Supplements Will Have to Live Up to Their Labels
Manufacturers of vitamins, herbs, and other dietary supplements will soon have to prove that their products contain the ingredients listed on their packages and are free of contaminants. The regulations, recently announced by the Food and Drug Administration, are a step in the right direction, say experts.
The new rules will require supplement manufacturers to evaluate the strength, composition, and identity of their ingredients, and also ensure that they don't contain contaminants like lead, bacteria, or natural toxins. Recent reports have shown that the concentration of active ingredients in supplements can vary widely from product to product, and some have even been found to be contaminated.
"The consumer will be more assured that what is on the label is actually in the bottle. If it says it has 250 milligrams of vitamin C, the manufacturer would be expected to have that amount in there, and to have tested their product," says Vasilios Frankos, director of the Division of Dietary Supplements at the FDA.
Adds David Grotto, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, "The dilemma has been that you don't know which ones are of good quality. Many independent labs have discovered that what's on the label is not what's in the supplements."
Under the FDA's new rules, people should be able to worry less about what's in their supplements and focus on what many experts say is still a big question for consumers—whether (and which) dietary supplements are right for them. Experts say that consumers should be wary about the impressive claims that sometimes grace supplement labels. "If it sounds like it's too good to be true, it probably is," says Bimal Ashar, a physician at Johns Hopkins University who studies complementary medicine.
Ashar says that people should discuss dietary supplements with their physician to make sure they are safe and to protect against potential drug interactions. People can also do their own research. The National Institutes of Health maintain "fact sheets" for a number of different supplements that evaluate the research behind each supplement's efficacy and safety.
Dietary supplements have become more popular in recent years, reaching $22 billion in sales in 2006, according to the Nutrition Business Journal. Supplement manufacturers have so far responded positively to the FDA's ruling. "We think it's important that the rules are strong," says Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association.