By Edwin B. Smith
University of Mississippi
Dietary supplements come with a disclaimer that they are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent diseases. Still, a University of Mississippi pharmacy expert advises users to know exactly what they can and cannot do.
Hayley Prescott, instructional assistant professor of pharmacy, said that she advocates for being the most informed consumer you can.
“Three key nonprofits – our own National Center for Natural Products Research, the American Botanical Council and the American Herbal Pharmacopeia – work constantly to provide scientific evidence, guidance to industry and education opportunities in this area,” she said.
“Even though dietary supplements are regulated by the FDA, they do not have the authority to approve their effectiveness or safety before being sold to consumers. Not all products are created equally, and your due diligence regarding an ingredient or the company you purchase from can go a long way.
“If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”
Prescott said she has seen a change in the way that supplements are marketed, particularly as it relates to boosting immunity and managing stress.
“While echinacea has always had a spotlight on it for supporting immune health, black elderberry gained more traction post-pandemic in its notable syrup preparation,” she said. “The wonderful world of medicinal mushrooms – including, but certainly not limited to, reishi and maitake – are getting their turn.”
“Adaptogens,” a categorical term for the botanicals and fungi that help people keep calm and carry on have always been a go-to, Prescott said.
“Perhaps the most notable to the general population is Asian ginseng, but as mentioned before for immune support, mushrooms are appearing in a myriad of preparations,” she said. “Along with reishi and maitake, look out for lion’s mane, chaga and cordyceps.”
Though dietary supplements are becoming more common among home remedies, Prescott noted that several inaccurate myths remain. For starters, just because they refer to themselves as “natural” does not mean they are safe.
“While it is a great marketing tactic, there are very well known and documented interactions and contraindications between dietary ingredients and prescription medication,” Prescott said. “That is why it is always important to disclose any supplement use with your health care practitioner.”
Finally, Prescott said she regularly hears that dietary supplements are not regulated, an issue that was addressed with the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act in 1994.
“The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act amended the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and subsequent amendments have given the FDA authority to regulate the dietary supplement industry,” she said.
“I am not a medical doctor; however, I believe that enough data has shown the positive impacts of a balanced diet and routine physical activity on maintaining one’s health. It also doesn’t hurt to be kind.”