One quarter of supplements tested by an independent company over the last
decade have had some sort of problem. Some contained contaminants. Others had
contents that did not match label claims. Some had ingredients that exceeded
safe limits. Some contained real drugs masquerading as natural supplements.
Examples found include:
Lead in ginkgo pills
Arsenic in herbals.
Bugs in a baby’s colic and teething syrup.
Other tests, reported in scientific journals, found prenatal vitamins lacking claimed
amounts of iodine, and supplements short on ginseng and hoodia.
Are supplements safe? Tests by researchers and private labs suggest the answer
sometimes is no. Millions of Americans take vitamin, herbal or other dietary
supplements. Annual sales exceed $23 billion, and more than 40,000 products are
on the market. Tens of thousands of supplement-related health problems are
handled by U.S. poison control centers each year, according to a report in the
New England Journal of Medicine in 2002.
Until last year, supplement makers were not required to report problems to the
FDA, and even now they must report only serious ones. The agency estimates
that more than 50,000 safety problems a year are related to supplement use.
Of course, prescription drugs have had problems, too. Dozens of deaths were
linked last year to tainted heparin, a blood thinner produced in China, for example.
However, pharmaceutical drugs must show evidence to the government of safety
and effectiveness before they go on sale. Not so for dietary supplements.
Fifteen years ago, Congress passed a law that treats supplements like food and
allows them to go straight to market without federal Food and Drug Administration
approval. The FDA can act only after consumers get sick or a safety issue comes
Makers can say a supplement addresses a nutrient deficiency, supports health, or
reduces the risk of developing a problem, but then must say the product “is not
intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” So consumers will see
vague claims, such as “promotes healthy immune system function.”
The Federal Trade Commission has stepped up actions against deceptive ads, said
commission lawyer Rich Cleland. “It is a little like playing Whack-A-Mole,” because
each time one problem is resolved, more seem to pop up, he said. Industry also
has stepped up self-policing. The Council for Responsible Nutrition gave money to
the Council of Better Business Bureaus so it could hire a lawyer to investigate
some supplement sellers' sketchy claims. The BBB council targets the worst claims
in popular categories, such as diet, cold and flu, menopause, joint problems and
sleep aids. (Source: AP)
NCPIE encourages healthcare professionals and community groups to foster patient–professional communication about medicines. However, NCPIE does not supervise or endorse the activities of any group or professional. Discussion and action concerning medicines are solely the responsibility of the patient and their healthcare professionals, and not NCPIE.
Please consult a licensed health care professional with questions or concerns about your medication and/or condition.