Purchasing Supplements: Safety Guidelines

Sometimes the supplements you rely on are neither safe nor effective. Follow these guidelines and learn how to safely shop for supplements and avoid scams.

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Many of the supplements you take every day are not what they seem. They could be spiked with illegal or recalled prescription substances – some even deadly. These substances may be created by chemists in illegal labs, and many of these so-called supplements come from abroad.

Due to the incredible volume of these tainted supplements, even after the FDA busts an importer or recalls a supplement, they can still be readily available online or on store shelves. This makes it doubly important that you keep your guard up and your eyes peeled in order to spot the red flags.

Learn how to safely shop for supplements and avoid scams by following these guidelines:

1. Prescription "Strength": Avoid anything that claims to be an alternative to a prescription. If a supplement claims to be an alternative to a FDA-approved drug or have effects similar to a prescription drug, these are red flags. Only take a prescription drug under a doctor’s care – don’t go seeking out potentially dangerous alternatives. 

2. Foreign-Language Packaging: Avoid products marked primarily in a foreign language. Pay especially close attention to packaging. If you can’t understand what’s on the label, don’t buy it. Also be on the look out for misspelled words or poor grammar. If you can’t find the company name, a website or a phone number on the package, it’s a huge warning sign.

3. Miracle Claims: Avoid supplements that make miracle claims – or simply seem too good to be true. If it claims to be “long-lasting” or to work “rapidly” – in minutes or hours – that’s a red flag. If it says you can lose weight without changing your diet or exercising, that’s also a red flag. If you only have to pop the pill to get instantaneous results or ones that far exceed any realistic expectations, don’t purchase or use this supplement.

The FDA vs Tainted Supplements

Recently, producers of The Dr. Oz Show went undercover and discovered how easy it was to buy tainted supplements the FDA has recalled. The Dr. Oz Show then sent the supplements for lab testing. All five weight-loss supplement samples came up positive for sibutramine, an ingredient in prescription obesity drugs that was banned because it caused heart attacks, strokes and seizures. In addition, one of the five tested positive for a powerful antibiotic called ciprofloxacin (Cipro). This is believed to be the first time that traces of this powerful antibiotic have been found in an over-the-counter supplement.

The Dr. Oz Show alerted the FDA about this new development. Click here to read the response from the FDA's Office of Public Affairs