by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Supplements

Mar 7 2009

Dietary supplements: GAO says FDA needs to do better

The Government Accountability Office, the agency that keeps a close eye on government integrity, says the FDA ought to be doing a much better job of regulating dietary supplements.  It grants that the FDA has taken “some” or “limited” action to go after potentially unsafe products,  of which, apparently, there are plenty.  The agency, it says, cannot do its job because it lacks resources and recall authority and gives supplements too low a priority.

This is old news, but the report provides an excellent summary of the history and current status of the dietary supplement industry and its regulation.  As is typical of GAO reports, the clarity of presentation is exceptional.  Here’s  what the New York Times reporter says about it.

Jan 17 2009

Complementary and alternative medicine stats

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has released its annual statistics on use of such therapies.  I love the definitions: complementary therapies are used along with conventional medicine; alternative is in place of, and integrative uses both.  And here’s what everyone is using:

see chart

Apr 16 2008

Antioxidants in trouble again

Investigators keep trying to find health benefits from taking supplements of vitamins A, E, and beta-carotene but keep coming up with the same conclusion: antioxidant supplements do no good and – worse news – appear to cause harm.   Here we have the single-nutrient problem again.  When in doubt, get nutrients from foods.

Jan 22 2008

Oh great. Vegetarian glucosamine made in China

I guess the world needs this. I know that lots of people think glucosamine helps relieve their arthritis pains, especially in the knees, but the science on it is really iffy. Any number of reviews conclude that glucosamine is ineffective but safe as a placebo. Well, at least you can get it now from vegetarian sources, made in China. Reassured? The manufacturer says “Most of the world’s glucosamine is manufactured in China anyway. What we’re doing is supplying a safer and purer glucosamine coming from the same geographical location.”

Dec 28 2007

A new pyramid for older adults?

I’ve been hearing lots of media announcements of the food guide pyramid for old folks produced by Alice Lichtenstein and her colleagues who do research on aging at Tufts University. This one is for adults age 70 and over and is published in the January issue of the Journal of Nutrition. The press announcement from Tufts compares it to the USDA’s MyPyramid of 2005. The differences: even greater emphasis on eating healthfully and staying active (because older adults don’t need as many calories to maintain weight) and, maybe, some supplemental vitamin D (bone health) and vitamin B12 (to overcome losses in absorption ability).

Dec 22 2007

Correction: Herbal supplements and irradiation

Oops. I owe the American Herbal Products Association an apology for my previous post about its position on irradiation, which I got completely backwards. As Rebecca correctly points out, the AHPA has asked the FDA to deny a petition to allow herbal supplements to be irradiated. Its arguments against this use of irradiation are thoughtful and compelling: the proposed doses of radiation are higher than used on other foods; current good manufacturing practices will keep contaminants under control and irradiation will mask breaches in those practices; and “the United States will become the dumping ground for poor quality herbal ingredients from around the world, since irradiation of herbal ingredients is not permitted in many countries.”  Let’s hope the FDA turns down the petition and accepts the AHPA’s arguments.  And please accept my apologies.

Dec 19 2007

Should herbal supplements be irradiated?

NOTE: Correction to this post.  I must have been asleep when I wrote it.  Sorry!

Apparently, the Herbal Products Association has petitioned the FDA to allow herbal supplements to be irradiated at doses high enough to kill contaminating bacteria. The American Public Health Association says this is not a good idea. I don’t think so either, of course. I call irradiation a “late-stage techno-fix,” meaning that it takes dirty products and sterilizes them. Shouldn’t the dietary supplement industry get its act together and produce clean supplements to begin with?

Dec 17 2007

Baseball tragedy is supplement industry’s hope?

One industry’s tragedy is another person’s dream. In this case, the tragedy is performance-enhancing drug use by baseball players (say it isn’t so). But look what the dietary supplement industry has to say about that problem: what’s bad for baseball is good for us!