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© 2011 New York
Buyers' Club, Inc.
A Non-Profit Organization.
All Rights Reserved.

For more information on the New York Buyers' Club - who we are,
and what we do - please see the NYBC FAQ page.

General information

What are supplements?

A nutritional or dietary supplement (or just plain supplement), as defined by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994, is “a product (other than tobacco) that is intended to supplement the diet and that contains one or more of the following: vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, or any combination of the above ingredients,” and can be taken in tablet, capsule, powder, or liquid form.

NYBC specializes in supplements for those with HIV, hepatitis C, and other chronic conditions; see our Supplement Fact Sheets for information on specific supplements.

Why take supplements?
Supplements can be used to treat a wide variety of conditions, providing the body with things that it cannot itself produce. In people affected by chronic conditions such as HIV, hepatitis C, and cancer, the body's natural defense mechanisms come under attack; supplements can help to restore and rebuild the immune system, offsetting the effects of both the condition itself and the (potential) problems caused by the medications used to treat them.

For those with HIV, supplementation has been proven to be key in restoring the body's immune system, as evidenced by many studies, the most notable of which being Dr. Jon Kaiser's HIV Micronutrient Study, which showed dramatic increases (26%) in the CD4 counts of the subjects who maintained a supplement regimen in addition to their regular medications. NYBC now offers MAC Pack (Micronutrient - Antioxidant Combination), a product very similar to the one used in the study, at a price more affordable than K-Pax, Dr. Kaiser's company's popular product. Learn more about NYBC's MAC Pack.

Are supplements considered “medicine”?

While supplements may have medicinal properties, they are not regulated in the same way that prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are, and are therefore accompanied by the disclaimer: “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”

The fact that supplements are not regulated naturally gives rise to concerns about purity, efficacy, and safety – so it’s good to have a knowledgeable ally like NYBC, with our many years of nutritional supplement experience, on your side!

Are supplements "safe"?
While supplements are regulated less stringently than prescription and OTC drugs, all have been evaluated for safety, and many (mainly herbal supplements) have been used safely for centuries.

If you decide to start taking supplements, consult with your doctor(s) first, and tell them exactly what you plan on taking, as there may be negative interactions with medications you are taking, or the particular supplement may not be a wise choice due to other health concerns.

Here are just a few examples of potentially dangerous supplement-medication interactions (from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine's website) - further proof that consulting with your physician is crucial:

St. John's wort can increase the effects of prescription drugs used to treat depression. It can also interfere with drugs used to treat HIV infection, to treat cancer, for birth control, or to prevent the body from rejecting transplanted organs
Ginseng can increase the stimulant effects of caffeine (as in coffee, tea, and cola). It can also lower blood sugar levels, creating the possibility of problems when used with diabetes drugs
Ginkgo, taken with anticoagulant or antiplatelet drugs, may increase the risk of bleeding. It is also possible that ginkgo might interact with certain psychiatric drugs and with certain drugs that affect blood sugar levels

Of course, doing your own "homework" is also encouraged. Be sure to bring any notes or printouts from your research to share with your healthcare provider. That way, you'll both be literally on the same page.

A Note About Identity, Purity and Potency

Safety is also a matter of product quality: Is the product what it claims to be on the label (that is, is it really fish oil)? This is the product Identity.

Does the product contain any unwanted contaminants like heavy metals, insect parts, rodent droppings? All foods and medicinal products face these issues of Purity.

And finally, does it have as much of the claimed amount of a substance? For example, if it says 100 mg of niacin, does it have that amount? This is the product’s Potency.

These issues are of ongoing concern. NYBC does everything possible to assure that our products meet these standards.  

Websites such as www.consumerlab.com (a commercial, subscription-based site) can help. Also indications of quality such as USP or other labels further add assurance. The good news is that the vast majority of products tested by consumerlab, for example, pass their tests. Still, NYBC believes an appropriately funded agency of the FDA could do more rigorous, routine and comprehensive testing..

Who tests supplements?
Manufacturers of dietary supplement products are required to use "Good Manufacturing Practices" (GMPs) and are solely responsible for their content. The manufacturer is also responsible for ensuring that the "Supplement Facts" label and ingredient list are accurate, that the dietary ingredients are safe, and that the content matches the amount declared on the label. NYBC deals only with trusted sources for our products to ensure their purity and quality as best we can.

