Dietary Supplements: Does Any FDA Regulation Promise They’re Healthy?

Article by Renesha Poole | 734 words

The food that you consume delivers the nutrients your body needs to sustain itself. Well, at least it’s supposed to. Dietary supplements can be taken when the food you consume falls short of supplying all the adequate nutrients to your body.

Supplement Human


How the Food and Drug Administration Monitors Dietary Supplements

A stroll down the dietary supplements aisle reveals an ocean of capsules, tablets, powders and liquids, many of which provide similar nutrients. So, you grab a bottle of ginseng believing it’s just as effective as the other brand of ginseng. Then again, it might not be. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t monitor all the claims that supplement companies make, so you’re just trusting what the labels say.

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act defines dietary supplements as products that are intended to supplement the diet, contain one or more ingredients, are taken orally and are specifically labeled as dietary supplements. The FDA once regulated dietary supplements in the same manner as it regulates food. This changed in 2007 when the FDA implemented new manufacturing standards, which stated that supplements were to be produced in a quality manner, not contain any contaminants or impurities and were to be accurately labeled. Now, the FDA does not regulate whether or not dietary supplements deliver on their health-related claims. It simply ensures us that the supplements are not flat-out dangerous to consume.

Dietary Supplement Label


The health-related claims on the label are called structure or function claims. According to the FDA, “Structure/function claims may describe the role of a nutrient or dietary ingredient intended to affect the normal structure or function of the human body, for example, ‘calcium builds strong bones.’ In addition, they may characterize the means by which a nutrient or dietary ingredient acts to maintain such structure or function, for example, ‘fiber maintains bowel regularity,’ or ‘antioxidants maintain cell integrity.’” Manufacturers are permitted to make these sorts of claims, but must follow each statement with an asterisk denoting, “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”

The National Institute of Health explains that the FDA does require manufacturers to be truthful—and not misleading—about the information on the label and package. Still, dietary supplements are regulated differently than prescription or over-the-counter medicines are. Drugs must be approved by the FDA before they can be marketed, but dietary supplements do not require premarket review or approval by the FDA. While the supplement company is responsible for having evidence that their products are safe and that the label claims are reasonable, they do not have to provide thorough evidence to the FDA showing just how effective their products really are. So, it is possible that the claims made on the dietary labels are unfounded and the contents are not truly what they should be.

The Hidden Risks behind Dietary Supplements

This was the case when the New York State Attorney General’s office investigated certain supplements found in drug stores. Seven different types of herbs: Echinacea, garlic, gingko biloba, ginseng, saw palmetto, St. John’s wort and valerian root, were tested using a process called DNA barcoding. The testing revealed that five out of seven of the supplements contained DNA that was either unrecognizable or from a plant other than what the herbal product claimed to be.

Initially reported in The New York Times, the study also revealed that, out of 24 products, five contained wheat and two beans that were not listed on the label and are known to cause allergic reactions in some people.

Truthfully disclosing the contents of supplements and what they’re actually capable of achieving has long been a problem within the dietary supplement industry. A previous study released by researchers at the University of Guelph reaffirms this troubling fact. On, Brian Krans explains the researchers “found that the majority contain ingredients not listed on the label, including fillers and cheaper substitutes.” The Department of Health and Human Services stated in a report released in 2012 that supplements’ claims about their structure and function often lack scientific support.

Dietary supplements are meant to encourage a healthy wellbeing. However, this billion-dollar industry has become peppered with false products backed by false claims. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends dietary supplements undergo the same strict regulations as prescription and over-the-counter drugs before they are released to the public. Considering the harm that falsifying dietary supplement claims can cause, it may very well be the way to go. People should not be tricked into paying money for products that don’t actually do anything—or worse, harm their health.

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