Each year Americans spend tens of billions of dollars on dietary supplements, which are widely available over-the-counter or online. This is a largely unregulated market whose products may have had limited testing. These compounds are often referred to as “botanicals,” as if the reference to natural sources somehow guarantees their safety and effectiveness.
Supplements are touted for a wide range of uses, including memory enhancement, prevention of dementia, weight loss, restoration of libido and improvement of athletic performance. Labels are often flashy, highlighting claims for dramatic health improvement. Advertisements are widely disseminated on television, in print media and online.
Prior to 1994, there were an estimated 4,000 products, largely combinations of vitamins and minerals, which were marketed as dietary supplements. But that year, Congress enacted, with bipartisan support, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which broadened the category of these compounds to include a wide variety of herbal and other nutritional and medicinal products. The act excluded these products from effective regulation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and, six years after enactment of the law, more than 70,000 supplements were marketed in the U.S. A current figure for how many supplements are out there is not available.
Source: times free press