Supplement Safety

Arthritis Today|Winter 2019-2020

Supplement Safety
HERBALS AND OTHER DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS MAY CARRY SURPRISING RISKS.

The dietary supplement industry continues to boom, with U.S. sales reaching $42.6 billion in 2018. Consumer confidence is equally high: A survey by the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), an industry trade group, found that 75% of U.S. adults report taking dietary supplements, and two-thirds are confident in their safety, efficacy, and quality.

But is that faith misplaced? Without standardized oversight, supplements may have confusing or misleading health claims and can contain contaminants or lack active ingredients, rendering them ineffective at best and unsafe at worst. The problem is widespread; in one 2016 case, then-New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had supplements tested from four major retailers – Target, Walmart, GNC, and Walgreens – and found only 21% contained the ingredients listed on the product’s label. Quality improvements have been made since then.

No Regulations

In 1994 Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health & Education Act (DSHEA), which created guidelines to help ensure the safety of vitamin, mineral, amino acid, herbal and botanical supplements: It restricted the language of label health claims, forced the listing of ingredients and amounts, established Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) safety standards and created the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS).

But many argue that DSHEA didn’t go far enough. Following GMP is voluntary. And the FDA doesn’t regulate or approve supplements; it only oversees them. Plus, any ingredients on the market prior to DSHEA don’t require FDA clearance. For consumers, that means no real certainty.

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Winter 2019-2020