Natural and safe supplements

  • Health
  • Sunday, 23 Nov 2003

PREVENTION is better than cure. This is a truth that cannot be denied, especially now that many chronic and lifestyle diseases are on the rise. Many now realise the importance of healthy food choices and exercise to ensure a healthy body.  

Whenever possible, health-conscious people would try to keep stress and pollution as far away as possible. However, many of us are not able to do so as we rush madly about, fulfilling our tasks and responsibilities. Stress, late nights, chemical-laden foods, medications and many other elements become part of our daily life. Hence, most of us consume dietary supplements, which are also known as health supplements, for protection. 

Walk into any pharmacy or health food store and it wouldn’t be surprising if you were confused by the array of dietary supplements available for all sorts of ailments.  

The traditional usage of the dietary supplement is also one of the criteria to determine the supplement's safety.

There are a variety of supplements from different manufacturers intended for one particular problem. The consumer would need to choose the right supplement suitable for him or her with the limited knowledge he or she has on the particular brand name.  

Is that product safe? Is it effective? These are pertinent questions that need answers. No one wants to be a victim of unsafe supplements. 

Regulation matters 

According to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), dietary supplements are defined as vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and other dietary substances intended to supplement the diet by increasing the total dietary intake, or as any concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract, or combination of these ingredients.  

It could be in a form meant for ingestion, like tablets, capsules, powders, softgels, gelcaps and liquid, and labelled as a dietary supplement.  

In the US, any health claims to be put on the label must first be notified to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), while in Malaysia, this has to be addressed to the National Pharmaceutical Control Bureau (NPCB). These bodies are responsible for the monitoring of the safety of health supplements sold in their respective countries.  

So how do these bodies monitor the safety of these supplements, especially herbal supplements claiming to be “natural and safe”? Locally, every health product intended to be marketed must first gain approval from the Health Ministry. The relevant party responsible for the product approval would then determine the safety of the product to be marketed. This party would evaluate scientific data produced by the manufacturers to substantiate the claims made. Insufficient evidence to demonstrate safety is a predominant reason for the rejection of many products by the Ministry.  

Safety parameters 

Reports on the chemistry, method of manufacture and specifications of a supplement, backed by sound scientific and clinical studies, are vital for the evaluation of the safety of the product to be distributed.  

Manufacturers meeting the requirements of good manufacturing practice (GMP) and use of industry best practices generally ensure the quality and safety of their dietary supplements.  

The Health Ministry will also look into the specifications of the product to see whether it meets acceptable standards, and sometimes also the source of the ingredients.  

There would also be a check on the historical use of the substance, or in another term, the traditional usage of the dietary supplement, which would also be used as one of the criteria to determine the supplement’s safety.  

Then the approved product would bear a registration number starting with the letters “MAL” and followed by eight digits and a letter. Examples are like MAL19911524X and MAL19970871T. Only dietary supplements bearing such registration can be sold to the public. Responsible manufacturers would also put in a barcode numbering system and batch or lot numbering to enable tracking of the supplements in the market. 

Dose-response relationship 

Another important point on the issue of safety of dietary supplement lies in the dose-response relationship. This relationship allows for a quantitative assessment of safety and is based on the simple underlying principle that “the dose makes the poison”. 

Consumers should understand that the recommended dose of any ingredient of a dietary supplement is based on the intended physiological or nutritional effect of that supplement. With a clear recommended dose on a label, the intended exposure is quantified and limited. The recommendation is usually not intended to represent an upper level of safe use. Therefore, when one exceeds the recommended dose, the risk of adverse effects increase. 

It is important that the consumer follow the recommended dose when taking any health supplement, unless as prescribed by a trained health professional. 

Trustworthy manufacturer 

Being a consumer, we could also look at the integrity and reputation of the manufacturer. Manufacturers that do not have any complaints made against them are not necessarily the best choice. In fact, how a manufacturer reacts to complaints made by the public reflects on the reliability and commitment of the company.  

A company that emphasises consumer satisfaction would be more pro-active in educating and ensuring that they produce quality dietary supplements. Initiatives such as setting up an in-house quality laboratory, which is not a mandatory in the regulations, definitely shows the commitment of the manufacturer to deliver top-notch quality health supplements. A trusted brand for years is usually a better choice.  


1. Blendon, R. J., DesRoches, C. M., Benson, J. M., Brodie, M., Altman, D. E. (2001). Americans’ views on the use and regulation of dietary supplements. Arch Intern Med. 161:805-810. USA. 

2. Hatchcock, J. (2001). Dietary supplements: how they are used and regulated. The Journal of Nutrition. (suppl):1114S-1117S. USA. 

3. Hlywka, J., Harwood, M. (2003). Ensuring the safety of dietary supplements. Nutraceuticals World. 6:10:50-53. USA. 

4. Ross, S. (2000). Functional foods: the Food and Drug Administration perspective. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 71 (suppl):1735S-8S. USA. 

5. Winslow, L. C. (1998). Herbs as medicines. Arch. Intern. Med. 158:2192-2199. USA. 

6. Wong, C. (n.d.). Herb and supplement safety. Retrieved October 27, 2003 from  

The above article is contributed by Thomson’s panel of health professionals. For more information e-mail The information is intended for educational purposes only. It is not provided in order to diagnose, prescribe or treat any disease, illness or injured condition of the body. Those individuals suffering from diseases, illness or injury should consult their physicians. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information. 

Article type: metered
User Type: anonymous web
User Status:
Campaign ID: 1
Cxense type: free
User access status: 3

Did you find this article insightful?


Next In Health

When disgust helps avoid infection
Our thyroid hormones can't be too high or too low, but just right for our health Premium
How to make kids take their medicine
Unusually high number of people naturally controlling HIV found in the Congo
How climate change affects our health, both directly and indirectly
Work out with these common household items
We still have unequal access to healthcare
New treatment in Malaysia for atherosclerosis uses sonic waves
A doctor’s journey from government service to private practice
An afternoon nap could help maintain your brain

Stories You'll Enjoy