Photovoice: Dietary Supplements

I choose to do my Photovoice on dietary supplements by looking at the questions: “How healthy is it?” “How Safe is it?” “TMI but not the right kind to help me make a good decision?” and “What’s the typical discourse?”  Due to health conditions, I was not able to take as many photographs as I wanted, but I was able to find sources online that I could use. I choose to show a variety of supplement brands throughout the video, in addition to labels found on the bottles.

How healthy is it?
I found that, in general, medical professionals recommended vitamins and that certain supplements have proven to be helpful in treating some conditions. However, research on their health impacts varies from a supplement to supplement. I also discovered that there was a shocking lack of regulation in the industry and this prompted me to start asking “How safe is it?” rather than “How healthy is it?” I took a photograph of a spoonful of supplements. Growing up children are used to receiving a ‘spoonful of medicine’ while sick. This shows supplements relationship with conventional treatments.

How Safe is it?
Consumers are very much at the mercy of supplement companies. The FDA does not regulate supplements; there is no safety, quality or purity testing (Hamblin, 2016.) The companies do not have to prove their product helps the conditions they advertise they do. To demonstrate this, I found an online label from a popular supplement brand and looked at the claims it made and statement on the back. Bottles with health claims all include a statement in small font “This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”

I also found that companies do not even have to prove their product is safe. It is left up to the FDA to prove they are harmful. For example, it took the FDA seven years to remove a harmful substance known as ephedra from shelves. During this time there were numerous reports, thousands of consumer complaints and 155 reported deaths (Harvard Medical School, 2013.)

TMI but not the right kind to help me make a good decision?
My research showed that dietary supplements make a lot of claims (some of them unfounded) about their product, but most lacked proper warning labels. The FDA does not require dietary supplements have warning labels and when they are included they are generally vague. Most labels do not warn about possible drug interactions or possible adverse side-effects (Harvard Medical School, 2013.) I include a photograph here of a warning label typically found on bottles to display how vague the information is.

What’s the typical discourse?
Dietary supplements are often marketed as ‘all natural’ this leads people to believe they are safe to take, especially since most bottles lack proper warning labels. Dietary supplements are believed to enhance your life and have a positive impact on health. This is evidenced by the 2017 MARS Consumer Health Study finding that over half of Americans believe that taking dietary supplements make long-term health differences. I took an image from an alternative health site. The photo shows supplements next to other herbs and flowers to demonstrate supplements association with ‘all natural.’

Making the Video
Creating the video and taking the photographs helped me employ many of the skills I learned in PUBH 209. For example, the first thing I did when researching dietary supplements was to look at the labels. In the class learned that labels are often misleading and deceitful. Looking at the labels showed me that the health claims were not evaluated by the FDA and that the warning labels were vague listing no drug interactions or side-effects.

If someone had never been exposed to consumer health, a project like this would benefit them greatly. The project has someone consider a specific consumer health item by asking critical health questions about it. I believe that many people get into consumer health while researching a health issue they were concerned about. Additionally, a project like this can make the process of learning about consumer health less overwhelming, as you focus on one specific issue.

I hope that my project helps the potential public be more careful when looking for dietary supplements. Dietary supplements can be very valuable to good health. Personally, I have benefited greatly from dietary supplements. I hope that I encouraged watchers to check out the medical research conducted on dietary supplements and if they are unsure that they consult their doctor or nutritionist. Furthermore, I hope they research the quality of the brand they buy from (or will buy from) before making their next purchase.

 

Video and Text References
Bazaman, M. (2017). Vitamins, Supplements Have a Healthy Hold on US Consumers. Retrieved from https://us.kantar.com/business/health/2017/vitamins-and-supplements-have-a-healthy-hold-on-consumers/

Hamblin, J. (2016). Why Vitamins and Other ‘Dietary Supplements’ Can Contain Anything. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/06/supplements-make-tobacco-look-easy/488798/  

Harvard Medical School. (2013). The arguments against dietary supplements. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/alternative-and-complementary-medicine/the-arguments-against-dietary-supplements  

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2016.) Echinacea. Retrieved from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/echinacea/ataglance.htm

Nature’s Bounty. (n.d.) Nature’s Bounty Fish 2400 mg OilSoftgels, 90 ea. [Infographic]. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Natures-Bounty-Fish-2400-OilSoftgels/dp/B002QMB55Y

Puritan’s Pride. (n.d.). Echinacea 400mg-200 Capsules. [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Puritans-Pride-Echinacea-mg-200-Capsules/dp/B004R657LA/

Viva Naturals. (n.d.). Premium Non-GMO Vitamin C with Bioflavonoids and Rose Hips. [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Viva-Naturals-Premium-Non-GMO-Bioflavonoids/dp/B00C6C3GCY/

Statista. (2017). Retail sales of vitamins & nutritional supplements in the United States from 2000 to 2017. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/235801/retail-sales-of-vitamins-and-nutritional-supplements-in-the-us/  

University of Maryland Medical Center. (2007). Possible Interactions with: St. John’s Wort. Retrieved from http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb-interaction/possible-interactions-with-st-johns-wort

U.S Food & Drug Administration. (2017). What is a dietary supplement? Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/Transparency/Basics/ucm195635.htm

Zelman, K., M. (2010). The Benefits of Vitamin C. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/the-benefits-of-vitamin-c#1

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