How to spot the tricky language that supplement companies use

Hoping to boost your immunity? Keep your brain sharp? Improve your mood? Look no further than the supplement aisle at your local drugstore. At least that’s what supplement makers want you to believe.

“Claims, especially structure/function claims, may help sell product,” says “However, they may also invite regulatory action if improperly phrased or inadequately supported.”

But supplement makers needn’t fear. They’ve got plenty of tools at their disposal.

Companies can make claims about how a supplement (or food) affects the normal structure or function of the body with little oversight by the Food and Drug Administration, as long as the claims don’t name a disease or promise to treat a condition.

So odds are you won’t see a supplement that can “lower cholesterol” but you’ll see plenty that “help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.”

And you’ll see shelves full of pills that claim to “enhance vitality,” “support healthy brain function,” “help calm your mind,” and “promote digestive health.”

A case in point: “Renew Life probiotics can help improve digestion and boost energy to keep your guts strong so you can be the best possible human you can be.”

See how Renew stayed vague…but inspiring? Little worry about “regulatory action” from the FDA with that strategy.

Or marketers can skip the specifics altogether. “Every Emergen-C gives you a potent blend of nutrients so you can emerge your best,” says the TV ad.

Nicely done. Keep it simple. Keep it general.

The information in this post first appeared in the July/August 2020 issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter.

Find this article interesting and useful?
Nutrition Action Healthletter subscribers regularly get sound, timely information about staying healthy with diet and exercise, delicious recipes, and the inside scoop on healthy and unhealthy foods in supermarkets and restaurants. If you don’t already subscribe to the world’s most popular nutrition newsletter, click here to join hundreds of thousands of fellow health-conscious consumers.

Have a comment, question, or idea?
Send us an email at While we can’t respond to every email, we’ll be sure to read your message.