According to Consumer Reports, dietary supplement sales have increased by 81 percent in the last decade. Over 90,000 supplement products are on the market, creating a $40 billion industry. Forty-five percent of doctors suggest taking at least one supplement, and seven percent actually sell them in their offices.
But what is actually in these products? And what aren’t manufacturers telling the American public? Twenty-three thousand emergency room visits a year hint at a very complicated understanding of the effects of supplements, and of the deception and misinformation surrounding the supplement industry.
Of the tens of thousands of dietary supplements sold in the United States, not one of them is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before being put on the market. In other words, manufacturers aren’t required to prove that a dietary supplement is safe for its intended use before selling it, or that it works as advertised, or even that it is labeled correctly. Only after serious damage is done can the FDA remove a dietary supplement from the market.
Here are just some of the ways dietary supplements can be dangerous. They can:
- Contain hidden prescription drugs
- Contain heavy metals, microbes or other contaminants
- Negatively react with a person’s existing medications
- Prove ineffective at best, causing adverse side effects at worst
- Be intentionally mislabeled, with claims like “natural ingredients” that have no basis in fact
What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?
The good news is that being an informed consumer is the most effective way to protect yourself from a dangerous health product. The risks of dangerous side effects increase if you take other medications, have chronic health problems, or are pregnant or nursing. There are many steps to take before deciding on supplement use:
- Speak with your doctor before taking any type of supplement.
- Look for clinical studies that back up any claims that a supplement is effective and safe. Testimonials from customers are NOT scientific proof.
- Be aware of trends. Just because a product (e.g., CBD oil) is new and popular doesn’t mean it is effective.
- Be skeptical of exaggerated claims like “miracle cure” or “breakthrough product.”
- Don’t be swayed by limited-time offers and guarantees. These pitches are intended to get you to buy before you can evaluate a product’s claims.
- Don’t assume “natural” means safe. Many ingredients that may be found naturally can still be dangerous.