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How do you know whether the nutritional supplement you're buying is safe?

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How many people first check with the non-profit United States Pharmacopeia, also known as USP to see whether any nutritional supplements they buy is USP verified? If you walk through a local health food store or shop online, how do you know for sure that what's on the label is what's in the container? Since the FDA doesn't regulate dietary supplements, there are sources where you can see voluntarily regulated nutritional supplements by checking to see whether the supplements have the USP label on them. It's known as the USP Verified Mark that's on the package. How do you know whether the dietary, nutritional supplement you'd like to buy is safe?

There's the non-profit United States Pharmacopeia, also known as USP. It has been around since 1820, and has a voluntary regulation program where manufacturers of dietary supplements can have their ingredients verified. Since it's voluntary, not all manufacturers of nutritional supplements are marked as "USP Verified." If you're looking for USP free forums, see the site, User Forums Open for Registration.

Also courses are given by USP around the world. You also can check out the website explaining the courses and/or meetings. Check out the free online courses, such as Medicines Compendium eLearning Course-NEW: Self-paced eLearning. Yes, it's free, and with 30-days unlimited access.

Here's where you can find information on USP Dietary Supplement Standards

On the website of the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention you also can find links to information on Dietary Supplements, Reference Standards, Verification Services, Food Ingredients, and Resources. You can check out the Dietary Supplements Compendium and the Development Process.

You can check out the video, "What to Look for When Choosing Dietary Supplements," (June 2012). To help manufacturers, suppliers, and regulators safeguard the dietary supplement supply, USP provides documentary standards and reference materials for determining product and ingredient identity, strength, quality, and purity. Check out the site, "Education on Dietary Supplement Verification."

These standards help limit the introduction of potential adulterants and contaminants, and serve as a widely acknowledged quality benchmark in the buying and selling of dietary supplement products and their ingredients in the global marketplace. In addition to its standards, USP offers third-party, independent verification services for dietary supplement finished products and dietary ingredients, according to the USP's website.

How do you check out your dietary supplements before you buy them? See, Dietary Supplement Tools and Resources. You also can view Sample DSC Admissions Criteria Safety Review. Or read the USP Catalog. Before you buy a supplement, you might want to check out the Safety Data Sheets for USP Reference Standards Available as a Free Resource.

USP's Relationship with Dietary Supplements

Since its beginning in 1820, USP has been concerned with the standardization of botanicals and minerals, evidenced by the content of the first USP, which contained mostly botanicals and other natural drugs. In 1930, USP formed the Vitamin Advisory Board, which established the first pharmacopeial assays and Reference Standards for Vitamin A and D, and by 1942, USP had established monographs for all vitamins recognized at that time. In 1975, USP acquired the National Formulary (NF), which primarily features specifications for excipients commonly used in pharmaceuticals and dietary supplements. Check out the USP Catalog.

In 1990, the USP Convention adopted a resolution calling for standards on dosage forms containing combinations of vitamins and minerals, leading to the development of a separate "Nutritional Supplements" section in the USP–NF. After the passage of the Dietary Supplements and Health and Education Act in 1994, this section was expanded significantly and renamed "Dietary Supplements" with the addition of many new monographs for botanical and non-botanical dietary ingredients and dietary supplement articles.

With the purchase of the Food Chemicals Codex (FCC) in 2006, USP once again added to its portfolio of standards relevant to dietary supplements. Considering the changing needs of a growing global dietary supplement industry, USP published the USP Dietary Supplements Compendium (DSC) in 2009, with the intention of providing a comprehensive resource for dietary supplement manufacturers, suppliers, and regulators. The DSC combines the "Dietary Supplements" section and other relevant monographs from USP–NF with monographs from the FCC.

Today, USP offers nearly 800 monographs in the DSC and more than 200 Reference Standards for use in the development and testing of dietary supplements. In addition, the USP Verified Mark, the symbol awarded by USP to dietary supplement products that meet the stringent criteria of its voluntary Dietary Supplement Verification program, has appeared on more than 400 million supplement labels, notes the organization's website. Check out the Meeting Observer Form for Non-members.

Help Develop USP Standards

Again this year, USP staff will travel to locations around the world. At each stop, the organization will present one-day, free seminars to discuss timely issues regarding USP initiatives and how to use available USP resources to your advantage.

Seminar topics include:

  • USP Publications
  • Pharmacopeial Forum Redesign
  • Reference Standards Development
  • Hot Topics:
    • Heavy Metals/Elemental Impurities
    • Biotechnology and Biologics
    • Food Ingredients
    • Performance Verification Testing
    • Harmonization Process
  • Opportunities to Get Involved with USP

All events include a Q&A session and take-home materials. Lunch will be provided.

Register now for a USP User Forum near you. Or check out the site, "Education on Dietary Supplement Verification." Forums are in the USA or in Europe.

The forums in the USA include the following:

User Forum Raleigh, NC

February 11, 2014

FCC/DSC User Forum Anaheim, CA

March 5, 2014

If you're traveling to Europe or Israel, check out the European or Israel forum dates:

User Forum Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

January 21, 2014

User Forum Basel, Switzerland

January 29, 2014

User Forum Tel Aviv, Israel

February 13, 2014

User Forum London, England

March 6, 2014

User Forum Frankfurt, Germany

March 13, 2014

User Forum Ljubljana, Slovenia

June 5, 2014

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