The dietary supplement industry has boomed in the past two decades. Not only are vitamins and minerals ubiquitous, but a seemingly infinite number of herbal and botanical extracts are filling the shelves of our grocery stores, pharmacies and even convenience stores.
These supplements are heavily marketed, and display claims that they will boost immunity, prevent cancer and other diseases, increase energy and stamina, improve memory, lower blood pressure, help you sleep better, and either cure or prevent a whole host of ailments. Studies show that the majority of Americans believe that these products are safe and effective.
The reason for this explosion of dietary supplements is the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. This act was heavily lobbied and pushed through by the powerful supplement industry, and in fact was spearheaded by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, whose son had financial ties to the supplement industry. The result was that the Food and Drug Administration was stripped of its power and authority to oversee over-the-counter supplements. Until that time, the FDA regulated all vitamins, minerals and supplements, and nothing went to market without its prior evaluation and approval. Things are very different now.
There is little governmental oversight over the industry today, and in fact, DSHEA requires the FDA to prove that supplements are unsafe before they can remove them from the market. You can probably imagine how difficult it would be to search out, identify and test every single dietary supplement out there.
The FDA can penalize manufacturers who sell supplements containing dangerous ingredients, but their power to regulate the industry is severely hampered due to inadequate funding for this agency.
As a result, now there are an abundance of products sold that are either ineffective, don’t contain what the label says, or are even harmful. It was recently reported that 4 out of 5 common herbal remedies sold today don’t contain any of the ingredients stated on the label.
According to a special report in the May 2015 Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, many of the supplements tested only contained cheap fillers — wheat, legumes, powdered rice and garlic — rather than the ingredients advertised.
The problem goes beyond the fact that consumers may not be getting whey they think and may be wasting their money. Some supplements have even been found to contain dangerous and toxic ingredients. Tufts University reported that 72 people in 16 states developed hepatitis in 2013 because of a tainted dietary supplement. One person died, and three others required liver transplants.
So how can you assure that the supplement you are buying is safe, effective and actually contains what the label says? Look for products containing the “USP Verified” seal of the United States Pharmacopeia. The USP is an independent nonprofit organization that sets standards for supplements.
Products must undergo extensive testing and certification by the USP before they are allowed to display the black-and-yellow seal. Beware of deceitful labeling, such as the presence of the letters “USP,” inferring that the product has been verified by the USP — only those products displaying the actual seal are truly verified by the agency.
Susie Bond is a registered/licensed dietitian and nutritionist with Health First’s Pro-Health & Fitness Centers. Contact her at 321-434-8745 firstname.lastname@example.org.