ingredients or unsafe levels of contaminants. For a list of dietary supplements that have been certified by NSF International, visit

Do read the label carefully

Labels on dietary supplements must include the following information: statement of identity; net quantity of contents; directions for use; a supplement facts panel, listing serving size, amount, and active ingredients; other ingredients in descending order of predominance; and the name and place of business of the manufacturer, packer or distributor.

Do take the recommended dose

Always follow the manufacturer's daily recommended usage - more isn't always better. If a manufacturer says to take two capsules per day, that's all you should take. If you take multiple supplements, check to see if you are getting the same ingredient from multiple sources to make sure you don't exceed the recommended daily allowance for any individual ingredient.


Do not fall for catch phrases

Though many supplements claim to be “all natural,” the phrase “all natural” is not an official term that is regulated by the federal government, so it doesn’t offer any guarantee as to a product’s safety. Also, beware of phrases such as “pharmaceutical strength” because there is no such thing as pharmaceutical strength for over-the-counter supplements.

Do not purchase supplements with expiration dates close to the date of purchase

Though the FDA does not require supplements to have expiration dates, manufacturers that can support the date claim with data add it to their products as a customer service. Expired supplements can lose their potency, rendering them worthless.

Do not use supplements as a replacement for a healthy diet or exercise

Supplements are not a quick fix for an unhealthy lifestyle or a way to solve medical problems. Remember their value is right there in the name—they supplement your overall health instead of replacing old-fashioned methods of staying healthy.

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Dietary supplements have become very popular in recent years as consumers have become more interested in leading healthier lives. Looking for certified supplements takes the guesswork out of choosing a safe product that contains only what’s on the label. These tips can help you make a more educated choice and find the supplement that’s right for you.

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Cheryl LuptowskiHome Safety Expert

Cheryl Luptowski is the Public Information Officer/Home Safety Expert for NSF International, an independent public health and safety organization that writes standards and certifies products for the food, water and consumer goods industries to m...

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