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By Dr. Leigh Vinocur, Board-Certified Emergency Physician
The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on consumer behavior across a variety of industries. According to a recent survey, the use of dietary supplements has increased substantially since the start of the pandemic. What many consumers may not realize is that supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration like other medicines, which means the quality and potency of some of the same supplements can vary widely. The onus of safety is placed on the supplement manufacturer—not the FDA—to ensure their product is high quality and safe to consume. Years of product recalls and damaging news stories haven’t instilled widespread confidence, and some see the industry as a “wild west” with little regulation and oversight.
But the actions of few should not leave the entire industry tainted. For those who use supplements regularly—and for those physicians interested in recommending supplements to their patients—it is important to know what to look for to ensure the supplements are quality and have been verified to include the ingredients on their label. One solution: look for third party verification of quality from organizations like the United States Pharmacopeia, or USP.
USP has refined its medicine, dietary supplement, and food verification process during the last 200 years. The organization works with manufacturers to ensure they have the appropriate quality assurance protocols and test their products against science-based quality standards. When a patient or provider sees a USP verified mark, it means the supplement contains the ingredients on the label, does not contain harmful levels of contaminants, will break down and release into the body, and has been made using safe manufacturing practices.
This third-party verification is vital in an industry when products with the same ingredient can vary significantly in quality. For example, saw palmetto extract is used as an ingredient in countless over-the-counter supplements to support prostate health. In August 2021, a comprehensive three-part review was published of 58 studies from all around the world, providing a first-time view on the benefits of saw palmetto extract (Part I, Part II, Part III). The use of high-quality saw palmetto extract has been shown to improve the quality of life for users by reducing the frequent urge of urination throughout the day and night, inability to fully empty the bladder, continued discomfort and more, without impacting sexual health.
But not all forms of saw palmetto are identical. There are major differences between most of the commonly available forms of saw palmetto currently on the market. The most common form is ground berry powder which is the predominant form sold in stores. However, the body of science supports saw palmetto oil extract exclusively. Among saw palmetto extracts products in the US there can be wide variability in the quality. That is why it is so important to look for a high-quality saw palmetto extract, such as Flomentum, which has been verified for purity, potency and quality by USP.
Third-party verification plays a critical role in ensuring quality for consumers looking for over-the-counter vitamins and dietary supplements, and the healthcare providers looking for alternatives for their patients whose symptoms aren’t severe enough to require prescription medication. There is no doubt there is a lot of variety in the supplement industry and little regulation—but third-party verification can help instill trust for both consumers and prescribers. USP can give them the confidence that these products are safe, free of contaminants and contain the ingredients posted on their label.
Dr. Leigh Vinocur is an emergency physician, board-certified with a master’s degree in medical cannabis science and therapeutics, so she is well versed in herbal preparations of medications and supplements. She has made regular appearances on The TODAY Show, FNC, CNN, HLN and the Dr. Oz Show, as well as many other national and local media outlets. Dr. Vinocur has done residencies in urology initially, and then emergency medicine, where she has over 30 years of experience.
She held various academic appointments throughout her career and has been a Chief Medical Officer for U.S. Nutraceuticals, Inc., national spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians, and one of the most prominent doctors on television. Dr. Leigh had authored a regular health column in Examiner newspaper chain, while it was operating and is currently authoring a monthly advice column in a Hearst publication, GreenState. She continues to make an impact on the national landscape, especially during this pandemic. She has advised the importance of the USP Verification Program in the supplement market to ensure quality products for consumers and the health care providers who care for them.