Dietary Supplements – Exploring regulations

We often hear about dietary supplements and their purported health benefits, in this post, we'll explore what we know about these dietary aids.

We often hear about supplements and their purported health benefits, but let’s take some time to explore dietary supplements on a deeper level. 

What are dietary supplements?

Dietary supplements are any pill, capsule, powder, tablet, or liquid that contain one more vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, probiotics, or other dietary ingredients intended to aid human health. Some examples include multi-vitamins, weight-loss pills, protein powders, and more.

How are they regulated?

There are two primary agencies responsible for dietary supplement regulation: U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The FDA is responsible for both finished dietary supplement products and dietary ingredients, however, they are limited in their ability to regulate supplements before they are available for sale. This means supplement manufacturers are responsible for the purity of the supplement ingredients, and the FDA cannot recall a harmful product until someone reports it to the FDA. The FDA is working on updating the process to provide easier ways for consumers to receive recall information, and to develop better procedures for reporting poor quality products.

The FTC ensures the manufacturer's advertising and marketing supplement health claims are truthful, not misleading, and substantiated. While the FTC warns that many supplements can be harmful to human health and rarely if ever, produce the marketed health claim. They help ensure that tainted or misleading supplements do not make it into the marketplace. Again, they are unable to verify the safety or validity of health claims.

What do I need to know?

If a dietary supplement claim sounds like a miracle cure to an ailment you’re experiencing, be cautious and research the product before consuming the supplement. The claims some unscrupulous supplement manufacturers make about their products are largely unscientific, untested, and, in some cases, can be dangerous.

If you choose to take a dietary supplement, make sure that you are purchasing a supplement that has been tested for purity standards by a reputable, third-party laboratory or is produced by a reputable company with scientific laboratories using the FDA established Current Good Manufacturing Practices for dietary supplements (CGMPs).

While testing and adherence to CGMPs lets you know that you will be consuming the ingredients labeled on the supplement packaging, it does NOT evaluate any of the health claims made by the manufacturer of the product. So, while you may be taking the labeled supplement, it hasn’t been tested to see if that supplement will improve your health or remediate your ailment.

How do I know if a product has been tested for purity standards?

Third party laboratories will have a logo on the product’s label that informs you the product has been tested. Popular third-party laboratories include NSF International, US Pharmacopeia, Consumer Lab, and more.

Reputable companies with large distribution networks will have information about their supplements publicly available on their websites and will ensure their labels contain necessary information. Read labels and pay attention to the manufacturer before making a supplement purchases so you can make an informed decision.

Should I take dietary supplements?

You should discuss taking dietary supplements with your primary medical provider. They will be able to provide you with the proper guidance and direct you to the products you may need. People who typically require dietary supplements include pregnant women, people with vitamin deficiencies such as vitamin-D, and other individuals with medically identified needs.

Again, the best course of action is to discuss your needs with a state licensed and credentialed medical physician. 

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