It’s no secret that today’s market is full of dietary supplements advertising everything from your generic vitamin C boosters to the more controversial so-called “cancer prevention” capsules. Choosing the right dietary supplement is now a more arduous task than ever.
Of course, one of the best ways to choose your dietary supplement is by reading and understanding its labels. To help you make an informed decision, we’re giving you five tips on how to read your supplement labels.
1. Checking Your Product Shelf Life
Your product shelf life is one of the first things you should look for – if it’s already past the date, you might as well put that supplement back on its shelf. Most people misunderstand the meaning of product shelf life and expiry date.
Product shelf life measures your dietary supplements’ quality compared to their manufacturing date. The product expiry date is a measure of both the safety and quality of the product.
By right, you can still consume a dietary supplement that’s past its shelf life – only its effectiveness might not be as good. Contrarily, consuming a dietary supplement past its expiry date can be dangerous. In any case, choosing the earliest timespan from both (usually the shelf life) is your best bet.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) does not require dietary supplements to contain expiry dates. Still, most manufacturers will provide the product’s shelf life to ensure you get the best benefit from their products.
You can find them on the top part, bottom part, or a small corner of the supplement facts under “Best by,” “Use by,” and any variation of these two terms.
2. Understanding Your Supplement Facts
Instead of the ingredients section on food labels, dietary supplements contain supplement facts. These facts explain the ingredients and chemical compounds present in your supplement capsules. Since most dietary supplements use a lot of chemistry jargon, they can be challenging to understand.
Here’s where our 2023 Dietary Supplement Checklist plays a part. For example, if you’re looking for an immunity booster, your supplement should contain one or more of the following ingredients;
- Vitamin C
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Vitamin D
These ingredients appear as a table with their “Daily Value” (DV) and “% Daily Value” (%DV) for most supplement manufactured in the USA (United States of America).
According to the FDA, “Daily Value” is a section that tells you how much of the ingredient is compressed per capsule. Below are some of the units used for a supplement’s DV;
g = grams
mg = milligrams
- mcg = micrograms
- mg NE = milligrams of niacin equivalents
- mcg DFE = micrograms of dietary folate equivalents
- mcg RAE = micrograms of retinol activity equivalents
- IU = international units
“% Daily Value” on the other hand, is the amount of percentage of the product available per capsule . The terms used for dietary supplements you order via Amazon or this website may vary based on the country of origin. To give you a better perspective, here’s what our CellLabs CLASSaaNTA™ supplement fact looks like;
Instead of DV and %DV, our supplement facts provide information on the weight of the ingredients (in milligrams) present in each capsule, as per the requirement of the Malaysian government.
3. Evaluating Your Product Quality
While the FDA does regulate dietary supplements supplied in the United States, there is no particular indicator of quality for any supplement brands aside from certificates from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). An example is the ISO certification for Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) which tells you that safety and security are applied during the manufacturing process. This is also true for MOH.
So far, both FDA and MOH’s regulations for supplements mainly focus on the ingredients’ safety and the dosage amount per person . An FDA, MOH or WHO (World Health Organization) certificate can indicate a safe product. Other standard certifications include a halal certificate for the Muslim community and a vegan certificate for the vegan community.
One way you can judge a product’s quality is by comparing the DV and %DV from one brand to another. Another thing you can use to measure is the supplement’s extraction ratio. An extraction ratio in the dietary supplement industry usually relates to the purity or concentration level instead of the theory presented in pharmacokinetics.
A higher extraction ratio is better since your supplements are more concentrated. It can also indicate the ingredients’ molecular structure – the higher the concentration, the easier it is to be absorbed due to the smaller size. The extraction ratio also plays a part in your product’s dosage – a product with a higher extraction ratio typically has less dosage since it would offer more at a smaller dosage.
Since this is a mark of quality, most products will either place the extraction ratio on the front part of the box as a selling point or in the information section either separately or with the supplement fact.
4. Taking Note of Your Dosage
As mentioned, dosage is one of the few things the FDA and MOH regulates regarding dietary supplements. Why? A lower dosage might make it less effective, and an overdose can harm your body. This is where your supplement facts and product quality come to play.
Your total DV, %DV and extraction ratio are markers for your product dosage. For example, if you’re buying a 1000mg Vitamin C supplement serving that amount per capsule, the dosage should be one capsule a day since 1000mg is the maximum dosage currently allowed by the FDA, MOH and WHO (World Health Organization).
That’s why if a brand or your local pharmacist tells you that you can take a product less or more than what has been advised on the label (or your local and international governing bodies), the smart thing to do is skip the brand. You should instead consult another pharmacist or refer to your doctor.
5. Double-Checking Your Product Warnings
You need to double-check your product warning labels and health claims. Technically, the health claims are a part of the product warning labels. What are they, and how do they differ from the more extensive umbrella of dietary supplement warning labels?
Product warning labels are usually indicators of what ingredients you should be aware of, such as;
- Contains allergens such as nuts
- Contains dairy products (for lactose intolerant consumers)
- Contains meat-based proteins (for vegetarians and vegans)
Health claims, on the other hand, is a claim that mentions whether the product is suitable or not for certain consumers, product disclaimers, and more. Examples of health claims include;
“This product may contain ingredients that can be harmful to consumers undergoing hormone treatment.”
“This product may contain ingredients that contradict certain medications. If you have any medical conditions, please consult your pharmacist or doctor on the suitability of this product for your consumption.”
To recap, before you purchase a dietary supplement online or in-store, remember to check your product;
- Shelf life
- Supplement facts
- Warnings and health claims
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