Calcium Supplements, and "USP" Designation
The following is an excerpt from The Willner Window Radio Program, originally aired on September 5, 1999
Arnie: Good evening, and welcome to The Willner Window. I'm Arnie Gitomer. With me tonight is my long-time partner, Don Goldberg...
Don: Good evening everybody...
Arnie: ...and also with us tonight, back from vacation, is Sam Forbes...
Sam: Good evening...
Arnie: Sam, of course, is a nutritionist and the manager of the downtown Willner Chemists store, along with Akin, who is the Chief Pharmacist downtown.
Dr. Podell will not be here tonight.
Don: OK, Arnie, I wanted to start off the show with a couple of comments that pertain to something that took place earlier this week.
I was sent a galley proof of a new book on bone density and osteoporosis prevention. It is actually a pretty good book, and should be published early next year. They wanted me to provide them with a quotation to use on the cover.
Well, I took a quick look, scanning for the part that covers supplements, of course. I found a couple of things that led me to call the author right away so that he could make some corrections. But these are things that I think deserve comment.
In the one case, we once again see the confusion between calcium lactate and lactose. There was a warning in the book that calcium lactate, while more easily digested than calcium carbonate, "is not for anyone who is lactose intolerant."
Arnie: It’s too bad that this keeps popping up. As we have explained many times, be careful not to confuse "lactose" with "lactate." They are not the same.
Sam: In fact, lactic acid is the three-carbon acid produced when the lactose in milk is fermented, or broken down. It is the inability to break down lactose into lactic acid that causes the problems for people who are lactose intolerant. The lactic acid, or lactate, is not the problem.
Arnie: Right, Sam. Lactic acid is present in most foods, and, of course, is present throughout our bodies. It is produced during normal muscle contraction.
Calcium lactate is merely the salt formed when calcium is combined with lactic acid. It is actually a very well utilized form of calcium, but like most calcium products of that type, the actual calcium content is relatively low, so you need to take a lot of it.
Don: OK, so I pointed that out to him. And then I cautioned him about something else.
The book says, when choosing a calcium supplement, look for labels saying they meet USP standards.
Arnie: Didn't you already take this up with one of the popular nutrition journals?
Don: Yes, I did, and they sent me a nice letter... but I never saw a retraction, or clarification in subsequent issues.
But here is the point. We have a problem in this industry where certain things seem to spread quickly, and suddenly get accepted as the truth. Everyone keeps repeating it, not really knowing what they are talking about.
The problem is that these people give the impression that there is some kind of USP "seal of approval."
Sam: Sort of like a "Good Housekeeping" seal?
Don: Exactly, Sam, and the problem is that there is no such thing. The USP has no involvement at all in certifying finished products.
Arnie: USP stands for United States Pharmacopea. What it is, basically, is a combendium of standards for drugs and raw materials, providing standards of purity and potency, and the various test procedures that can be used to demonstrate compliance with those standards.