What if I decide to start taking supplements?
Before you begin taking any supplements, consult with your healthcare provider(s) and let them know exactly what you are planning on taking to manage your health. If you should experience any adverse side effects after beginning use, discontinue use immediately and contact your physician.

Do your homework! Using information portals such as this website are a good way to find out about supplements and their usages.

NYBC specializes in supplements for those with HIV, hepatitis C, and other chronic conditions; see our Supplement Fact Sheets for information on specific supplements. A list of additional supplement information resources is here.

What is CAM?

CAM is an acronym for complementary and alternative medicine. The use of supplements is considered CAM. Some prefer the term integrative medicine.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), a division of the U.S. government’s National Institutes of Health, defines CAM as “a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine.”

Using Supplements

What supplements can I use to improve my immune system?

Agents such as a potent multivitamin, NAC (N-acetyl cysteine), alpha lipoic acid and whey can all help offset oxidative stress and nutrient losses caused by HIV as well as free radical generation and damage the some antiretroviral drugs can cause.

NYBC also now offers MAC Pack (Micronutrient - Antioxidant Combination), a set of supplements for use in bolstering the immune system. It is similar in formulation to the popular K-PAX, at less that half the price. Learn more about MAC Pack.

What supplements can be used to improve gut function?

Acidophilus or bifidus, glutamine, whey proteins, Saccharomyces boulardii (Florastor) and a good multi can all be important to offset HIV-related gut damage.

What supplements can I use to manage my blood fats (cholesterol and triglyceride levels)?
Bad cholesterol (like LDL) and triglycerides can be reduced with agents such as carnitine, pantethine, and fish oils. Niacin may be an excellent option which can also help increase HDL (“good” cholesterol). For heart health in general, aside from diet and exercise, CoEnzyme Q10 may also be of help (and may also be effective in treating bleeding gums).

What supplements are used to improve mental function and/or mood?

Acetylcarnitine, 5-HTP, tyrosine, ginkgo biloba, fish oils, St. John's wort, theanine, and Bacopa may help mental function and alleviate depression, though each of these must be taken with some care (and not all together!).

See also: a full dossier on Memory Loss and Other Brain Problems from our Health+HIV section of Recommended Reading.

What supplements can I use to combat fatigue?

Various conditions can cause fatigue, but in general, B12 (methylcobalamin), and Eleuthero (formerly called "Siberian ginseng" - this should NOT be used if you have high blood pressure!) may all help to improve energy. A good start may also be as simple as a good multivitamin!

For more information about the causes and treatments for fatigue, see our Fatigue Fact Sheet (PDF).

What supplements can I use to stabilize my weight?

For those experiencing weight loss, whey proteins, carnitine and creatine may all help - but of course and especially in conjunction with a good diet and routine exercise! Resistance exercise remains an important component of a successful HIV management plan.

What supplements are used to treat nausea?

NYBC recommends ginger; marijuana, while effective, is not carried by the NYBC, as it is not yet approved for medical use in New York.

For detailed information about the causes and treatments for nausea, see Health+HIV section of Recommended Reading.

What supplements are used to improve liver function?

Liver function can be impaired due to several reasons, including disease, alcohol abuse, and the effects of some cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins).

While making sure there aren't any interactions with your meds, things like milk thistle (Silymarin), NAC, alpha lipoic acid, Hepato-C or Hepato-Detox, Hepatoplex I or II, Ecliptex, SAM-e and Clear Heat are options to consider (again, not all at once!). Click here to see liver health-related supplements in stock here at NYBC.

See Recommended Reading for a detailed entry on liver dysfunction for more information.

What supplements can be used to treat diarrhea?
NYBC suggests supplementing your diet with glutamine and calcium. For more information about the causes and other possible treatments, see our Fact Sheet about diarrhea in Recommended Reading.

What supplements can combat neuropathy?
The best treatment for neuropathy (numbness, tingling, or pain, usually in the extremities, which can be caused by both HIV and some medications), with a proven track record, is acetylcarnitine (a.k.a. acetyl-L carnitine).

For a detailed explanation of the causes and treatments for neuropathy, click here for a PDF from our Health+HIV section of Recommended Reading.

© 2008 New York Buyers' Club, Inc.
A Non-Profit Organization. All Rights Reserved.