The Truth About Nutrition Supplements
The Trouble with More Regulation
The American Medical Association says that megadose vitamins and herbal supplements should be regulated like drugs -- with mandatory premarket testing and FDA approval for safety and effectiveness before being sold. That may sound like good advice from doctors. But some consumer advocates say that many Americans don't want their access to vitamins, minerals, and other complementary health treatments restricted -- and perhaps for good reason.Is FDA Regulation Risk-Free?
For one thing, FDA-regulated pharmaceuticals aren't exactly risk-free either. In fact, with medications causing hundreds of thousands of adverse events every year, many people see supplements as the safer option. "It's important to remember that products like ephedra are the exception," says Judy Blatman, spokesperson for the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a supplement-industry trade group. "About 150 million Americans are using supplements that are basically safe." Price hikes also cause concern: If supplements had to undergo extensive clinical testing, manufacturers would charge more to recoup their research investment. "Most manufacturers would simply be forced to call it quits," says Dr. Cooperman.
Moreover, not every single product out there is a lousy one. There are many good, reliable supplements on the market that have been produced by reputable manufacturers.
A more reasonable solution may be to tinker with current laws to give the FDA more bite when it comes to taking products off the market. Two bills now in Congress could provide additional fixes. The first would require manufacturers to forward all serious safety reports to the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) so that unsafe products could be ferreted out more quickly. The other would require the FDA to budget more money to regulate supplements.Claim Disclaimer
By law, supplements can't promise to treat a specific disease, but you'd never guess that from reading some labels. Most claim to "help," "promote," "regulate" or "improve" just about any normal body function. Before you believe what you read, look for the FDA-mandated disclaimer (usually printed inside a small rectangular box) that reads: "This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease." Other vague-to-the-point-of-meaningless words include "natural" (even dangerous contaminants like lead are "natural"), "standardized" (by what authority?), and "verified" (by whom?).
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