Dietary Supplements- Who Regulates Them? Are They Safe?

Dietary supplements and vitamins are a part of the daily routine of many Americans, but a recent report provides evidence that these daily supplements may actually be harmful to our health.  Consumer Reports published this report in which it showed that the makers of such dietary supplements do not have to adhere to many rules or regulations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  Without adequate guidelines for supplements, retailers and pharmacists may be unaware of potential side effects and drug interactions that can occur.  Another problematic element noted in the report is that these supplements are regulated as food, not as prescription drugs.  Therefore, the supplements do not need to be proven safe and effective and they are exempt from the rigorous procedures and testing that prescriptions drugs must undergo by the FDA.  Ellen Kunes, health editor at consumer reports, urges customers to do more research than just glancing at the label of supplements.  “Supplements have labels that don’t necessarily tell you what they are good for, how they are going to work, whether they will work,” she said. “You can’t trust that they’re going to work or that they will be safe just by looking at the label.”  In its report, Consumer Reports stated that almost 23,000 people are sent to the emergency room as a result of taking supplements every year.  Doctor Marvin Lipman, Consumer Reports’ chief medical advisor, offers a solution to concerned customers.   He instructs customers to look for a USP (U.S. Pharmacopeia) label, which signifies the company has verified the ingredients and information that is on the label.  “There’s a paucity of products that are taking advantage of the approval process for responsible companies,” said Lipman.  “Without verification, you cannot be sure that what’s on the label is in the bottle.”

Most people who take dietary supplements think they are promoting their health by doing so, but many fail to consider the adverse effects such supplements could have, Dr. Donna Seger notes.  Seger is the director of the Tennessee Poison Control and she says individuals should always check with their doctors before taking any type of supplement, especially if they are taking any other medication.  “People shouldn’t be taking supplements who are on medication unless they checked with their doctor,” she said.  Seger also noted the potential for different pills to have different amounts of substance; “If you have 100 pills in a bottle there might be a different amount in each pill.”

In response to the recent report by Consumer Reports, the Council for Responsible Nutrition opposed the report by noting that 150 million Americans take different supplements.  This council is a D.C. based trade association and lobbying group that represents the dietary supplement and functional food industry.  “Overwhelmingly, dietary supplements are safe and play a valuable role in helping Americans live healthy lifestyles,” the council said in a statement. “The industry is regulated by the FDA, and the robust regulations give the government the ability to remove unsafe products from the market. It is patently illegal for products to be sold as dietary supplements if they contain prescriptions or illegal drugs, and we urge the government to use its enforcement authority to protect consumers from those products.”  Consumer Reports included 15 specific ingredients found in supplements that should be avoided due to dangerous side effects, including rapid heartbeat, liver damage and seizures.  These ingredients are aconite, caffeine powder, chaparral, coltsfoot, comfrey, germander, greater celandine, green tea extract powder, kava, lobelia, methylsynephrine, pennyroyal oil, red yeast rice, usnic acid and yohimbe.


“Consumer Reports Highlights Dietary Supplement Dangers.” WCVB. N.p., 28 July 2016. Web. 01 Aug. 2016.

“Council for Responsible Nutrition.” Council for Responsible Nutrition. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Aug. 2016.

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