People with diabetes often take dietary supplements in the hope of improving their blood glucose control, or with some other health goal in mind. Some people view supplements as a better or safer alternative to drugs. But the questionable manufacturing practices of some supplement makers can have potentially dangerous consequences.
A recent Reuters article comes on the heels of a report that looked into a 2008 production mishap that left more than 200 supplement users ill. The affected supplements, called “Total Body Formula” and “Total Body Mega Formula,” were liquid formulas that contained selenium. Due to a human error at one of the manufacturer’s suppliers, some of each formula received up to 200 times the intended amount of selenium. Selenium is a heavy metal that is broken down slowly by the body, so the effects of an overdose tend to be prolonged. At the time of this incident, the FDA was phasing in rules for supplement manufacturers aimed at ensuring greater consistency and purity, including a requirement to test ingredients obtained by outside sources. So it is conceivable that under current law, the selenium overload would not have happened. However, this supposes that company would have voluntarily followed the law — the FDA doesn’t have the resources to do many checks — and that it would have tested selenium concentration specifically, since the FDA leaves it to companies to decide which tests are relevant.
One way to help ensure the safety of the supplements you take is to look for the US Pharmacopeia (USP) seal on the label. The USP is an independent nonprofit organization that runs a voluntary testing and auditing program for dietary supplements. Its seal indicates that a supplement contains the listed ingredients in their labeled amounts, does not contain harmful contaminants, will break down in the body as intended, and was manufactured according to FDA guidelines. The USP provides lists of verified supplements by brand, as well as a visual primer on choosing supplements with your doctor.
Do you feel comfortable taking dietary supplements under the current regulations? Have you already looked into the safety and quality of any supplements that you take? Do you take only supplements that you have discussed with your doctor, as recommended by most health authorities (including Diabetes Self-Management)? Should the FDA supervise dietary supplements more closely, similarly to the way it regulates over-the-counter drugs? Leave a comment below!