by Marion Nestle
May 14 2009

Will the FDA start regulating supplements?

If the FDA is now going after health claims (see yesterday’s post), will it also start going after dietary supplements?  These, as I explained in my most recent column in the San Francisco Chronicle, get to make all kinds of unsubstantiated claims without the FDA being able to do much about them.  More and more evidence is coming in suggesting that supplements can be harmful as well as ineffective.   The latest example: antioxidant supplements are said to interfere with the beneficial effects of physical activity.    Will such studies encourage the FDA to insist that manufacturers demonstrate safety and efficacy before they put supplements on the market?  That would be a refreshing change, no?

  • Foodaroo

    If the FDA starts regulating supplements, then these companies will need to conduct clinical trials to prove their efficacies. That means the cost goes up and less people will buy supplements. Is this a good or bad thing?

    On one hand supplements can be contaminated, and the idea of regulation is good. On the other, we have a large population eating calorie dense as oppose to nutrient dense foods, and the idea of regulation may be a bad thing.

  • Anthro

    I actually posted about the article you refer to a few days ago. There is a widely held view (myth) that supplements are necessary. Of course the vast majority of doctors will tell you that a one-a-day type is okay if you don’t eat super well, but people go right on anyway choking them down by the ton (and flushing them away). I am very hopeful that the FDA will finally get on this and stop all the nonsensical claims of “support” and “helps with”.

    It is high time to regulate supplements and to make all the health food stores stop practicing medicine without a license.

  • sid

    It is about time. This industry is the “wild west” for too long, some strict regulation as to quality, ingredient veracity and effectiveness are long overdue.

    My opinion is that everything this industry sells is completely un-needed and consumed only by the gullible, which is a pretty big market nevertheless. If they are going to throw away their money, shouldn’t they at least be assured that the claims these products make are truthful and the ingredients are actually in the product?

  • Given the rapid and profitable growth in supplements, this could turn into quite a fight with a broad range of product companies and retailers, including Whole Foods, joining the fray.

    Like “sid”, I would agree that its about time.


    Rob Smart

  • Anthro

    Rob and Sid, I am with you 100%. After rereading my own post, I don’t think I made that clear! I only meant that the most anyone MIGHT need is a one-a-day supplement, not even that if one eats reasonably well. I also agree that the supplement myth is so entrenched that it will be a huge fight. Prof. Nestle’s book “Food Politics” speaks volumes to this issue and how it got to this sorry state. I have been treated with total disdain at my coop (I like the produce) for questioning their emphasis on supplements and the way that they freely dispense nonsensical opinions to customers. All I ever get in the way of a response is, “science doesn’t know everything” or “that’s YOUR opinion” said with utter contempt!

  • MonaL

    Wow, the FDA can’t even monitor drugs properly — I sure hope they don’t start mucking around and messing up the supplement industry and our ability to purchase desired supplements at reasonable prices. Sure would be nice if they would go after the folks that are continually compromising our food safety and quality instead.

  • Moe

    I think that as long as people use supplements in moderation, then I don’t think that the FDA should be limiting people’s ability to buy supplements. There will be some people that use them inappropriately and those are the people that the FDA should be cracking down on. For the rest of the people that use them correctly though, I don”t see any problem with the continued use of them.