Supplements: The Inside Secrets To The Dirty Truth

Shakes, powders, pancakes, pills – if you are into fitness, there is no way you haven’t come across a supplement or two. Whether you drink protein shakes as a meal replacement or take omega-3s, among a host of other over-the-counter remedies, there is one thing you need to know.

Supplements in the United States are only ever regulated after the producer has placed them on your supermarket shelves or in your local health food store. This may also come as a surprise: vitamins also fall under this umbrella.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates dietary supplements and dietary ingredients (vitamins, minerals, and botanical products) differently than conventional prescription drugs and medicines like Advil and Ibuprofen. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994 states two very important points that everyone should be aware of, whether you are an athlete or not.

1. Manufacturers and distributers of dietary supplements, which includes liquids, powders, pills, and gels, are prohibited from marketing products that are adulterated or falsely advertised.

What this means in short is that these companies are solely responsible for testing and evaluating the effectiveness, safety, and ingredient labeling before marketing their products to the public. This process is not monitored by the FDA, but left entirely up to the reliability of the company to ensure all requirements set forth by the FDA and outlined in DSHEA are met.[i]

2. The FDA is only responsible for taking action against any misrepresentation, misbranding or libels after a supplement has reached the market, aka the consumer.[ii] 

This is very important for consumers to realize. There is no governing body protecting your health and ability to participate in your sport. Producers can very easily mislabel a supplement, adding a drug or performance enhancement to the product without the public becoming aware. Only if this supplement causes detriment to the consumer will the FDA step in to act as an authority on the matter.

Don’t make unconscious decisions.

In a historic meeting in Aspen, Colorado, at the Spotlight Health Conference, six former FDA commissioners gathered together under the context, as it was reported in The Atlantic, that they regretted their inability, during their different appointments to the office, to ensure the safety and legitimacy of dietary supplements.[iii]

The conference went on to cover the 2016 spending report on health care, which reached $3 trillion, approaching nearly 20% of U.S. GDP. Much of this spending is associated with the exorbitant cost of medications and the consequences of inadequate diets.[iv]

Supplements, not just vitamin and mineral formulas, include derivatives from herbs, glands, amino acids, and enzymes. This whole industry, as reported in the Nutrition Business Journal, accounted for $96 billion in GDP globally in 2012 and $104 billion in 2013.[v] U.S. consumption accounts for over a quarter of these figures and doesn’t seem to be showing signs of decreased popularity.

A McKinsey document titled “Cashing in on the Booming Market for Dietary Supplements” stated the industry will continue to see growth through 2017, estimating a 5-6% increase in sales per year.[vi] Much of this immense growth is attributed to the fact that these products go to market without any safety, purity, or quality testing by the FDA.

Just think about it. How long have scientists and researchers been working on drugs to cure cancer or curb the onslaught of Alzheimer’s and yet there is little advancement. Drugs go through rigorous testing over a span of years before ever being released to consumers, and yet, as a society, it is perceived “safe and even more so, healthy” to self-medicate with vitamins and supplements.  

As defined by the FDA, vitamins and supplements are edible products, but are not “intended to treat, diagnose, prevent or cure diseases.” So then, why do people take them?

For example, Ephedra was pulled from the market only after it was found to be a potent stimulant that killed multiple individuals in 2002. Ephedra was sited to have poisoned 10,326 people, with 108 of these victims requiring critical care hospitalization. Most alarming is that the removal process took 8 years to execute (1997-2004).[vii]

The FDA has the claim of being the most substantial agency in the United States. So, how does this happen? Margaret Hamburg, one of the six ex-commissioners from 2009-2015 said, “limited resources make it difficult for the FDA to take advantage of what little authority they have.”[viii]

DSHEA was passed under David Kessler, the FDA commissioner in 1994 and was backed by Senator Orrin Hatch. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act was supported by enormous investments from the supplement industry itself. This so-called “law” only enables supplement producers to bypass any regulatory authority and take products straight to consumers with unfounded claims.

Be mindful of what you put in your body.

Many supplements contain active ingredients, not always specified on the labeling, that can have strong side effects on the body. Often people will take supplements instead of prescribed medication from their doctors or in combination with their prescription medication without their doctor’s awareness, which is a recipe for harm.[ix]

What are the risks?

  • Increased chance of bleeding
  • Heightened levels of vitamin A in the body can cause headache and liver damage
  • Reduction of bone strength
  • Increased amounts of iron can cause nausea and vomiting which can also damage the liver and other vital organs

Processed foods today have additional supplements (vitamins and minerals) added in, for example cereal or a carton of orange juice, so much that many people do not even realize they are easily consuming and exceeding recommended daily intake levels.[x]

Notes to keep in mind.  

  • The word “natural” written on a label does not always mean it is safe.
  • Talk with your healthcare provider before taking supplements to assure you need them and get recommendations on what products are safe and have undergone testing.
  • Do not take supplements in place of medication or in combination without a doctor’s approval.

Ask yourself these questions.

  • What do you gain from taking the dietary supplement?
  • Does the product have any safety warnings?
  • Is the producer recognized as a reputable source for dietary supplements? Do your due diligence.
  • Do you know the proper size of the dose?
  • How, when and for how long should you be taking the dietary supplement?
  • Keep a journal of what you are taking. Much like a food diary, document the name, dosage amount, frequency, reasons for taking, and what effects it has on your body.

Treat your body well. Your future self will thank you for it.

 

[i] Dietary Supplements. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/Food/DietarySupplements/default.htm.

[ii] Dietary Supplements. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/Food/DietarySupplements/default.htm.

[iii] Hamblin, James. 26 June 2016. Why Vitamins and other ‘Dietary Supplements” Can Contain Anything. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/06/supplements-make-tobacco-look-easy/488798/.

[iv] Hamblin, James. 26 June 2016. Why Vitamins and other ‘Dietary Supplements” Can Contain Anything. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/06/supplements-make-tobacco-look-easy/488798/.

[v] Thomas, Addie. 27 January 2015. Global Nutrition and Supplements Market: History, Industry Growth, and Future Trends by PMR. Globe Newswire. Retrieved from https://globenewswire.com/news-release/2015/01/27/700276/10117198/en/Global-Nutrition-and-Supplements-Market-History-Industry-Growth-and-Future-Trends-by-PMR.html.

[vi] Hamblin, James. 26 June 2016. Why Vitamins and other ‘Dietary Supplements” Can Contain Anything. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/06/supplements-make-tobacco-look-easy/488798/.

[vii] Hamblin, James. 26 June 2016. Why Vitamins and other ‘Dietary Supplements” Can Contain Anything. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/06/supplements-make-tobacco-look-easy/488798/.

[viii] Hamblin, James. 26 June 2016. Why Vitamins and other ‘Dietary Supplements” Can Contain Anything. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/06/supplements-make-tobacco-look-easy/488798/.

[ix] 17 June 2011. Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know. National Institute of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/HealthInformation/DS_WhatYouNeedToKnow.aspx

[x] 17 June 2011. Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know. National Institute of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/HealthInformation/DS_WhatYouNeedToKnow.aspx

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