by Dave on June 5, 2009

As first appeared in Coastal Sussex Weekly, May 21, 2009:

by Lisa Harkins

For those of you who frequent my nutrition classes at Quest Fitness and Kayak, you will recognize this title.  I held a class last month regarding the same topic, and feel based on the feedback I received from that class, the subject deserves another look. It seems as if many individuals are looking for that “magic pill”, the one that will assist with their nutrition, make them thin, more toned, have clearer skin, better digestion, ward off cancer and add more pep in their step.  Does such a supplement (or combination of several) exist? Let’s first understand the definition of a supplement, and how to separate the facts from the quacks.

“Supplement” as defined by Merriam-Webster is “A product taken orally that contains one or more ingredients (as vitamins or amino acids) that are intended to supplement one’s diet and are not considered food.” It is important to note that under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), the manufacturer is responsible for ensuring that the supplement is safe before it is marketed. The FDA takes action against any unsafe product only after it reaches the market. In addition, manufacturers do not need to register their products with FDA, nor get FDA approval before producing or selling dietary supplements. They just need to make sure that product label information is truthful and not misleading. (Does this worry anyone? If not it should!). So until a person complains, gets ill, or worse, dies, due to a supplement legally on the market, the FDA does nothing. Remember this the next time you are buying that concoction from your Aunt Molly, or those pills with all those positive “testimonials” off the internet.

What, then, is quackery?  “Quackery” is deliberate misrepresentation of the ability of a substance or device for the prevention or treatment of disease (quackery also applies to persons who pretend to be able to diagnose or heal people but are unqualified and incompetent). Examples of some popular products classified as quack currently on the market are AcaiBurn Weight Loss (litigation proceedings initiated by Oprah Winfrey), Relacore (countless warnings by FDA due to unsubstantiated claims), Extenze (founder Steve Warshak serving 25 years in federal prison – even as his company’s “Smiling Bob” commercials run on late night TV) and Mannatech (ousted CEO Sam Caster prevented from starting another multi-level marketing company for five years and over $6 million awarded in punitive damages to duped consumers).

I have a pretty open mind when it comes to alternative and complimentary therapies in conjunction with what I consider more traditional health management . I even take some supplements myself: calcium (500mg daily), glucosamine-chondroitin (500mg/400mg 2-3 times daily), vitamin C (500mg when I remember!), and a multi (2-3 times per week). These are all supplements with solid research behind them. But I am pretty black and white when it comes to unsubstantiated claims from bogus products, and discourage my clients from taking any supplement without running it by me first. The best these types of products can be is a waste of your money. But you can only imagine the worst.  For more information on dietary supplements visit:

Lisa Harkins is a clinical registered dietitian with Bayhealth Medical Centers and the owner of Ideal Nutrition and Fitness LLC ( who believes you should get the majority of your nutrients from food, not pills! You can reach her at

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