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8 Things to Know About Reading Supplement Labels

When you pick up a new supplement, you will likely be seeing a brand new set of instructions and possibly some ingredients and terms you are unfamiliar with. Read on to find out some important things to understand when reading supplement labels.
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In order for any vitamins or other dietary supplements to be effective and work properly, it's critical to ensure you follow all dosage instructions and abide by the directions for use. Whether you've been taking supplements your whole life or you're new to them and want to understand what the phrases and elements on a label mean, here are explanations to several common questions that can help you to better understand your supplements.

1. Are supplements right for everyone?

Even though many supplements are labeled natural and are intended to improve your health, this does not necessarily mean they are appropriate for everyone. Supplement labels don't always take into consideration health conditions you may have or medications you might be taking, both of which are two factors that play a role in determining whether you should take a certain supplement. Many of them do, however, provide clear warnings about refraining from taking a supplement if you meet certain health criteria. If you have any doubt at all, you should consult your health care practitioner about whether a supplement is right for you.

2. Is the dosage/recommended use set in stone?

For the average consumer, the directions and recommended dosage listed on the supplement label are accurate and you should follow them. However, depending on your individual health concerns, your doctor may recommend that you adjust the dosage. For everyday use, follow the dosage instructions listed on the label, and do not attempt to alter the dosage of a supplement without first speaking to your health care practitioner.

3. Do supplement labels take into account the upper limits of ingredients?

The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements defines the UL (tolerable upper intake level) as the maximum daily intake of a vitamin or other nutrient that is unlikely to cause adverse health effects. The UL of a vitamin or nutrient usually entails all sources of it, including what you may receive from both foods and supplements. The upper limits of vitamins are not usually listed on supplement labels, but they can be found on government health websites. It's critical to be aware of the UL for vitamins you might be taking so you don't exceed the highest amount of a nutrient that your body can safely handle.

4. Are there certain vitamins and nutrients that can become dangerous if consumed in excess?

Vitamins A, E and K, along with iron and selenium, are several ingredients in particular that can become overabundant in the body and cause problems if you don't keep track of how much you are taking. However, it's possible for any ingredient to become problematic if taken in extremely high doses. For example, if you are taking a multivitamin that contains one or more of these ingredients, it's important to make sure you are not taking any additional supplements that contain high amounts of the same ingredients—this may push you above the upper limits and cause toxicity in your body.

5. What do expiration dates really mean?

Expiration dates signify that the contents of a supplement  lose potency at this date and will not be as effective. If your vitamins expired a month ago, it is typically still safe to take them, but they will not contain the same percent daily value (%DV) that they did when they were first purchased. This will likely impact the dosage.

6. What are the different units of measuring the amount of ingredients in a supplement?

The most common units of measurement included on supplement labels are milligrams (mg), micrograms (mcg), grams (g) and international units (IU). These are all used to illustrate how much of a vitamin or nutrient is included in a serving of the entire supplement. International units are typically used to measure vitamins that can be dissolved in fat (fat-soluble), like vitamins A, D and E.

7. What are proprietary blends?

Whether it's listed on your pre-workout powder or whole foods multivitamin, it's likely that you've seen the term “proprietary blend.” A proprietary blend is a formula that contains multiple ingredients and is exclusive to a particular manufacturer or brand.

8. What do percent daily values (%DV) mean? What does it mean if an ingredient doesn't have one?

The %DV of any vitamin or nutrient signifies the amount that is contained within that supplement or product, in relation to how much is recommended per day. If your protein supplement contains 24 grams of protein and 48% DV, this means that taking the recommended serving of this product will help you to reach 48% of the recommended amount of protein you should have daily, typically based on a 2,000 calorie diet. If an ingredient is missing a %DV or you see asterisks (**) in that field, this indicates that a daily value has not been established. According to Dr. Weil, this means that the ingredients are scientifically proven to be safe and possess health benefits when consumed at the amounts listed on the label. 

If you ever have any concerns about taking a dietary supplement or are still unsure about proper usage, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. Our wide selection of wellness essentials at eVitamins is great for a variety of lifestyles, so check us out today! Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

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