It Must be Safe if it’s on the Store Shelf, Right?

Weight loss pills

More and more products with  unidentified and harmful ingredients are finding their way into the booming U.S. “Dietary Supplement” marketplace. They are freely advertised on the radio and TV, and are readily available online as well as on the shelves of local grocery stores, pharmacies, and health food stores across the U.S. 

This booming multibillion dollar market falls under the category of “Dietary Supplements” which are vitamins, minerals, herbs and other substances meant to improve your diet or overall health.  They are most often advertised as “Natural”, which can often be far from the truth.  

“Natural” is an abused word which has become an effective tool of this rapidly growing industry. In fact, many of the so-called “Natural” dietary supplements on the market may not even be what they say they are on the label.  Even if they are pure, they still may well have significant adverse effects or interact with commonly prescribed drugs.  A good example of their potential danger is that many are well known to interact with anesthesia during surgery.  

The “Dietary Supplement” market is essentially unregulated by the FDA.  Unlike prescription or over-the-counter drugs, which must be tested and reviewed before they’re sold, federal laws allow the sale of untested, unreviewed, and unregistered Dietary Supplements.  So a very dangerous product may be on the store shelves and in your body for quite a while before it’s even reviewed or investigated.

Herbal drugs, claiming to provide miraculous cures for common ailments such as obesity, depression, anxiety, sexual problems, menopausal symptoms, arthritis pain and many others boast safe and natural relief without any side effects.  This is absolute nonsense.  These supposed remedies may well have dangerous side effects that you will probably discover sooner or later. 

These products line many shelves of grocery stores and pharmacies and  only the manufacturer itself is responsible for determining that the claims on their labels are accurate and truthful. The products are not even registered with the FDA, and only if the FDA becomes aware of false or misleading claims will the agency take action. 

On the other hand, a large number of useful and therapeutic herbal products certainly are on the market, but finding them is a challenge.  Do your research before making a purchase.  Consumer Labs Online is one reputable source, and your health care provider is another good reference.  In fact, it’s important to inform your doctor about any supplements you’re taking. Too many patients make the mistake of assuming that anything purchased over-the-counter is okay, and there’s no point in mentioning it to their doctor. 

The law which eliminated the FDA review and testing of dietary supplements was the Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which was passed in 1994.  Over the years since then, serious health problems have occurred with several different dietary supplements, prompting experts to call for a change in the current law. 

Many, including the FDA, are saying this law needs to be changed, but while we’re fixing that law, others are saying that the FDA itself, needs to be reformed.  Many people who love their “Natural” products, express their distrust of prescription drugs, and point out that many serious errors have occurred with drugs that have been approved by the FDA. Many experts agree that this is an unfortunate trend, and chronic underfunding of the FDA is said to be a major cause of this problem. 

In any event, sticking only to “Natural” products is not the solution.  Try to find a health care provider you trust, and make every attempt to be educated, beware and be skeptical of claims that are too good to be true. 

Source:  “Overview of Dietary Supplements”, FDA
Source: Consumer Labs, “Chromium Supplements (including weight-loss formulas”, March 2010
Source: “What’s in Hydroxycut?”, Kristina Fiore, MedPage Today, May 08, 2009 
Source:  “Reflections on Hexavalent Chromium: Health Hazards of an Industrial Heavyweight”, Environmental Health Perspectives, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institute of Health, September 2000
Source: “New England journal endorses institute’s proposals for FDA”, BMJ. 2006 October 14; 333(7572): 772FDA

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