As veterinarians and technicians, we’re used to looking at a label and prescribing a medication, then being confident that drug and milligram strength are as the label says. Whether you’re recommending some over-the-counter fish oil or you have a patient who just scarfed down his owner’s new weight-loss supplement, here’s what you need to know when it comes to supplement labels.
While the FDA does regulate both dietary supplements and dietary ingredients, the regulations follow different rules than those for food or medication. Prescription medications are required to be safe, effective and contain what they are supposed to prior to marketing—however, that’s not the case for dietary supplements.
Furthermore, the definition of “dietary supplement” is very broad. Anything that contains one or more vitamin, mineral, amino acid, herb or other botanical or any concentrate, extract or component of those ingredients is considered a dietary supplement.
Studies also show that safety and efficacy on many ingredients in dietary supplements are often lacking.
However, there are a few ways to know that the product is what it says it is.
The USP (United States Pharmacopeia) Verified Mark is awarded to dietary supplement products that meet stringent requirements of a voluntary verification process. USP verified means the product:
contains the ingredients listed on the label, in the declared potency and amount;
contains no harmful levels of specified contaminants;
will break down and release into the body within a specified amount of time;
has been made using safe, sanitary and well-controlled manufacturing practices according to PDA and USP guidelines.
NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) certification is the only American National Standard that establishes requirements for the ingredients in dietary and nutritional supplements. There are three components:
label claims are reviewed to verify that what is in the bottle is on the label;
toxicology review certifies product formulation (but doesn’t test for efficacy);
contaminant review ensures there are no undeclared ingredients or unacceptable levels of contaminants;
products are tested at NSF laboratories and undergo audits and periodic retesting;
NSF also tests sports supplements.
There are a few labs like LabDoor and ConsumerLab.com that test supplement and report their finding. These companies do charge a fee to access their reports. Because some unscrupulous companies have placed the USP seal on their products without actually earning the seal, checking USP and NSF websites for specific products who do have the seal is recommended.
What Does this Mean to a Practitioner?
Encourage your clients to tell you what products they are giving their pets. In some cases, supplements can interfere with prescribed medications or cause adverse reactions.
Research supplements that are being prescribed or recommended.
If you have a patient who got into the owner’s supplement, check the FDA’s website to see if that product has been declared as having unannounced ingredients.
If you suspect an adverse reaction, report the reaction to the FDA (1-800-FDA-1088). For more information from the FDA, check out the FAQ.