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Nutrition for Optimal Wellness
Why Don't Supplement Labels Talk About Diseases?

By Amy Kosowski, M.S., LDN

You’ve been looking for something to help you with a specific health concern – like arthritis or high blood pressure.

But this can end up being frustrating and bewildering. Because if you start to look at supplement labels or brochures you’ll find diseases are not mentioned. Instead of finding supplements labeled for arthritis or high blood pressure, the labels say things like “helps maintain healthy joint movement” or “supports blood pressure levels in the normal range.”

What if your joints aren’t healthy or you need to get your blood pressure into the normal range?

You’ve seen research or read articles that supplements help. So why don’t supplement manufacturers list all of the things that the product can do right there on the label? It certainly would make things easier.

The answer is that the federal government closely regulates the statements made by supplement manufacturers about their products. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations only allow dietary supplement manufacturers to make three very specific types of claims:

  1. Nutrient content claims directly, or by implication, describe the level of a nutrient in the product (e.g., "low fat" or "an excellent source calcium"). There are various criteria that need to be met in order for a manufacturer to make such a claim. You can see these criteria at the FDA website: http://www.cfsan.fda.gov. You’ll more often find these types of claims on food products than on supplements.
  2. The FDA also authorizes qualified health claims for foods and dietary supplements when the link between a food or nutrient and a health-related condition is documented. Before approving a health claim, the FDA reviews the scientific evidence or refers to an authoritative statement from a scientific body like the National Academy of Sciences. An example of one such claim is, “Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts such as walnuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.” A complete listing of approved qualified health claims can be found on the FDA website above.
  3. Structure and function claims describe how a product affects a body structure or function. For example, “Supports healthy joint function.” All structure/function-type statements must be substantiated by scientific data and must be accompanied by the following disclaimer: "This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease."

The FDA strictly prohibits manufacturers from making claims that a product prevents, cures or improves a disease condition or its associated symptoms. In fact, structure/function claims can include only statements that the product can help to maintain already healthy bodily functions and structures, regardless of whether there is scientific evidence that it can actually improve health or help prevent disease. On the other hand, the marketplace is full of products making bold claims about their products. Many of these claims, even if well-founded by research, would not be considered legal by the FDA.

At NOW® Foods, we believe it is important to provide consumers with correct, scientific information about our products, while remaining within the parameters set out by the FDA. 

We also believe in helping our customers gain access to as much information as possible. The NOW® website, NOW® University and our e-newsletter offer you information on recently published scientific studies and articles written by our own well-informed nutritionists. We can also refer you to the Natural Health Research Institute website for more information.

By tapping into these resources we’ve created, and doing your own independent research, you can make better decisions about your nutrition. And go supplement shopping with more confidence.

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