Dietary supplements are defined as any kind of supplement you take in addition to your regular diet in order to support better health. Many people take vitamins regularly. Whether they're knocking back some extra Vitamin C if they feel a cold coming on, or they're taking biotin to help their nails grow, dietary supplements are largely accepted by American culture.
Many Americans might be surprised to find out that their daily dietary supplements are not regulated in the same way other drugs are. You might find both cold medicine and Vitamin C at your local pharmacy, but each pill took a different path to the shelf. HuffPost's Dominique Mosbergen reports:
The FDA is not authorized to review dietary supplements for safety and efficacy before they are marketed. The agency only has the authority to stop the sale of a supplement if it can prove the product is dangerous.
According to Mosbergen, dietary supplements are a multibillion-dollar industry, and with many thousands of products on the market, the FDA doesn't have the bandwidth to prove or disprove potential danger in each product:
“What was once a $4 billion industry comprised of about 4,000 unique products, is now an industry worth more than $40 billion, with more than 50,000 ― and possibly as many as 80,000 or even more ― different products available to consumers,” the commissioner wrote.
Although the FDA is making an effort to increase oversight on dietary supplements, there's still no need to panic about all products on the market. In a press release, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb says:
We know that most players in this industry act responsibly. But there are opportunities for bad actors to exploit the halo created by quality work of legitimate manufacturers to instead distribute and sell dangerous products that put consumers at risk.
There's no need to throw out all the vitamins in your cabinet. If anything, the FDA's crackdown should only make you more confident in the supplements you buy in the future. The organization reached out to 17 companies specifically that have made false claims about their products. Gottlieb frames the action, saying:
To be able to make those choices with respect to dietary supplements, consumers need to have access to safe, well-manufactured, and appropriately labeled products.
But as Popular Science points out, it's hard to discern which supplements are which when you're shopping for health solutions. Sara Chodosh sums up dietary supplements, saying:
The bottles don’t say “swallow me,” but they might as well. Instead they’re emblazoned with promises. The yellow ones will make you stronger. Red will increase your energy levels. Purple will heal your scars. It’s a veritable rainbow of cures. They offer quick and easy solutions in a way that medicine can’t—because medicine is bound by evidence. Supplements aren’t.
Customers should shop with a cautious eye when supplements make outrageous promises. No dietary supplement out there can cure cancer or Alzheimer's, and the companies advertising as such pose a danger to the public.