The digestibility of a dietary supplement into the bloodstream (similar to bioavailability).
Adverse event report (AER)
A report of an incident where it is believed that a substance may have caused a health problem or detrimental event.
The analysis of a substance or mixture to determine its constituents and the relative proportion of each.


The rate and extent to which a drug or dietary supplement is absorbed into general circulation, thereby permitting access to the site of action. Measured by the concentration in body fluids, usually blood, or by the magnitude of the response. Expressed as a fraction of an administered dose.
Biological marker compound
A compound for which a product is tested to determine if a particular plant material is present. Used for quality control.
Products made from plants, including herbs.


Clinical trial
Research studies that use human beings (rather than animals). Clinical trials are conducted in health care settings with voluntary patient-participants.
Control group
The group of patients in a clinical trial who receive either the current standard care or a placebo. Results of the control group are compared to results of the treatment group. No patient is placed in a control group without treatment if any beneficial treatment is known. (See also randomized, controlled research)


Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI's)
The Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) are a comprehensive set of nutrient reference values for healthy populations that can be used for assessing and planning diets. DRIs replace previously published Recommended Nutrient Intakes (RNIs). They are established by Canadian and American scientists through a review process overseen by the U.S. National Academies, which is an independent, nongovernmental body.
Dietary supplement
Dietary supplements may contain the following kinds of ingredients: vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals, other plant-derived substances, amino acids (the individual building blocks of protein) and concentrates, metabolites, constituents, and extracts of these substances. They are intended for ingestion in pill, capsule, tablet, or liquid form and are not represented for use as a conventional food or as the sole item of a meal or diet.
The drop in potency of a dietary supplement while in storage as a function of time and storage conditions (light, heat, moisture, and air). Stable supplements have a low rate of disintegration allowing for a later expiration date, while others lose potency comparatively quickly.
The portion of an ingredient, usually expressed as a percentage, that dissolves in the human digestive tract — thereby making it available for absorption in the body. The combined effect of dissolution and absorption determines how much of a consumed ingredient ends up in the bloodstream.
Double blind research
A clinical trial in which neither the researchers nor the patients know who is receiving the treatment being tested and who is in the control group. Blinding a study prevents personal reactions and bias from influencing the study results. If necessary, treatment received by any specific individual can be quickly identified by a special code. (See also single blind research.)


A synomym for effectiveness.
An inert substance used as a medium in pills and capsules that forms a vehicle for delivery of a drug or dietary supplement.
A solution obtained by soaking a plant in solvent, then allowing it to evaporate.


Functional foods
Generally refers to a broad category of food that is formulated for (and promoted as having) special health benefits.


Genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
Foods that have been created or modified by the use of genetic engineering techniques in which DNA has been introduced, deleted, or inhibited.
Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs)
Procedures for manufacturing dietary supplements that are used to ensure a consistent level of quality. GMPs embody procedures that ensure purity, cleanliness, freshness, and proper labeling.


A supplement derived from a seed-producing plant that does not develop persistent woody tissue but dies down at the end of a growing season.
Homeopathy, homeopathic remedies
The term homeopathy comes from the Greek homoios (meaning "similar") and pathos (meaning "suffering"). Homeopathic remedies are usually dilutions of natural substances from plants, minerals, and animals. These remedies act to stimulate the body's natural healing responses to specific symptoms. Homeopathy was founded by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann in the late 18th century.


In-vitro research
Studies that use biological substances.
Side effect resulting from concurrent use of multiple drugs or dietary supplements. The result may be antagonism (counteracting) or synergism (amplifying) and consequently may be adverse in some cases.
I.U. (International Unit)
An international unit (I.U.) is a standard unit of measurement of biological activity that is used for fat soluble vitamins A, D, & E (as well as for some hormones, enzymes, and vaccines). It is an internationally-recognized standard established by the International Conference for Unification of Formulae. One I.U. represents a different amount for different substances. The weight equivalents for fat soluble vitamins are as follows: Beta Carotene (Vitamin A) — 1mg. = 833 IU; Vitamin D — 2.5 mcg = 100 IU; Vitamin E — 1mg = 1 IU.


Metabolism (assimilation)
Physical and chemical changes that take place within an organism; all energy and material transformations that occur within living cells. Includes growth as well as energy changes: all transformations of chemical energy of foodstuffs to mechanical energy or heat. Includes anabolism (the conversion of ingested substances into the constituents of protoplasm), and catabolism (the breakdown of substances into simpler substances, the end products usually being excreted).
A substance essential to the metabolism of a particular metabolic process.
A published research report about a dietary supplement or class of dietary supplement that includes information regarding category, pharmacology, precautions, side effects, patient consultation, and general dosing information.


Naturopathic Medicine
Naturopathic medicine focuses on the body's innate ability to heal. Naturopathic doctors provide complete diagnostic and therapeutic services and are licensed or accredited. They consider a patient's diet, lifestyle, work, and personal history when designing treatment — which may include nutrition, herbs, homeopathy, acupuncture, hydrotherapy, massage, and counseling as well as more conventional therapies. Accredited Naturopathic colleges in Canada are:Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (Toronto) and Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine (Vancouver).
Any non-toxic food extract supplement that has scientifically proven health benefits for disease treatment or prevention. Products are manufactured under good manufacturing practices (GMPs). Nutraceuticals are not whole foods, yet are partially or completely derived from them. There are four types of nutraceuticals:
  1. vitamins, minerals, and other dietary supplements in the form of pills or capsules
  2. products based on extracts from foods or beverages in normal use (such as garlic, broccoli, red wine)
  3. food extracts claiming a medical benefit (such as oat bran lowering cholesterol, aloe vera juice healing ulcers)
  4. natural substances that people might not usually eat but that may prevent or treat illness (such as colloidal silver, hypericin, ginsenosides)
Food or substance that supplies the body with elements necessary for metabolism.
All the processes involved in the taking in and utilization of food substances by which growth, repair, and maintenance of activities in the body as a whole or in any of its parts are accomplished. Includes ingestion, digestion, absorption, and metabolism.


Peer review
Analysis of research by a group of professionals of comparable knowledge and expertise in a specific scientific or medical field.
Authorized treatise on drugs or dietary supplement and their preparation, especially a book containing formulas and information that provides a standard for preparation and dispensation.
Relating to the chemistry of plants, plant products, and plant processes.
Medicines derived from plants.
An inactive substance with no medicinal effects that sometimes is used in research control groups.
A treatment plan or outline. In clinical trials, a protocol is the plan for using an experimental procedure or treatment.


Randomized controlled trial
A research study that uses two or more groups of research subjects. The treatment group receives the experimental treatment while the control group receives either a placebo or current standard treatment. (If the research is also a clinical trial, these research subjects are people.)
Many varieties and categories of research are relevant to dietary supplements. See clinical trial, control group, double-blind study, in-vitro research, peer review, placebo, randomized controlled trial, single-blind study, treatment group.


A safe dietary supplement is one that does no harm when used under defined conditions and as intended. An unsafe substance may result from toxicity, drug interactions, contraindications, allergies, or contamination.
The period of time during which a dietary supplement remains sufficiently potent to be effective. The expiration date on a product label should indicate the end of this time period.
Single blind research
Clinical trials in which the patients do not know which treatment they are receiving — but the researcher does. (See also double blind research.)
Standard operating procedures
Internal procedures for manufacturing and quality control of dietary supplements.
Structure / function claims
Claims that a dietary supplement benefits by maintaining healthy or normal structures or functions of the human body — as opposed to preventing or treating abnormalities (health claims).
A person or animal in a research study whose reactions or responses are studied.

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