Decode Your Supplement Label

Published on May 04, 2012 by Dr. Mary Chou

What are the differences among the directions of uses, ‘with food’, ‘without food’, or with a ‘fat-containing meal’?

When a supplement is recommended to be taken with or without food, it is indicated on label.   The recommendations for taking ‘with a (fat-containing meal)’ and ‘with food’ can be interpreted to have the same meaning and for the same end result.  The recommendations for taking ‘with a (fat-containing meal)’ and ‘with food’ are also usually indicated for fat-soluble (able to be dissolved better in fatty solutions/environments) supplements.  If the label does not indicate how to take it, then it can be taken in any way you choose.

Cautions on labels - why are there so many more than there used to be? 

Caution recommendations that go on NHPD/Health Canada approved labels of natural health products are based on the available literature and other available information (for example, international expert committee reports and international regulatory body decisions) provided by license applicants to NHPD/Health Canada and/or available to NHPD/Health Canada, and NHPD/Health Canada assessment of the literature/information.  A principal mandate of Health Canada is to minimize health risk factors to Canadians while maximizing safety and efficacy (effectiveness) of health products.  So, unless it is undisputable that a caution/warning doesn’t apply for a product, the caution/warning stands a high likelihood of being mandated to appear on the label.  Some of you will nod in recognition as you may see the parallels between the extensive caution labeling on some natural health product labels and the commercial adverts that you see sometimes for pharmaceuticals, where the voice-over comes on to list (quickly) the long list of warnings and potential adverse reactions.

The list of cautions can be further extended by the intended purposes for ingredients/products and their implications for various health conditions.  For example, lipoic acid contributes to healthy glucose metabolism, but diabetics should be under health care practitioner consultation to ensure that their blood sugar is being properly monitored and regulated for their specific condition.

Are the amounts indicated on the supplement facts panel for one capsule or the full serving?

The amounts indicated on the supplements facts panel are usually for one serving, and the label also specifies how many capsules are in a serving.  These quantities indicate the amount

of the elemental or active amount of ingredient that is provided per serving.   You can think of the elemental/active amount as meaning the portion of the compound contributing to its beneficial or nutritional effects.  The other parts of the compound that do not contribute to the physiological effects of the compound can be thought of as acting like a carrier.  The ‘carrier’ parts of the compound are not included in the quantity on the label.  Any exceptions to this will be specified.

What are the differences between medicinal versus non-medicinal ingredients?

Medicinal ingredients are the ingredients that provide the effects of the product.  Medicinal ingredient quantities always appear on the label.  Non-medicinal ingredients generally play a role in the production process of the product, and in managing quality, taste, and/or appearance of the product, but do not impact the product safety or effectiveness.  Non-medicinal ingredient quantities do not have to appear on the label and are not required to be arranged by descending amount.

You may also be interested in: "Common Misconceptions about Non-Medicinal Ingredients"

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