If you are reading this, it’s likely that you take dietary supplements, just as 68% of Americans do. They fall under the jurisdiction of the FDA, but are regulated differently than food or drugs. This post will go into the specifics of these, factors unique to supplements, and some new changes that are coming up.
Dietary supplements are orally ingested and include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, botanicals, or substances that supplement the diet. When you see them in a store, they will have the word supplement on the package with a descriptor before it like dietary, herbal, magnesium, etc.
They are regulated by the FDA through the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act. Like food, supplement labels must show certain information including serving size, ingredients, quantity, and directions. Unlike food ingredients, dietary supplements don’t need to be proven safe to FDA standards before entering the market. They also don’t need to prove the accuracy of claims before entering the market.
Now, the FDA is able to take action against products that are adulterated, misbranded, or make false claims after they are in the marketplace. How often do they do this? Many would say not often enough. Various studies show a high amount of adulterated products on the market and few recalls issued. The last number I saw was about 46% of adulterated supplements actually being taken off the market. Fraudulent supplement claims are definitely something to watch out for when choosing one to buy.
Another factor to look at when choosing a supplement is its bioavailability or bioequivalence. This refers to your body’s absorption and utilization of a nutrient. Take zinc as an example. There are many different supplements available to buy, and they may utilize zinc in different forms including zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate, zinc acetate, or zinc oxide.
The amount your body can absorb is different for each of these and might actually vary from person to person. Zinc oxide is not well absorbed, but a quick search online does show supplements with it as the main ingredient. If you are taking supplements, especially for health related reasons, it’s worth taking the time to research what form you should be taking and making sure the supplement you buy is the correct one. If you want to know more about a particular type of supplement from a reliable source, the NIH has fact sheets that can be publicly accessed.
Fraudulent and misleading supplement claims have been a widely known issue for a while, and the FDA has increased attention to this topic recently. They released a statement last month promising to increase oversight of dietary supplements and establish a Dietary Supplement Working Group within the agency. Having a group specifically working with supplements should aid in identifying gaps and opportunities to modernize oversight without having to fully change the regulatory framework.
The same day, the FDA sent 17 letters to various companies that are illegally claiming to treat or prevent Alzheimer’s disease. It seems they are taking this topic seriously, but it will be at least a few months before we see the effects of this. When we do, expect another post on here.
In the meantime, if you have safety concerns or experience adverse effects from supplement, it can be reported here.