Why Some Supplements Are Fraudulent and Harmful

The FDA is not authorized to review the safety and efficacy of dietary supplement products before they are sold on the market.

Are you planning to take supplements to lose weight, get the recommended dietary nutrition, treat heart disease or any other illnesses you might be experiencing?

You might want to talk to your healthcare provider before you do so. Better yet, find out what the FDA has to say about supplements.

Before you take supplements, you should check:

  • How safe is it to use?
  • Does it work?
  • How much does it cost?
  • Will it interact with the medications you are currently taking?

Safety should be your priority when taking medications or supplements. Applying safety concerns to supplements may seem illogical—considering that they are often marketed as safe to use—but there are good reasons for this.

Supplements are not reviewed by the FDA

Snake oil being peddled by salesmen and pharmacists or retailers posing as one is nothing new. Health fraud scams have been around for centuries, which led to the creation of the FDA to help regulate the drug industry. However, the standards the FDA used to regulate and review drugs were never applied to supplements.

According to an article published on the FDA website titled, “Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know,” the FDA is not authorized to review the safety and efficacy of dietary supplement products before they are sold on the market. The responsibility falls on the manufacturers and distributors. How will consumers know whether or not these manufacturers and distributors did as expected?

FDA regulates dietary supplements as food

Some supplements may be categorized as food, but most of them are not. With the FDA's hands tied and their capability crippled by the so-called Proprietary Blend labeling, they can only investigate at a limited capacity.

Proprietary Blend requires manufacturers and distributors to list all ingredients in a supplement in order by weight. What most people don’t know—and the FDA is not allowed to know—is the dosages of the ingredients used, which is essential when it comes to supplements. As long as supplement producers label their product as a proprietary blend, they can get away with anything.

Dietary supplements are not FDA-approved, in general

Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, manufacturers and distributors of dietary supplements do not need FDA approval before they can market their products. It is their sole responsibility to ensure its safety and efficacy.

They are also required to make sure that any claims made are true. If these supplement producers are after sales and profit, however, what are the odds that the supplements they bring to the market contain potentially harmful ingredients?

FDA continues to warn consumers of fraudulent dietary supplements

This may seem like a case of a power struggle where the FDA wants to cripple the supplement industry and vice versa; however, the reality is that there are tainted and dangerous products on the market that are sold as supplements.

There are nearly 300 products that the FDA discovered as fraudulent and contain ingredients that can cause serious injury, or worse, death. The FDA advises consumers to always check the label.

The following are signs of tainted products.

  • Claim to be an alternative to drugs approved by the FDA.
  • Claim to be legal alternatives to anabolic steroids.
  • Marketed through mass emails or in a foreign language.
  • Claims to promise rapid effects, especially sexual enhancement products.
  • Product labels that say you may test positive for performance enhancement drugs.

Joshua Pirestani is the President and founder of the American Pharmacy Purchasing Alliance.