Being Smart About Dietary Supplements

According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), each year Americans spend $35 billion dollars on dietary supplements. Unfortunately, a new study published this October in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 776 supplements on the market from 2007 to 2016 contained unapproved pharmaceutical ingredients. The majority of these tainted supplements were being sold for weight loss, sexual enhancement, and muscle building.

Adulterated supplements pose a real health risk for consumers. In 2015, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated 23,000 emergency room visits each year are due to adverse events from supplement use. The majority of documented symptoms from these visits included heart palpitations, chest pain, and tachycardia, headaches and dizziness.

Dietary supplements are regulated under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. Surprisingly, this legislation places most responsibility on supplement manufacturers to self-regulate and report adverse effects from their products rather than going through a rigorous approval process before supplements are sold. This allows dangerous products to find their way on shelves.

Before taking a dietary supplement, it’s important for consumers to inform their physician to prevent possible harmful interactions due to a medical condition, current medical treatment, or a prescribed medication. Meeting with a Registered Dietitian (RD) who is knowledgeable about dietary supplementation can also help inform consumers on what the research says about the proposed benefit of a specific supplement. An RD can also provide education and guidance on safety, effectiveness, and the use of quality ingredients in supplements.

For more information on supplement safety and an overview of common dietary supplements, go to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplement website here: