Dietary Supplements

October 30, 2015 • Volume 25, Issue 39
Is regulation of the industry too lax?
By Jennifer Weeks


Dietary supplement makers say capsules containing oils from flax seed, evening primrose and other plants are beneficial (Getty Images/Keith Getter)
Dietary supplement makers say capsules containing oils from flax seed, evening primrose and other plants are beneficial. About half of American adults regularly use supplements, including vitamins, minerals, energy boosters and diet aids. Some 85,000 dietary supplements are sold without prescriptions across the country. (Getty Images/Keith Getter)

Dietary supplements, which are sold without prescriptions and include vitamins, energy boosters, herbal preparations and weight-loss aids, have mushroomed into a $37 billion industry, with as many as half of American adults using them. But critics argue that many supplements are ineffective or dangerous and that federal oversight of the industry is too lax. Supplements cause more than 20,000 emergency room visits annually, and since 2007 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has identified more than 600 supplements tainted with substances such as steroids that are illegal or available only by prescription. The New York State Attorney General's Office this year found that many herbal supplements sold by major retailers contained none of the ingredients listed on their labels. The industry, aided by powerful lawmakers in Congress, says supplements provide valuable health benefits and that only a few unscrupulous companies market tainted products. But many consumer advocates and health experts argue that problems with supplements are so widespread that regulations should be tightened to protect public health.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Nutrition and Health
Jul. 07, 2017  Hunger in America
Oct. 30, 2015  Dietary Supplements
Aug. 08, 2014  Global Hunger
Oct. 01, 2010  Preventing Obesity
Apr. 07, 2006  Rising Health Costs
Feb. 10, 2006  Eating Disorders Updated
Sep. 03, 2004  Dietary Supplements
Jan. 31, 2003  Obesity Epidemic
Feb. 23, 2001  Diet and Health
Jan. 15, 1999  Obesity and Health
Sep. 26, 1997  Youth Fitness
Apr. 14, 1995  Dieting and Health
Jul. 08, 1994  Dietary Supplements
Dec. 18, 1992  Eating Disorders
Nov. 06, 1992  Physical Fitness
Jul. 31, 1992  Infant Mortality
Oct. 25, 1991  World Hunger
Mar. 16, 1990  Public-Health Campaigns: Do They Go Too Far?
Apr. 29, 1988  How America Eats
Sep. 06, 1985  Anorexia and Other Eating Disorders
May 18, 1984  Dining in America
Aug. 26, 1983  Staying Healthy
Nov. 19, 1982  Weight Control: A National Obsession
Oct. 17, 1980  Caffeine Controversy
Apr. 14, 1978  Physical Fitness Boom
Jun. 17, 1977  Obesity and Health
Feb. 22, 1974  Heart Research
Aug. 01, 1973  Nutrition in America
Dec. 02, 1970  Infant Health
Nov. 15, 1967  Overweight and Health
Aug. 10, 1966  Dental Health
Jul. 13, 1966  Prolongation of Life
May 09, 1962  Outdoor Recreation
Nov. 26, 1958  Dieting and Health
Jul. 13, 1949  Recreation for Millions
May 13, 1941  Nutrition and National Health
Alternative Medicine
Regulation and Deregulation
Substance Abuse