Most of us take some supplements every day. But few of us have any idea what we are taking.
Help has begun to arrive.
Shopping for Supplements
Sixty-eight percent of American adults take nutritional or dietary supplements, according to a 2012 customer survey by the Council for Responsible Nutrition. I’m sure that the proportion is even higher among those of us who have diabetes.
We have two separate problems with supplements. The first is to decide which supplements we need. The second is to find those that are safe, effective, and the best value.
I have long argued here that we have no way of knowing which — if any — supplements are worth taking. In the United States, because of theDietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, the Food and Drug Administration isn’t allowed to regulate supplements as long as the manufacturers don’t make any claims about preventing or treating disease. Consequently, the FDA can only regulate supplements as a food, not like it regulates pharmaceutical drugs, which have to be tested as both safe and effective.
The law requires the FDA to wait until the supplements do us harm before it can remove them from the stores. As a result, it reports 50,000 health problems from supplements each year. It estimates that 70 percent of these supplement companies don’t follow the basic quality control standards that would help prevent adulteration of their products, but the law won’t let it do anything about it.
Nonetheless, like almost everyone who has diabetes I take some supplements. I take them on faith, which well could be misplaced. My current supplements, broadly defined, are these:
Vitamin D-3 5,000 IU
Potassium plus iodine: 225 mcg iodine and 99 mg potassium
Rising Mag64: Slow-acting magnesium 128 mg and calcium 224 mg/b.i.d.
Supplements That Aren’t Vitamins or Minerals:
Temporarily until I completely reverse a microaneurysm in my left eye (they seem to be working for me, but I don’t know if they are safe or effective):
Pycnogenol 100 mg/b.i.d.
Grape seed 250 mg/b.i.d.
Benfotiamine 150 mg/b.i.d.
But even when we decide to take a chance that the benefits of taking a type of supplement are greater than the risks, we still haven’t had any way of telling which brands to buy. That’s beginning to happen now.
The breakthrough is the first free website dedicated to testing and publicizing tests of these supplements. The site is Labdoor.
Its founder and CEO is Neil Thanedar. He is a young man with an undergraduate degree in chemistry from the University of Michigan. His site went live a year ago. Labdoor gives us the information free and free of industry ties. The site makes money from non-product advertisements, subscriptions to its premium services, and from licensing its content and grades.
Backing Labdoor are Rock Health and the Mayo Clinic, two leading healthcare not-for-profit organizations. Angel investors like Mark Cuban and leading venture capital firms Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, Mohr Davidow Ventures, and Aberdare Ventures also back Labdoor’s work.
The site has just got off the ground. Testing and analysis of supplements is time-consuming work, and to date Labdoor has tested brands in three categories: protein powders, energy drinks, and fish oil.
“Currently we have tested and ranked 50 protein powders, 25 energy drinks, and 30 fish oil supplements,” Mr. Thanedar told me a few days ago. “Over the next 45 days we will add 20 vitamin D pills and 75 multivitamin supplements.”
The forthcoming test of vitamin D pills promises to be exceptionally useful for all of us who take them every day. With Labdoor’s help, we are beginning to get a handle on the supplements we take.
This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.