(ARA) - With a growing number of dietary supplement products on the market, selecting the right one for your needs can be an intimidating and confusing task. Knowing what to look for before you purchase a dietary supplement makes the decision-making process easier. Here's a simple "Before You Choose Checklist:"

* Talk to your physician or pharmacist
They can be helpful in advising you on dosage values for your needs, possible allergic reactions, interactions with other medications or foods and potential side effects.

* Research the supplement
Search the Web or visit your local library for information on the supplement as well as supplement brands. Online databases such as ConsumerReportsMedicalGuide.org and Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database conveniently provide current and objective data. Always make sure your sources are reputable and up-to-date.

* Make sure they have been tested
Several organizations test supplements. The most rigorous of testing services is offered by The United States Pharmacopeia (USP), recognized by the FDA as the standard-setting organization for medicines and supplements. USP tests supplements through its USP verified service and awards a special identifying mark -- the USP Verified Mark -- to products that meet its stringent requirements. Dietary supplement manufacturers voluntarily participate in this program to verify the quality of their products.

When you see the USP Verified Mark on a supplement label, you'll instantly know that the product:

* Contains ingredients in the amounts stated on the label.  Some supplements may contain significantly less or more than the claimed amounts of key ingredients. Since dietary supplements are regulated as food, not drugs, they do not have to be approved for effectiveness by the FDA. The Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) does require that ingredients are stated on the label, but it does not require that they be validated.

* Has been tested for harmful levels of contaminants. Random off-the-shelf tests have shown that some supplements may contain lead, mercury, other heavy metals, pesticides, bacteria, and molds. USP does random off the shelf testing to ensure that the products that have been provided the USP Verified Mark still meet the necessary program requirements.

* Will release and dissolve so that the body may absorb the ingredients. If a supplement does not break down properly to allow ingredients to dissolve in the body, you may not receive the full benefit of its contents.

* Was made according to good manufacturing practices. Assurance of safe, sanitary, well-controlled, and well-documented manufacturing and monitoring processes is a good indication that the manufacturer is concerned about the quality of their products.


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