By Nur Aimidiyana Zuher
KUALA LUMPUR: More people are now resorting to alternative therapy to improve their health but it is questionable whether or not they know exactly what they are ingesting in the form of herbal products or supplements.
Since it is not easy to verify the authenticity of a product’s so-called all-natural ingredients, it puts them at considerable risk to consumers’ health.
Also available in the market are supplements classified as “sunnah foods”, which are associated with foods that Prophet Muhammad himself used to partake of.
Senior lecturer at Universiti Teknologi Mara’s Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at its campus in Puncak Alam, Selangor, Dr Norazmir Md Nor said health products should be taken in the prescribed dosages as “too much of a good thing” could do more harm than good to the body.
“There’s nothing wrong in giving supplements a try in order to treat a disease or maintain one’s health as long as the products are backed by the latest scientific research, Al-Quran and As-Sunnah,” he told Bernama.
STUDY LABEL CAREFULLY
He also urged consumers to be doubly sure that the supplements that they were taking contained the ingredients mentioned on their labels.
“What’s inside the supplement pill or capsule may not always match what the label promises. Some products are known to contain steroids or other prohibited substances which may, initially, seem to bring quick relief or cure a certain disease.
“If, for example, a person suffering from diabetes takes a certain supplement and it succeeds in bringing his blood sugar down, he may think that the product is working for him. But little does he know of its long-term effects on his kidneys. No doubt, initially he is able to control his diabetes but, most unexpectedly, his kidneys will fail to function properly in the end,” he said.
Norazmir said in order to ascertain the safety of a particular supplement and its ingredients, consumers should find out if it has been registered with the Ministry of Health by looking for the registration number on its packaging.
All herbal products, traditional medicines and health supplements have to be registered with the National Pharmaceutical Control Bureau before they are allowed to be sold to the public.
Before these products are issued the Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) certificate by the bureau, they have to go through a stringent screening process to ensure the quality and safety of their ingredients, as well as their manufacturing processes.
Health foods and beverages, on the other hand, are governed by the Food Act 1983 and Food Regulations 1985, while their safety is validated by the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) or Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) certificates awarded to their producers.
These days, health-conscious consumers are turning to products derived from natural sources to improve their physical well-being, instead of depending on medicines that contain processed chemical substances.
Norazmir said an individual’s faith in a product’s efficacy would depend on whether it had a beneficial effect on his or her health condition after having consumed it for a reasonable period of time.
He also said that before a health product was marketed to the public, extensive scientific research should be carried out on all its ingredients to ensure that they were absolutely safe for consumption.
On the easy availability of health products and supplements via online sites, Norazmir said it was worrying how some of the sellers trumpet the benefits of their products and even manage to influence Internet users with testimonials from “satisfied customers”.
“The so-called testimonials are highlighted in social media sites like Facebook, as well as on forums and blogs and WhatsApp to lure customers. And, health product companies make use of artistes, sportsmen and influential people to promote sales.
“Some even offer huge discounts for their products or offer attractive prizes like holiday packages or cars to their agents who are able to increase their sales,” he said.
Pointing out that the online market was far bigger than the conventional market, Norazmir cautioned against buying unregistered health products from online traders.
“In the first place, we are not sure if there’s any truth to the claims that they make because there is no evidence to substantiate the so-called benefits. Furthermore, if the buyer were to face some health problems (after taking a product purchased online), he or she will find it difficult to consult the seller or to return the goods,” he said.
Meanwhile, Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia Chief Activist Datuk Nadzim Johan said a major weakness among many consumers was their gullibility and their failure to carefully study the ingredients of health products before buying them.
Urging consumers not to be influenced by what they read in social media, he said they should be wary of health products peddled by online websites.
“Before buying a product, study its ingredients carefully and check if it (product) has been certified safe by the Ministry of Health. The authorities do carry out checks now and then but it’s up to consumers to exercise their wisdom before buying a certain product,” he said, adding that consumers should not be deceived by the low prices and glowing testimonials posted by online sellers.