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Safe and Effective? Mythbusting dietary supplements

June 13, 2017

Myth: Because dietary supplements come from natural plant sources, they are safe to use.

 

Dietary supplements may come from more “natural” sources, but this does not mean they are safe, or even effective. Remember, a snake or spider bite is natural, but it’s certainly not safe! The dietary supplement industry is big business, with $28 billion dollars in sales in 2012. It’s also a business that’s not very well regulated. However, it appears that most people aren’t aware of that. According to a Harris poll, well over half of those surveyed thought that the FDA approved these products before they were sold and that manufacturers were required to list side effects.  Also, over half of those in the poll believed that the makers of dietary supplements had to prove that their product worked. Unfortunately, none of this is true.

 

In 2007, the FDA began regulating how safe the facilities were where supplements were made, and that what was on the label was what was in the bottle. However, they still had no power to determine whether the supplements worked. What they found was truly scary, with over half of the 450 supplement manufacturers inspected having significant issues.  For example, some supplement makers didn’t have any standardized formula/recipe for their products, while others made substitutions of ingredients in the product without changing the label.  Perhaps the worst was the cleanliness issues of some of the facilities where the supplements were made, including some buildings with rat urine and droppings.

 

These products, in many cases, can also come with significant health risks.  Here are two recent examples.

  • Total Body Formula and Total Body Mega were found to contain nearly 41,000 mcg of selenium, which was nearly 20 times the amount listed on the label.   This product poisoned nearly 200 people. (1)

  • In 2013, the supplement Oxy Elite Pro was implicated in two dozen cases of hepatitis.  One person died, and two required liver transplants.  (2)

So why doesn’t the FDA step in and make sure that supplements are safe?  Unfortunately, politics comes into play.  The dietary supplement industry lobbied many politicians very effectively over the last 30-40 years, and the FDA was mostly left powerless to oversee the industry.   Unlike the pharmaceutical industry which is VERY regulated, the dietary supplement business has shockingly few rules and regulations. 

 

Dietary supplements don’t have to be tested for safety or effectiveness before they end up on stores shelves.  Of the 54,000 products on the market, only 0.3% have any documented safety tests.    It takes a major incident like the one above to spark any recall. 

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