Confused by the cross-flow of information about dietary supplements and natural medicine? Here’s how to find credible information from trustworthy sources.
Maybe you’ve heard conflicting news reports recently about nutritional supplements preventing, reducing or curing chronic disease. This, after years of advice from doctors urging us to take a daily do-it-all supplement, is an example of the constant mixed information about the value of dietary nutritional supplements. The information can certainly be a mixed bag and sometimes confusing to wade through.
Does this mean supplements are ineffective? No. Will a new report next week or next month or next year contradict today’s headlines? Probably. Can you trust what you see online, hear on TV and read on product labels?
No doubt you’re confused. As always, being an informed consumer and advocate for your health means doing your own research. Here are a few places to start.
Official, Sanctioned Entities
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports on the latest academic research: which conditions can benefit from supplements, contraindications, etc. NIH’s three main sources of information are the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and Nutrition.gov. Visit the Dietary Supplement Label Database to learn about the ingredients, dosages, health claims and cautions for thousands of dietary supplements.
If a supplement company sponsors research to promote its product, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the information is suspect. But for your own peace of mind, you can fact check its claims by visiting NCCAM for research-based information on topics from acupuncture to zinc. Or visit NIH’s PubMed to access studies from the institute’s database.
Health professionals including those who staff vitamin stores and naturals sections within grocery stores are constantly attending conferences and reading studies in journals to educate themselves on the latest news—and they have the professional knowledge to adequately interpret what is often technically complex data—so they are good advisors. The website for Dr. Mehmet Oz is chock-full of credible, useful and usable information. Integrative physician, Dr. Andrew Weil and pharmacist Suzy Cohen take a broader alternative view than some traditional MDs.
In 2004, the United States government began funding research studies on herbal medicine. But other countries—such as Germany, which set up a commission to evaluate and recommend herbs for conditions such as anxiety and depression—have been doing it since the 1970s. The American Association for the Advancement of Science created eurekalert.org, which publishes studies, reports and academic news related to supplements and natural medicine from universities, journals and government agencies around the world.
Nonprofit Disease-State or Condition-Related Websites
For example, if you have arthritis, visit the Arthritis Foundation’s website at arthritis.org. You’ll find a complete list of recommended supplements.
Set Your Sites
Bookmark these websites and social media sources for quick and constant access to the most recent news and data about natural medicine.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)
Online at: nccam.nih.gov, facebook.com/nccam, twitter.com/nccam
What you’ll find: Information and research about natural remedies; up-to-date news about supplement safety
Bonus features: Highlights of NIH’s recently published studies, a research blog, and a free e-newsletter
The National Institute of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS)
Online at: ods.od.nih.gov, facebook.com/NIH.ODS, twitter.com/NIH_ODS
What you’ll find: Tips for elderly supplement users, fact sheets, consumer updates, fraud warnings and safety information, and dietary supplement research
Bonus features: Sign up for the ODS’s consumer newsletter “The Scoop,” which reviews the latest headlines and answers questions about natural products. Download My Dietary Supplements (MyDS), the NIH’s free smartphone and tablet app, to get personalized information about dietary supplements (myds.nih.gov).
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Nutrition Information Portal
Online at: nutrition.gov/dietary-supplements
What you’ll find: Fact sheets, user information and frequently asked questions about supplements; a link to MedlinePlus, a dietary supplement database
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Online at: fda.gov/Food/, facebook.com/FDA, twitter.com/US_FDA
What you’ll find: Information about the FDA’s role in regulating supplements, frequently asked questions, definitions and labeling requirements
Dr. Mehmet Oz
Online at: doctoroz.com, facebook.com/droz, twitter.com/droz
What you’ll find: Episodes, articles, videos on a variety of alternative health topics; Dr. Oz’s 3 Key Supplements; advice on various health conditions and diseases
Bonus features: Quizzes to help you determine your alternative medicine IQ, book recommendations, interviews with subject-matter experts
Dr. Andrew Weil
Online at: drweil.com, facebook.com/drweil, twitter.com/drweil
What you’ll find: The Supplements and Herbs tab houses vitamin and herb libraries that list the common and technical names, uses, delivery method, food sources, doses, contraindications and warnings for 68 vitamins and herbs.
Bonus features: Sign up for the Vitamin Adviser to get your free personal vitamin recommendations and Dr. Weil’s free e-newsletter.