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Currently, the FDA has grouped the dietary supplements under the category of foods rather than drugs. The laws regarding food items in the market are considerably lax as compared to laws for drugs.


Dietary Supplements

According to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994 passed by the Congress, a dietary supplement is a product taken by mouth, that contains a “dietary ingredient” like vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, enzymes, and/or other ingredients intended to supplement the diet. It can be available in the form of tablets, capsules, soft gels, gel-caps, liquids, powders or bars. The DSHEA places dietary supplements under a special category under the general umbrella of “foods” and not drugs.

The manufacturers are not bound to prove the efficacy of the supplementUnlike the laws regarding drugs, the manufacturers of dietary supplements can claim that the supplement is effective against a certain nutritional deficiency or a particular disease without being bound by the law to prove their claims. Instead, the onus lies on the government to prove if some supplement is not safe for public consumption.

Be wary of what has been mentioned on the label

According to the FDA, all manufacturers of dietary supplements must mention the ingredients in their product on the label. However, the manufacturers are not bound by law to prove the accuracy of these labels. Handicapped by a resource crunch, it is not feasible for the FDA to check the authenticity of each label. The manufacturers can pay to get their product tested by Consumer Lab or U.S. Pharmacopeia but it is entirely up to their discretion. The manufacturers often exploit this fact to their advantage. They make tall claims regarding the ingredients in their brand of dietary supplement. But very often, the ingredients on the label do not match with the contents. An ingredient mentioned on the label may be missing entirely or its quantity much below what is mentioned. Often, manufacturers use a lot of fillers instead of the dietary supplements in their product as a cost cutting measure.

Consumers can be easily impressed by the name of the ingredients present in the dietary supplement

Often, an ingredient is in news because of its beneficial effect in a condition as proved by some study. The name gets registered in the minds of the consumers. Companies manufacturing dietary supplements exploit this for their benefit. They add a small quantity of the ingredient in their product and highlight it. This is done even before the dose of the ingredient to show its beneficial effect has been ascertained by further scientific studies.

The studies behind the efficacy of a particular dietary supplement may be just observational studies

Often, the manufacturers claim the superiority of their product based on certain studies. Many a times, these studies are just observational studies and that too conducted by the representatives of the same company. These observational studies are usually not followed by double blind clinical trials as is the norm with the drugs. Hence, on cannot rely on the authenticity of these studies.

More is not always better

Dietary supplements should be consumed according to one’s body requirements. They may contain products like fat soluble vitamins, etc which may prove to be toxic when taken in more than required amount. A large amount of protein has been associated with renal failure, heart diseases and osteoporosis. Similarly high intake of fish oil has been associated with heart damage. Therefore, always consume these dietary supplements as per your physician’s advice.

  • FDA.gov/food/dietary supplements. Last updated on October 14, 2009. Accessed on July 6, 2011.
  • “Facts & Myths: Safety & Effectiveness of Your Dietary Supplements”, Womens Health Base. Last modified on October 15, 2010. Accessed on July 6, 2011.
  • “4 dietary supplement myths”, Kerri Ann, Eating Well, accessed on July 6, 2011.
  • Photo courtesy of szb78 on Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/szb78/3662875596/