For the most part, the federal government does not regulate the sale of nutritional or dietary supplements like it does other foods and drugs. Though it is a huge, roughly $33 billion industry, nutritional supplements have been considered the Wild West when it comes to federal oversight.
According to the FDA, in October 1994, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) was signed into law. Before this law, supplements were subject to the same regulations as other foods. But under DSHEA, dietary supplements do not need to be approved by the FDA in order to be sold to the general public.
There is still some oversight, however. Under DSHEA, a firm is responsible for determining whether a company’s dietary supplements are safe and that any claims made about them are substantiated by adequate evidence to ensure the product’s claims are not false or misleading.
Nearly 23,000 ER visits per year
In spite of this, nearly 23,000 people visit the emergency room each year for complications due to nutritional supplements, according to a recent study done by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Some retailers have even been found to have sold fraudulent products or supplements that were contaminated with unlisted ingredients that could pose health risks to consumers.
Andrew Geller, MD, a medical officer at the CDC who led the study, says, ‘People may not realize that dietary supplements can cause any adverse events, but every year thousands of Americans are treated in emergency rooms for symptoms attributed to dietary supplements.’
The study found that supplements for weight loss and energy were the most dangerous, and heart issues were the most common problem with those kinds of supplements. Women, preschoolers, and seniors were at the greatest risk for health complications.
In light of all this, what can you do to protect yourself and be sure a supplement you take is safe?
Make sure it’s legit
In order to make sure the supplement you’re taking has what it says it has in the bottle, look for ‘USP’ listed on the label.
‘USP’ stands for U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, which is ‘a scientific nonprofit organization that sets standards for the identity, strength, quality, and purity of medicines, food ingredients, and dietary supplements manufactured, distributed and consumed worldwide,’ according to its website.
You can find a list of companies participating in the USP verified program for dietary supplements here.
Read more: How to avoid fraud with herbal supplements