by Marion Nestle
Sep 30 2009

Distress in the supplement industry

Ah those British.  So ahead of us in so many ways.  A professor in Aberdeen had the nerve to suggest that supplements don’t make healthy people healthier.  The industry reacted accordingly. More interesting is the expectation that sales of vitamin and mineral supplements are expected to drop by 50% in the near future.  Imagine: the British don’t think they do much good.

But maybe Americans don’t either?  The September issue of Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ) is full of doom and gloom.  The FDA wants to regulate supplements.  Congress is rethinking the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) – the one that deregulated the industry.  Today’s New York Times discusses congressional hearings about problems with sports supplements that contain steroids but don’t say so.

So maybe DSHEA wasn’t such a great idea.  Sports supplements and those for weight loss are getting bad press for the harm they cause.   Coupled with the economic downturn, none of this is helping sales.  NBJ says last year’s 5% growth in supplement sales is the lowest since 1997 and predicts that next year will be worse.

Why?  As NBJ explains, it gets letters from doctors saying things like this: “I’ve become stronger in my conviction that taking supplements is nothing more than a giant crapshoot.”

This, I argue, is the entirely predictable result of deregulation.  The supplement industry worked relentlessly to get itself deregulated.  It even wrote the language of the bill that Congress eventually passed (I describe this history in detail in Food Politics).  This industry is now facing the consequences of its own actions.

How ironic that supplement makers will be begging the FDA for regulation if for no other reason than to gain some trust.

Comments

  • Jeff
  • September 30, 2009
  • 10:26 am

Marion Nestle says: Why? As NBJ explains, it gets letters from doctors saying things like this: “I’ve become stronger in my conviction that taking supplements is nothing more than a giant crapshoot.”

How then do you explain the Life…Supplemented survey, which states that 72% of cardiologists and 82% of nurses recommend supplements to their patients:
http://www.lifesupplemented.org/supplements/healthcare_professionals_impact_study/nurses.htm

DSHEA did NOT deregulate the supplement industry. As Steve Mister states in a piece about supplement regulation: “DSHEA actually provided FDA with new enforcement authority not previously available”. Here’s the entire piece:
http://www.crnusa.org/CRNPR09ResponseSportsIllustrated051909.html

The excellent NBJ article on sports supplements which Marion Nestle links to states it well:

“The good news is that now the supplement industry has good manufacturing practices (GMPs) and the serious adverse event reporting (SAER) system to ensure supplement product quality and demonstrate the safety of dietary supplements.”

According to this article in today’s New York Times, the FDA already has the legal authority to take action against any company marketing an illegal product BEFORE it goes on sale:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/30/business/30supplement.html?_r=1&ref=health

  • Bobby
  • September 30, 2009
  • 3:44 pm

the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) was one of the worst pieces of legislation ever. De-regulation let the industry say anything they wanted, make any claim, and never require one iota of evidence. It was a licence to print money for many years, but, sooner or later, the fact that you can’t fool all the people all the time comes true. And it’s about time.

  • Janet Camp
  • September 30, 2009
  • 4:30 pm

About time, indeed! (great post, Bobby)

I am heartened to hear that sales are down and expected to decrease dramatically, but while at Costco yesterday, I noticed a huge array of “cleanse” and “detox” products, to say nothing of “vitamin water” and all manner of juices made from exotic plants. This was not the coop, or Whole Foods, but Costco! It seems that manufacturers might be replacing supplements sold in bottles with supplements added to foodstuffs.

A comment on the article linked about the response of the industry in Britain–and I’m sure it’s the same here–why is it so difficult for people to try to eat five servings a day of fruits and veggies? I think “serving” might be the problem. My husband thinks a “serving” is a whole fruit or veg (which isn’t really hard for me to do) when in fact, a serving is usually more like one-half of an apple, etc. Yes, I do realize that many people simply never have eaten real food and, therefore, think that they just “don’t like it”.

  • Julia
  • October 6, 2009
  • 12:05 pm

What falls under the category of “supplements”? Would, say, iron pills qualify? (I took them for a while based on my doctor’s recommendation. My iron levels increased from 7 to 13.6 while taking them, so as far as I can tell, they had the desired/advertised effect.) I’m not questioning the professor’s argument — I’m just wondering exactly how broad the category is. I assume he’s at least talking about multivitamins and sport elixirs, but what about plain old B vitamin tablets, for example? Also questionable?

  • Jeff
  • October 8, 2009
  • 10:53 am

Marion Nesltle: “How ironic that supplement makers will be begging the FDA for regulation if for no other reason than to gain some trust.”

As this new article makes clear, the supplement industry is not asking for more regulation; they are asking the FDA to use its legal authority to take adulterated, illegal products off the market. The problem is the FDA’s non-enforcement of existing law:

http://www.nutraingredients-usa.com/Regulation/FDA-and-DEA-need-to-crack-down-on-steroids

  • ATP
  • October 10, 2009
  • 11:56 pm

For the real info on supplements, check out
http://naturalnews.com/

http://www.naturalnews.com/GoogleSearchResults.html?q=supplements&cx=010579349100583850635%3Aw_kzwe9_yca&cof=FORID%3A11&ie=UTF-8&sa.x=0&sa.y=0&sa=Search#1375

And here is the link to the Health Revolution Petition in the US:
http://www.healthrevolutionpetition.org/

Sure some are useless – the ones from the pharmceutical industry and big food business. Those aren’t the ones that are right to take. Real health people who have informed themselves know that, they ask, they read, they learn. Because one can’t rely on government or industry to inform them honestly on this subject and some others. Know what company / brand you’re buying from. And note generally speaking, shopping at a “sports nutrition” store or drug store is most often not the right place to get quality health products. Find and support your local health store.

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