Simi Pharmacy

Making sense of dietary supplements

Any time you are putting something in your body, you have to be careful.  And that includes vitamins and supplements. SIMI PHARMACY stocks many dietary supplements and we do not doubt that they are intended to make people healthier BUT it is our duty to make you aware of possible side-effects or contra-indications.

Of course, we are much safer than our great-grandparents were.  Those were the days when enterprising “doctors” hitched up their wagons and went from frontier town to frontier town selling elixirs, liniments and physicks. 

It was common to describe these “sovereign remedies” as “Injun medicine” and the ingredients were invariably secret. They were advertised as cures for “anything that ails you” … quinsy, conniptions, collywobbles, heebie-jeebies, the fantods and “female troubles”.  Most of these products were useless, some of them were harmful and all of them took advantage of ignorance to empty consumer pockets.

The federal government made a start on reining in this business in 1906 with the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act, which established the FDA.  However, success was not instantaneous.  In fact, the FDA has been fighting a running battle against unsubstantiated claims and spurious/mislabeled/unsafe drugs ever since.

From chasing down individual salesmen, today’s FDA has moved on to exercising oversight on corporate empires who make big money from supplements and vitamins.  Many of these products are marketed as remedies for some specific problem: weak eyesight, thin hair, brittle nails, constipation, lack of energy, poor appetite, excessive appetite, insomnia, irritability, etc.

If a product is found to be adulterated (an ingredient is unsafe) or misbranded (the label is false or misleading) the FDA can take action against the manufacturer.  Also, a product marketed as a dietary supplement crosses the red line if it claims to mitigate, treat, cure, or prevent a disease.

The FDA will not approve any prescription medicine or over-the-counter product without solid evidence of effectiveness.  This is NOT the case with vitamins and supplements.  The makers only have to declare all ingredients and show that they are safe.  Safe is not the same thing as effective.

Also, the FDA cannot restrict sale of a supplement or vitamin because it impacts the action of a drug.  Research has established that some supplements do indeed alter the way drugs work in the body.  Much more research in needed in this area – particularly when it comes to plant extracts.  It’s difficult to draw scientific conclusions about them because there just haven’t been enough rigorously controlled experiments on large samples.

What the FDA can do is make information available.  Earlier this month, the FDA released its Dietary Supplement Ingredient Directory.  You can check it out at 

In the directory, ingredients used in products marketed as dietary supplements are listed along with FDA findings about that ingredient and record of any actions/communications with regard to the ingredient that the FDA has taken. If there is a separate FDA webpage for an ingredient, the directory provides a link to that page.

Be aware that the way your body absorbs, metabolises and excretes a medication can be altered by one or more particular dietary supplement. This could be a vitamin, mineral, amino acid or plant extract. Supplements may weaken the effect of a drug or strengthen it – either way, the drug is not acting the way it is supposed to.  Double caution is the rule if supplements are given to children.  Their metabolisms are not the same as that of adults. And of course, women who are pregnant or lactating should remember that their baby is having whatever they’re having.

Do not suppose that a supplement is harmless because it is “herbal”, which means derived from a botanical source.  “Natural” does not automatically mean “safe”.  Oleander, castor bean, nightshade, lily of the valley and hemlock are all plants and perfectly natural … but  if you ingest them, they will kill you.

In general, if you are worried that your diet is not giving you all the essential vitamins your body needs, then adopt a healthier diet.  That means plenty of fruits and vegetables every day, along with whole grains and lean proteins.  Go slow on sugar.  And while you’re at it, get out in the sunshine, exercise, and stay away from anything that blackens your lungs, hardens your heart, shrivels your liver, punishes your kidneys and fuddles your brain.

If you are inflicting damage on your body every day, don’t expect a vitamin or supplement to cancel out the harm.

As always,

SIMI PHARMACY urges you to



It’s our job to know about all kinds of health products and we are happy to answer questions about dietary supplements, including what is known about their reactions with medications. 

 If we don’t know, we will put you in touch with a doctor who does.

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