I’ve been complaining for years on this blog about the “dietary supplement” industry, which exists in its present form thanks to Sen. Orrin Hatch. That’s the 1994 “Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act”, which like many a federal bill has a name that is somewhat detached from reality. I would suggest the “Sell Any Damn Pill You Want Act” , with the proviso that you include words “dietary supplement” in 8-point font on the label, and have someone quickly mutter “These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA” at the end of your TV ads. Then you can sell any damn pill you want, apparently. When someone takes the time to analyze many of these preparations, all too often the herbal goodies turn out to be weeds and unknown material, although there are times when active ingredients get thrown in there, too – just not the ones on the label.
I’m glad to report that the FDA seems to be devoting more scrutiny to this issue. To be fair, the agency doesn’t have much freedom to operate thanks to that 1994 law, but they’re trying to implement an NDI framework (New Dietary Ingredient) that manufacturers would need to comply with, and trying to communicate potential problems with marketed supplements much more quickly. The announcement coincides with letters to 17 companies pointing out that their dietary supplement are not, in fact, therapies for Alzheimer’s disease, no matter what their ads say. Here’s an example of such a letter – the medical claims go all the way down the page. Known to treat this, clinically proven for that, counteracts the symptoms of the other, safe and highly effective, prevents Alzheimer’s, prevents cancer, prevents Parkinson’s, prevents diabetes, on and on and on. This is crap, of course.
The US supplement industry has grown at least tenfold since the 1994 legislation, and why wouldn’t it? While there are legitimate things one can add to one’s diet, the big problem is that the law as written is an invitation to sell snake oil. Find something that no one knows how to treat and tell people that you can treat it; it’s not a difficult business model to understand, and the money most certainly does roll in. The sorts of claims made above are a disgrace, and should in fact be a crime, but they’re very profitable indeed. If the FDA can turn a hose on this sort of thing, then good for them. Let’s see what happens. . .