Friday, September 11, 2009

supplement regulation

It’s amazing to me that such a popular, multi-billion dollar and ever-evolving industry isn’t better regulated by the FDA.  While supplements are regulated per se, it is nothing near where it should be.  This is disheartening and scary to me.

imageWith the DSHEA Act in 1994, the term supplement was legally defined and the FDA began ‘regulating’ supplements.  Just recently, only a mere 15 years later, they began to require that supplement companies ensure that what they say is in the product is really in there.  I’m still wondering at this point how long it will take them to ensure that product claims are really true and scientifically based?  So essentially, most supplement companies (not all yet) have to make sure that what’s on the label is in the jar which is great, but they don’t have to have a reliable and truthful claim to their product. 

What’s scary is that many consumers believe that just because a product is on a shelf with a fancy label and too-good-to-be-true claims, that every thing is dandy and safe.  Many athletes put their career at risk by taking supplements, only to find out later, when they have been disqualified, it had traces of banned substance in them. 

Another thing that is sad is how understaffed the supplement division of the FDA is.  In 2005 there were about 60 employees with a 10 million dollar budget for a 450 billion dollar industry, while the drug division had over 3,000 employees for a 500 billion dollar industry.  It doesn’t make sense?  I believe the ‘food’ and ‘drug’ should each be a separate regulating entity. 

image Supplements are considered foods, not drugs and no FDA approval is needed before they are marketed to consumers.  Manufacturers don’t have to disclose interactions or problems to the FDA.  There are no regulations on serving sizes or potency.  The FDA does have the authority to pull the product once problems do arise,  hmmm sounds a little bit like our healthcare system at the moment?  Why is it not proactive?

As a dietitian, we can’t recommend or tell someone to take a specific supplement for liability issues, especially if the product claims aren’t required to be substantiated and based on research.  What we can do is present what research is out there for the product and then let the individual make their own decision.  Here are some good tips to follow because as consumers and educators we have to be careful:

  • Be aware of the media because many times they highlight one aspect of a product (mostly the good parts of course), but totally miss important considerations.
  • Do your research!  That means from peer-reviewed journals, not magazines and TV commercials.
  • Be honest with someone if you don’t know about a certain supplement.  There is no way to know them all, but allow time to find the research, and tell them you will get back with them.
  • Don’t assume that ‘natural’ = safe
  • Let the person decide whether to take a supplement based on a comprehensive research review.

There are some good resources out there that review the research on supplements for you: 

What do you think?  Do you take supplements?  I’m not saying that supplements are all bad because they are not really regulated, I’m just saying that we should be careful and make sure :)  I myself do take a standard multivitamin on occasion as an ‘insurance policy’ and with all the aerobic activities.  A little while ago I also was taking high-dose iron since my levels were low.  Otherwise I try to eat healthfully 80-90% of the time.  I do like my desserts, I’m not going to lie :)   

In other news . . . TGIF!  This weekend I plan on locking myself in the library and doing a lot of research to make a decision on a thesis topic.  I’m so indecisive and I have trouble with this.  Just deciding on something that I know I will be able to do and will enjoy doing for a long part of my graduate career is making me crazy.  I don’t want to make it so overwhelming that I won’t be able to do the research.  Ugh!

What are you looking forward to this weekend?  Tonight I am looking forward to pasta!!!!! with this recipe (pictures to follow), and maybe a glass of vino?  I don’t know, I love wine and pairing it with foods but the alcohol and sulfites, even in one glass, just makes me blah sometimes.  My cycling performance is worse and I can almost feel it turned into fat the next day.  I feel bloated and dehydrated even though I try to drink lots of water with it.  Anyone else get like this?  I love having a glass, but my weekends are just so short, I want to be productive, active and not feel like crap.  I can’t have some without planning on being out of commission for at least part of the next day.   

I also plan on doing a women’s ride on Sunday that GVC club has scheduled.  It should be pretty easy, but then afterwards they are going to have a clinic on learning how to change a flat tire with free bagels and refreshments.  Isn’t that cool?!  I’m excited because I have no idea how to change one and always rely on Chris or someone else.  I need to figure it out myself :)  I am going to take pictures!!

oooh!  and check out this great giveaway from Lainie.  BIG wholesome cookies, for only about 60 kcals each, who doesn’t like that?! 

Have a great weekend everyone, sorry again for such lack of postage.  I need to get my head on straight first :)


A said...

Awesome info on the supplements. I personally don't "believe" in them. Humans don't need that crap... as long as you eat a well balanced diet you should get everything you need. Also, I am re-doing my blogroll today and I'm adding you! Hope you don't mind! :D

Gina said...

GREAT post about supplements! I took a supplement class and learned about most of this information, and let me tell you, I got scared! It's crazy, even doctors have no idea about the regulation of supplements.

I take fish oil, and it has the USP seal on it (which I always look for). But that doesn't necessarily mean they are safe, or effective, OR that they actually have what they say they have. All that means is that they were made in a high quality lab, the supplement is pure, and the strength is correct.

This weekend I am looking forward to the OSU football game!! GO BUCKS!

Anonymous said...

thanks for the info, I was already skeptical about supplements, that's why I don't take any. Hopefully with a balanced diet, i get all nutrients that I need.

I know how hard is to look for research topic, I spent 6 months struggling with it. But at the end, all the process was somehow useful. So, relax and do the best you can. :)

Angie said...

Great post, Kristen!!

I only take a multivitamin and occasionally fish oil.

You have great tips though!

Have a great weekend!

Michelle @ Find Your Balance said...

I don't take vitamins...maybe I should be I have a hard time understanding why a whole food diet isn't enough, especially when I'm eating varied and plenty of veggies. But I do take fish oil lately and it seems to make my skin nice and soft, but again, it's important to do research bc some fish oil can have high levels or mercury or be impure in other ways. Mostly, I think it's about eating well. Supplements are big business and I'm wary of it!

allijag said...

Thanks for the info!

I try to take glucosime and calcium every day - but I am TERRIBLE with remembering - so - yeah....

Anonymous said...

I never really take supplements. I don't really trust man-made nutrional stuff, I'd rather get all my nutrition from whole foods. The only thing I take is calcium chews because they are kinda tasty! ;-)

Thinspired said...

I've been wondering about supplements lately, so it's really good to read your thoughts and tips on this. I take a multi-daily, mainly for the folic acid in case I get pregnant. I have calcium in the cupboard but I don't know if that is necessary, and someone freaked me out once and told me I could get calcium deposits. Is that true? You're right, there is just so much misguided information out there that it is hard to tell what is right.

Astra Libris said...

Thank you for the great info on supplements! It is completely astounding that they aren't more appropriately regulated... Thank you for the wise advice on choosing supplements amidst the sea of supplements in existence! Thankfully, one of Zach's hobbies is researching supplements via the peer-reviewed journals available online through his school's library, and we do take the "usual suspects:" a multi-vitamin, calcium, and Vitamin C, along with fish oil for Omega3, Vitamin D, and Magnesium.

Oh my, I'm the same way with a glass of wine! I thought I was the only one! I love the taste of a nice glass of wine with dinner on the weekend, but just a few sips makes me so sleepy and loopy feeling... :-p I usually just share a tiny bit of Zach's glass as a result! :-)