April 2005 MedBytes: Dietary Supplements

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It seems some new over-the-counter dietary supplement or alternative medication appears on the market every day. Airborne is the latest rage as cold sufferers seek relief. As this month's Public Health section story points out, physicians need to know what supplements are out there and how they may affect their patients. The Internet has a lot of information. Here are some examples.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Established by Congress in 1998, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NCCAM is dedicated to exploring complementary and alternative healing practices in the context of rigorous science, and disseminating authoritative information to the public and professionals. The institute's site, www.nccam.nih.gov, provides information on drug interactions, harmful side effects, public health advisories on dietary and health supplements, and how consumers can be more informed about alternative medicine.  

International Bibliographic Information on Dietary Supplements (IBIDS) Database
IBIDS is a collaboration between two government agencies: the Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Nutrition Information Center, the National Agricultural Library, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. The database, at http://dietary-supplements.info.nih.gov/Health_Information/IBIDS.aspx, contains more than 730,000 citations on dietary supplements from four major database sources. It does not contain all herbal and botanical supplement ingredients; the American Herbal Products Association estimates that more than 2,000 herbal ingredients are available in supplement products in the United States. The IBIDS database began with literature on the top 50 botanicals identified by the European Union and now contains literature on more than 250 botanicals. These include the best sellers in the U.S. market.

The Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS)
In 1995 the ODS was established within the Office of Disease Prevention of the NIH. One of the reasons it was created was to promote scientific research on dietary supplements. Although vitamin and mineral supplements have been available for decades, their health effects have been the subject of detailed scientific research only within the last 15 to 20 years. ODS is currently working on the development of a Database of Dietary Supplement Labels, and its site, http://dietary-supplements.info.nih.gov, provides links to both the Computer Access to Research on Dietary Supplements (CARDS) database and IBIDS. A search of the CARDS database can be used to sort and tabulate information for a variety of purposes. For example, a researcher may want to know which NIH institutes and centers fund research on herbal supplement ingredients. A consumer may want to know if the federal government is supporting research on a popular dietary supplement ingredient such as vitamin C.

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database
Established in 1999, the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, www.naturaldatabase.com, took two years to create. It provides clinically relevant information in an easy-to-use format. Users can conduct a product search from any page and can click a button to get a patient handout for each product. They can also obtain references to see abstracts of articles. Thousands of references are added each year and users are encouraged to let staff know any time that a brand name product cannot be found. There is a subscription fee to access the database.

International Food and Information Council (IFIC)
The IFIC's mission is to communicate science-based information on food safety and nutrition to health and nutrition professionals, educators, journalists, government officials, and others providing information to consumers. IFIC is supported primarily by the broad-based food, beverage, and agricultural industries. The site, http://www.ific.org, provides online education booklets and brochures and the opportunity to sign up for the foundation's e-mail list. The site also has tools for health professionals on how to effectively communicate with consumers about nutrition.  

MedBytes is a quick look at new, or newly discovered, Web sites of interest to Texas physicians. The column also highlights features of the TMA Web site. If you know of some interesting medical sites or have questions about how to use the TMA Web site, email Erin Prather. Publication of information about Web sites in this column is not to be considered an endorsement or approval by the Texas Medical Association of the sites or sponsors, or of any products or services involved.  


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