Diabetes Forecast

The Healthy Living Magazine

With Dietary Supplements, It's Buyer Beware

By Madelyn L. Wheeler, MS, RD, FADA, CD, and Stephanie Dunbar, MPH, RD , ,

You may have noticed that dietary supplement ads never appear in the American Diabetes Association's flagship consumer magazine, Diabetes Forecast. There are reasons for this.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) has strict guidelines in place about what products may be advertised in Diabetes Forecast. That's to protect you, the consumer, from companies that try to target people living with diabetes with products that have no clear, proven health benefit.

The ADA, while appreciative of revenue that supports its mission, is very careful about which products are allowed to appear in advertisements in its materials and as part of its programs. That includes signs and product samples at walks and events such as EXPO® as well as advertising pages in its magazine and professional journals. The ADA Uniform Policy for the acceptance and rejection of revenue from organizations, companies, and/or entities says that supplement products are not accepted (nor are tobacco or alcohol products). The reason: The ADA Clinical Practice Recommendations indicate that there is no need for the routine use of dietary supplements in people with diabetes.

What Is a Dietary Supplement?
Basically, supplements are vitamins, herbal products, and proprietary products that claim to improve health. This includes products in pill, powder, or liquid form, as well as vitamins added to water or other beverages.

A Bit of History
Until July 3, 1996, a Code of Federal Regulations rule had allowed manufacturers to state on product packaging: "Diabetics: This product may be useful in your diet on the advice of a physician." On that date, after four years of advocacy by the ADA, the Food and Drug Administration announced that the wording would no longer be permitted on product labels.

Even without the claim, producers of packaged foods and dietary supplements (especially new products) continue to target the niche market represented by people with diabetes. Niche marketing is the process of concentrating marketing efforts on a specific and well-defined segment of the population. So the ADA continues to be watchful about products that target people with diabetes.

Buyer Beware
What to look for when you see an ad for a supplement claiming to improve diabetes or health in general:
Are quick, dramatic, and miraculous cures "guaranteed"? If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Are vague benefits mentioned?
Detoxify, balance, and harmonize your body.
Amazing breakthrough from [________] revolutionizes and reverses the aging process or has immune benefits, or has the ability to decrease chronic disease risk, and so on.
These scientific discoveries are 100 percent natural and organic and are secret, fast-working, inexpensive, and painless. Lose weight and improve health without making any diet or exercise changes!

If you can't pin down exactly what is promised, it's probably not valid.
Are testimonials or case histories used to promote the product? These people may not even exist. If they do, are their enthusiastic responses caused by consuming the product or due to some other cause (such as payment)?
Are nonbiased studies of the product published in peer-reviewed journals? Studies funded by the company or manufacturer, as well as studies reported in journals that don't have a review process, are suspect.

For more unbiased information about dietary supplements, visit these sites: (click on "Dietary Supplements")

Sometimes, supplements do have a place in diabetes care. Your health care provider may recommend a prescription or over-the-counter supplement if you're deficient in specific vitamins or minerals. For example, some people with diabetes (as well as people without diabetes) are deficient in vitamin D.

Taking supplements, however, can interfere with medications and your health. Just because a supplement is "natural" doesn't necessarily make it good for you. Some supplements are toxic in large quantities. To avoid harm, be sure to inform your health care provider about any supplements you take.

Spending money on unnecessary and unproven supplements takes a bite out of your health care budget. That's too much to swallow without serious thought.

Diabetes Forecast Associate Editor Madelyn L. Wheeler, MS, RD, FADA, CD, is the founder of Nutritional Computing Concepts. She reviews recipes in this magazine and provides the nutritional analyses. Stephanie Dunbar, MPH, RD, is director of clinical affairs for the American Diabetes Association.


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