regulating supplements

Last Friday the Science Media Centre’s media alert included the following:

Dietary supplements such as multivitamin tablets and energy drinks are an increasingly common part of our lives, but should they be?

Concerns have been sparked recently by the availability of ultra-high caffeine energy drinks, the proliferation of people taking (often large) doses of vitamins/minerals every day, and an industry which appears to have very little legislation to guide its behaviour.

I will confess to having drunk caffeine ‘energy’ drinks in the past (despite their – to me, anyway – awful taste) when I’ve been particularly tired & had to keep working. Not because they contained energy – caffeine has a stimulant effect on the nervous system, so the only energy content would be in the sugar added to the drink, & anyway I went for the sugar-free kind! But I stopped when I found that my blood pressure had gone way too high & that my teeth ‘buzzed’ after I’d drunk one. And that was on the basis of one per day & not every day… Certainly caffeine can have negative physiological effects. (I was intrigued to discover that coffee & other caffeinated drinks aren’t recommended for anyone with a tendency to faecal incontinence, for example.) So I’ll be interested to see the briefing notes tomorrow.

But I also wonder how the idea of regulating vitamins & other ‘dietary supplements’ (I’d go as far as to include complementary & alternative medicines (CAM) in this grouping) will go down with the wider community. Certainly the last time the idea was raised, the outcry from various interest groups led to the whole thing being quietly dropped. Which I thought was quite interesting – you’d think there’d be a lot of support for something which would ensure that the pills & potions that fall under the ‘supplement’/CAM umbrella would contain what they are claimed to contain, and in standardised amounts. This would after all be beneficial to the consumer – there are significant safety issues associated with non-standardisation of these supplements, and also with contamination by non-declared heavy metals (or even prescription drugs). So why the fuss?

It’s certainly a discussion we need to have, & hopefully one that will be better addressed by the media than has been the case in the past.

3 thoughts on “regulating supplements”

  • This topic is an aggravating one to most of my customers as well as other health foods stores in the area.
    The problem isn’t so much as keeping the bad things out. I think we would all agree that there are a lot of fly by night companies who reap havoc on our (usually) naive client base.
    In one respect having regulations on supplements and herbs would be fine if the government didn’t take everything as their own and ruin the good guys in the process making it almost impossible for the legit manufactures to continue on without beating off the regulators.
    It is the job of the consumer to do their homework and not just look for the miracle pill that works over night.
    I have been in the business a little over 5 years and there are still tons of things I come across that amazes me that I missed.
    If you have cholesterol issues do your due diligence and find those reputable companies that put exactly what is in the pill on the label, those who have the GMP certification labels and other certifications.
    In our store we only carry quality all natural products and if we find out they’ve sold out to walmart or any other chain we pull it. It seems once they sell them selves out to those guys their quality goes way down due to demand from those companies.
    CONSUMERS! DO YOU HOMEWORK and don’t let the government take over yet another program. They need to keep their hands out of it and you can help by doing your part and not taking the easy way out.
    Thanks for listening

  • Alison Campbell says:

    I have to disagree with part of what you’ve said – I don’t think it should be entirely up to the consumer. They should be able to go to providers of ‘natural’ remedies with the same confidence with which they approach pharmacists, & for the same reason – your average consumer isn’t trained in pharmacy, chemistry etc & relies on the people behind the counter to provide good advice & high quality remedies. As far as the pharmacies are concerned, regulatory mechanisms are in place to ensure that this confidence is not misplaced.
    You’ve said that If you have cholesterol issues do your due diligence and find those reputable companies that put exactly what is in the pill on the label, those who have the GMP certification labels and other certifications. Unfortunately what is on the label and what is in the pill may well be two quite different things – as the recent cases of ‘natural’ remedies for impotence being laced with viagra & other prescription-only drugs have demonstrated. There comes a point where consumers have no option but to trust the labelling, so why is regulation to ensure accuracy such a bad thing? Not least because of the safety issues involved.

  • I think three things should be done:
    1. Insist on labels
    2. Place laws addressing false claims, including labels, marketing claims and claims about what the product can do.
    3. Insist that health-related products and products involving investments of large sums of money are checked/regulated as consumer protection.
    The first two don’t regulate the companies or the products, just the “packaging” of them.
    That’s where the third comes in, as Alison was saying: who checks the product itself? For many products it’s in the consumers’ hands but particularly for products related health or very large sums of money, I think there is good reason to provide consumer protection by regulating the products themselves. A reason in particular, is that it’s a bit late after the fact in these cases. It’s not like finding out that the $2 Chinese-made garden tool you bought really was a piece of cr*p!

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