What does the Government Say about Dietary Supplements?

When you were a kid, you probably eschewed the school cafeteria’s “mystery meat” as just too scary an unknown to chow down on. Fast forwarding to now, as a responsible adult, you’re still avoiding stuff with ingredients you can’t pronounce and unknown whatevers.

You may even take a daily diet supplement, to make sure you’re getting enough of the good stuff when you’re dieting and of course, assume those pills, bars and shakes are everything the manufacturer says they are. That’s pretty reasonable and you should be able to do so without thinking twice. But do you really know what’s in that package? Or how much say the government has about its contents?

You Know What They Say About Assumptions

The words dietary supplement may conjure up many images for you, based upon their marketing and your own needs and expectations. Despite what you think it is, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a dietary supplement is merely a product taken by mouth which contains a substance considered a dietary ingredient. That substance may be one or more vitamins, minerals, herbals or botanicals of various kinds and/or amino acids. Some of these ingredients may boast of being “all natural.” Others may promise to turn back the clock, help you lose weight, clear your skin, or fight off cancer-causing free radicals. And some dietary supplements may be exactly what they seem. But others may not.

Federal Regulation and You

You may look to supplements for a variety of reasons. Possibly you’re dieting and want to boost your metabolism or are hoping to alleviate the symptoms of an illness or disease. Before you buy, make sure you know exactly how much say the government has in what you’re taking. 

It is illegal for a supplement to claim to be a cure for disease, but there are limits to FDA oversight where labeling is concerned. Currently, federal law requires supplements to be labeled as such, but they do not require that manufacturers or sellers prove them safe or need to meet FDA standards prior to marketing. It also does not require that claims about the product be accurate, truthful or proven to the FDA’s satisfaction before it is made available for sale to the general public. In fact, the FDA won’t even have a role in product testing until it’s already in the hands of the consumer. And usually, that won’t occur unless the supplement is starting to gain traction as being dangerous. Even then, false claims can continue to be made, since dietary supplement advertising falls under the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission, not the Federal Drug Administration.   

Modern Mystery Meat?

Lots of dietary supplements do what they say and are safe and effective. But if the FDA can’t keep up with which is which, how can you?   

First off, if you’re hoping to take dietary supplements to support weight loss or for other reasons, the FDA recommends talking to your doctor first. He or she will know which supplements have a good track record and which are meatloaf masquerading as filet mignon. And, never take a supplement in lieu of a prescribed medication. Even supplements considered safe aren’t right for everyone or take the place of prescribed medicine.

It’s also important to stay in the loop by keeping yourself informed. Get your information from sources you trust. And, when it comes to something as important as your health and well being, always be leery of anything that sounds too good to be true.

Dietary supplements can have a role in weight loss but are not a panacea. They do not take the place of watching what you eat, exercising, or medical advice. So when in doubt, make like you did in junior high school and move onto the salad bar!