Pharmacist shares tips on buying supplements

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We spend hours every day online, and that is where companies are increasing advertising supplements for pain, a better night's sleep,

or a much-needed energy boost.

The Food and Drug Administration recently issued warning letters to two companies that market and distribute kratom products online, through either social media or websites.

The agency says the companies were illegally selling unapproved and misbranded kratom products, and making unproven claims they can treat or cure opioid addiction or ease withdrawal symptoms.

Ashish Advani, a pharmacist and founder of InPharmD, a website and mobile app that allows medical professionals to ask questions about medication and get science-based answers, says the online supplement market is growing.

"We're starting to see a whole lot more marketing through our social channels," Advani says.  "It does make it tougher, then, to realize what's legit and what's not legit."

Advani says supplements are not regulated by the FDA the way prescription drugs are.

So, he says, they do not under the same rigorous safety testing or studies to prove they are effective as prescription medications do.

Advani says, if you're curious about a supplement you see about online, do some research before you spend your money.

"Now, today we live in this information age, where everything has data behind it, and we should be able to access that data very, very easily," Advani says. 

If you are not tech savvy, Advani says, your physician or local pharmacist may be able to provide information on supplements.

"We should be asking our healthcare providers before we do anything: 'tell me about the studies that exist behind this, I want to know about the safety, I want to know about the effectiveness,'" he says.

A new AARP survey found a quarter of adults age 50 and older take at least one supplement for brain health, paying anywhere from $20 to $60 a month for the supplements.

But the group warned there is little, if any, scientific evidence the supplements offer any protective benefit.

So, Advani says, before you take any new drug, ask questions and do your homework.

"I think for anything we're considering putting in our bodies, we should be looking at the studies, the actual literature, the actual data," he says.  "All too often we don't think about that."