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The world of dietary supplements is a $35 billion industry that continues to grow even in this uncertain, inflationary economy we’re in. There are likely more than 80,000 dietary supplement options on the market. the research showsNearly three-quarters of American adults use supplements regularly.
The reason I say “probably” when it comes to the number of dietary supplements available is because these companies and products operate in a mostly unregulated, free market.
Without any oversight from government agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), how are consumers supposed to know what supplements aren’t safe and which ones are the real deal? As it turns out, it’s up to each one of us to do our own research and make our own decisions.
A Different Set Of Rules
As the FDA websiteThe agency regulates both finished dietary supplements and dietary ingredients, states the agency. However, they do this “under a different set of regulations than those covering conventional foods and drug products.”
The following are the guidelines Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), manufacturers and distributors of dietary supplements and dietary ingredients “are prohibited from marketing products that are adulterated or misbranded.”
According to the FDA, this means that “these firms are responsible for evaluating the safety and labeling of their products Before marketing to ensure that they meet all the requirements of DSHEA and FDA regulations.”
The companies are free to follow the guidelines, laws and regulations as they see fit. The FDA will not review a product if it has been on the market for a while and has received numerous complaints or problems.
In a free and unregulated market, consumers are left to their own devices
Companies that make supplements have access to a few databases where they can register their products. The Therapeutic Research Center is one example. These databases are not complete lists of all available supplements.
Anyone can create a supplement and then sell it because of the freedom this industry offers. They don’t have to register it anywhere or prove that it’s safe and effective. Instead, consumers must verify any claims made about the supplement.
It’s up to the marketplace to determine if the product is safe and the claims are true. Until the product is deemed unsafe or mislabeled, the FDA cannot take a supplement off of the market.
This doesn’t mean, though, that the FDA is completely hands-off. They actively monitor most supplements through consumers reporting adverse effects.
Freedom comes with risk and responsibility
It might seem like the wild west at first, with no regulation of the supplement market. The lack of regulation encourages companies to be honest about their products and encourages consumers to purchase safe products. It won’t do a business any good to sell a harmful product backed by lies. That’s the quickest way for a company to fail.
Not everyone is on the rise. Some people just want to make quick money. This means that it’s each individual consumer’s responsibility to properly discern product claims, do the research, and make the decision that’s best for them. It’s also very easy to consult your healthcare provider if you need some professional advice.
How to Tell if a Supplement Is Safe
Is there a chance that someone will be hurt before any FDA action is taken? Yes. That’s a reality that every consumer of supplements needs to accept. The best advice I’ve heard when dealing in a free market is “if in doubt, don’t.”
The good news is that there are a plethora of safe supplements—like vitamins, minerals, or multivitamins—that might actually improve your health. There is a way to determine which products are safe and which are less risky.
The OPSS Scorecard
The dietary supplement industry has been unregulated for over 25 years. In some cases, a product may have been unsafe or mislabeled.
The following are some helpful tips to help consumers make informed supplement choices Department of Defense’s Operation Supplement SafetyThe program has created a scorecard containing seven yes-or not questions. The OPSS ScorecardConsumers can evaluate a product by asking questions regarding the label on the supplement containers. These questions include:
- Is the product label bearing any of these third party certification seals? (The checklist lists the third-party certificates images to look out for: BSCG. NSF. USP. Informed Sport.
- Is there less than six ingredients on the Supplement Facts Label?
- Is the label devoid of the words proprietary or blend, matrix, complicated, or complex?
- Can you pronounce each ingredient on the Supplement Facts Label?
- Is the caffeine listed on the label at 200 mg or less per serving (If caffeine is not listed, mark “Yes”)
- Are there any questionable claims or statements on the label?
- Are all % Daily Valuations (% DV), on the Supplementfacts label less than 200% (If % DV is not listed, mark “No”)
If you can answer “yes” to at least four of these questions, then the supplement should be safe to try. Less than four is “a no-go,” says the DOD. It’s also a “no-go” if the supplement contains any ingredients on their Prohibited List.
The next time you are looking to buy supplements, the DOD’s OPSS scorecard is a great tool for helping you determine if you want to spend your hard-earned money. It’s also a good idea to consult your healthcare provider before trying anything new in the supplement world.
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