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NIH releases database with info on 17,000 dietary supplement labels

By Hank Schultz , 18-Jun-2013
Last updated on 11-Jul-2014 at 15:40 GMT

NIH releases database with info on 17,000 dietary supplement labels

A new government dietary supplement database now provides information on the ingredients thousands of finished products for the benefit of researchers, health care providers and consumers, according to the National Institutes of Health, which hosts the site.

The Dietary Supplement Label Database, which can accessed here , has the information from the labels of about 17,000 dietary supplements, according the NIH.  The database is searchable and can be customized.

"This database will be of great value to many diverse groups of people, including nutrition researchers, healthcare providers, consumers, and others," said Paul M. Coates, Ph.D., director of the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS). “For example, research scientists might use the Dietary Supplement Label Database to determine total nutrient intakes from food and supplements in populations they study."

"AHPA has always supported efforts to provide consumers with accurate, up-to-date information that helps them make informed decisions when purchasing herbal products," said Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association. "The (new database) should help consumers easily find the dietary supplement information they need, including ingredients, directions for use, health-related claims, and any cautions they should consider before consuming."

“It’s a great service to everybody to have that information so readily accessible,” Alex Schauss, senior director of scientific and regulatory consultancy AIBMR Life Sciences told NutraIngredients-USA.

“What I’m concerned with is its not very thorough.  There are a lot of network marketing companies and different sales channels that are not shown on there at all. I think it is a work in progress that once it is much more complete will be a great benefit,” he said.

Dietary supplements are taken regularly by about half of U.S. adults, the NIH notes.  This rate of usage  can add significant amounts of nutrients and other ingredients to the diet, including vitamins, minerals, herbals and botanicals, amino acids, enzymes, and more. Supplements feature a variey of delivery forms, such as tablets, capsules, and powders, as well as liquids and energy bars. The database will help nutrition researchers quantify these inputs, the NIH said.

Supplement facts panel information

By law, any product labeled as a dietary supplement must carry a Supplement Facts panel that list its contents and other added ingredients (such as fillers, binders, and flavorings). The Dietary Supplement Label Database includes this information and much more—such as directions for use, health-related claims, and any cautions—from the label.

The Dietary Supplement Label Database offers these features:

  • Quick Search: Search for any ingredient or specific text on a label.
  • Search for Dietary Ingredients: An alphabetical list of ingredients is also provided.
  • Search for Specific Products: An alphabetical list of products is also provided.
  • Browse Contact Information: Search by supplement manufacturer or distributor.
  • Advanced Search: Provides options for expanding a search by using a combination of search options including dietary ingredient, product/brand name, health-related claims, and label statements.

Hundreds of new dietary supplements are added to the marketplace each year, while some are removed. Product formulations are frequently adjusted, as is information on labels. “The Dietary Supplement Label Database will be updated regularly to incorporate most of the more than 55,000 dietary supplement products in the U.S. marketplace,” said Steven Phillips, M.D., director of the National Library of Medicine’s Division of Specialized Information Services.

The Dietary Supplement Label Database is the result of collaboration between ODS and NLM, with input from federal stakeholders who participate in a federal working group on dietary supplements. These include representatives from most NIH institutes and centers, as well as the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Trade Commission and other government agencies.

Are labels accurate?

Schauss said one potential weakness of the database is that it relies on information provided by manufacturers.  While most manufacturers can be relied upon to meet label claims, enough don’t that it raises a doubt if researchers start to rely on the database as authoritative.

“We’re assuming that the numbers that are claimed on the supplement facts panels are accurate. If those numbers are way off, researchers must be cautious,” he said.

“It does tell the dietary supplement industry how important it is that any ingredient listed on their labels be at the dosage they are reporting because the NIH is using that information to report to industry.”

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