I am a big believer in trying to avoid dietary supplements if at all possible as I think it is much better to get your nutrients through a varied and healthy diet. I do realize however that people may lack certain nutrients in their diet for a variety of reasons, in which case a well-researched supplement may be the best alternative. But with all of the information out there, how do you know who to trust? And as scary as it is, to an extent you do have to trust. Keep this notice from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in mind when looking for your next supplement:
What is FDA’s role in regulating dietary supplements versus the manufacturer’s responsibility for marketing them?
In October 1994, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) was signed into law by President Clinton. Before this time, dietary supplements were subject to the same regulatory requirements as were other foods. This new law, which amended the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, created a new regulatory framework for the safety and labeling of dietary supplements.
Under DSHEA, a firm is responsible for determining that the dietary supplements it manufactures or distributes are safe and that any representations or claims made about them are substantiated by adequate evidence to show that they are not false or misleading. This means that dietary supplements do not need approval from FDA before they are marketed. Except in the case of a new dietary ingredient, where pre-market review for safety data and other information is required by law, a firm does not have to provide FDA with the evidence it relies on to substantiate safety or effectiveness before or after it markets its products.
Also, manufacturers need to register themselves pursuant to the Bioterrorism Act with FDA before producing or selling supplements. In June, 2007, FDA published comprehensive regulations for Current Good Manufacturing Practices for those who manufacture, package or hold dietary supplement products. These regulations focus on practices that ensure the identity, purity, quality, strength and composition of dietary supplements.
That’s right-although a company has to notify the FDA when they are going to be marketing a new product, the product itself does not have to be evaluated by the FDA. The company that produces the supplement is responsible for ensuring they are not making misleading claims. Seriously? Sigh-this is why I try to avoid them when possible. But as usual, I digress. Where to go if you realize you are lacking a nutrient and need reliable intel?
The FDA webpage is a good place to go for the latest warnings and advisories. They even post copies of warning letters to pharmaceutical companies who improperly label manufactured ingredients as “dietary ingredients”. You can check out the FDA dietary supplement website here.
Another website I love is actually geared towards service members, but has great info that is applicable to everyone. The Human Performance Resource Center has an entire section on dietary supplements here.
Finally, nutrition.gov has a comprehensive overview of dietary supplements including how to shop for supplements wisely. Because the contents of supplements are not federally regulated, there is no site that can provide a comprehensive list of what is contained in each product. They do give you tips and tricks to shop wisely however.
Hope this helps!