DSHEA In Action
Chester J. Zelasko, Ph.D. | July 8, 2003

How many times have you read that there are no regulations of the dietary supplement industry? I've discussed this before in a previous issue of the Newsletter (1). Recent events have shown how laws regulating dietary supplements are supposed to work. Here are two specific examples.

Coral calcium has been the focus of at least two infomercials over the past two years. Whether this product works as advertised has been one of the most frequent questions coming in to Better Life Unlimited. It usually goes something like this: "Does coral calcium do everything that they say in the infomercial?" The answer is no--not that we could find in any of the scientific literature.

It looks like the U.S. Federal Trade Commission agrees--they've launched an investigation into the claims made for coral calcium regarding cancer, heart disease, and other diseases (2). Compounding the trouble for the distributors of coral calcium was the finding by consumerlab.com of excessive lead levels in batches of coral calcium, and I don't need to tell you how toxic lead is.

SeaSilver has also made fantastic claims about the effectiveness of its products. One of the claims is that liquid vitamins and minerals are better absorbed than tablets. Research to back that statement simply doesn't exist in the published scientific literature. That claim is minor compared to the claims of disease cures. The FTC seized the inventory of the manufacturers of SeaSilver because of false advertising (3).

These are two examples of the Dietary Supplement Health Education Act (DSHEA, pronounced de-SHAY) in action. DSHEA prohibits unproven claims on the labels or in advertising of dietary products. These companies violated the law and are the subject of scrutiny by both federal agencies. But that's not all that's happening when it comes to regulating the supplement industry.

The FDA recently called for the establishment of a policy requiring companies to use Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) in the manufacture of the dietary supplement and to test and verify for accuracy (4) the information on nutrition labels. Reputable manufacturers already subject themselves to these high standards. The problem is that not all manufacturers do, and that's why the government is calling for a more comprehensive law to be enacted.

Critics say that's not enough. They say that dietary supplement manufacturers should be subjected to the same laws as the pharmaceutical industry. But let's be realistic--it doesn't matter how many laws are enacted, people will still make unsubstantiated claims for products. That's happened in television advertising for pharmaceutical products as well. We don't really need more laws--GMPs and accuracy in labeling for the dietary supplement industry are enough if they're enforced.

What's more important is common sense. Consumers should always use two criteria when deciding whether or not to use a dietary supplement. First, remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There are no miracle cures that the government and the pharmaceutical industry don't want you to know about. It may sound intriguing, but it should also set off your radar. Second, know your manufacturer. If you don't know anything about the manufacturer, find out before you buy. Often the price of a supplement is low enough that you don't do the checking you would do when buying a toaster or a television.

Keep this in mind: you are taking those pills, powders, or liquids into your body and your family's bodies. Don't you want to know as much about them as you can before you take them? Do your homework before you buy. That's the best form of regulation any industry can have: an informed consumer.

References:

  1. Regulating Food Supplements. The Newsletter. March 5, 2002.
  2. FTC and FDA Take New Actions in Fight Against Deceptive Marketing: FTC Charges Marketers of Coral calcium Supreme Dietary Supplement. Federal Trade Commission for the Consumer. June 10, 2003.
  3. No Silver Lining for Marketers of Bogus Supplement; Federal Agencies Crack Down on Health Fraud. Federal Trade Commission for the Consumer. June 19, 2003.
  4. FDA Proposes Labeling and Manufacturing Standards For All Dietary Supplements. FDA News. March 7, 2003.
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