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Consumer Reports: Beware of Supplements

Published on Jul 8, 2014 at 8:30 am in Dangerous Drugs.

Supplemental Danger DrugsThe new issue Consumer Reports: OnHealth newsletter warns consumers to consider whether supplements are really safe. The first major problem with the $28 billion dollar supplement industry is that even though the products are sold on supermarket shelves, health food stores and drug stores, they aren’t really regulated; at least not before they go to market.

The second problem is labeling. A 2013 Consumer Reports survey found that fully 55% of those polled believed that the U.S. government requires supplement makers to include warnings about potential dangers and side effects. It does not.

Federal Laws Presume Supplements Are Safe Until Proven Otherwise

The scary fact is that supplements are not strongly regulated at all. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate supplements in the same way that it regulates over-the-counter drugs. Prescription drug makers have to prove their products are safe and effective. And they must prove this, through clinical trials, before the FDA allows them to go on the market.

Supplements are treated exactly opposite of the drug regime. The FDA considers supplements to be safe, unless or until they are shown not to be. Pieter Cohen, a doctor at the Harvard Medical School and at the Cambridge Health Alliance, told Consumer Reports, “Without better laws, consumers have no idea what they’re really getting.”

Products can be Mislabeled

Consumers are used to thinking that products they buy say at Safeway, Costco, or Rite-Aid are going to be of a certain quality. This may be why consumers don’t know to be cautious when considering supplements. Most consumers are not aware that these otherwise reputable stores put supplements on their shelves when no one has tested them to see if they even contain the ingredients listed.

Consumer Reports cautions that supplements may not include the ingredients shown on the label, and worse yet, they may include additional dangerous ingredients that they purposely don’t put on the label.

These potentially toxic or even illegal ingredients are most often laced into products that promise weight loss, sex-performance enhancement, and bodybuilding. Some of these workout and weight loss supplements have been found to contain substances like methamphetamine-related chemicals or steroids.

It’s tempting for many consumers to believe that these products must be safe, because their trusted stores put them on the shelves. However, more often than not, the stores are as unaware as the consumer, or at worst, as unscrupulous as the manufacturer.