The laissez faire world of dietary supplements


That, and pet food.

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Science Based Medicine wrote an excellent article about this very issue.


2000 a year out of 314 million is significant? I would imagine that many a day get sick from milk or canned food or whatever. How about FDA approved medicines - how many people a year die from them? I think it’s better to keep the FDA (controlled, or at least heavily influenced, by the multi-national pharmaceutical corporations) out of this one.


You do realize that the “evil” multi-national phama corps are major players in the supplement market?

It turns out they are huge fans of selling pills without even having to bother demonstrating their safety or efficacy. Come up with a brand or wholley-owned subsidiary, slap a label with a sunrise and running stream on there, and they are free to sell whatever woo people are willing to buy.


Well, for one the base is much smaller than the entire population of the US, the base for the number of people that can be harmed is those who use supplements which is far less than 314 million.

The “big pharma” companies are all in on this too. This is not big pharma vs little guys; it’s big business vs big business, and consumers are the big victims here.

So many supplements are wholly ineffective for what they are claimed to do; study after study says so, and now we’re finding that megadoses of vitamins increases the chances of cancer. Taking huge doses of vitamins is not “natural”, we are not adapted to take such things. This is where the harm to people lies, and it’s getting worse as time goes on. If there is no regulation to make sure these supplements are safe and effective for what they claim (or, hell, that they contain what they claim would be a great start) we the consumers will continue getting bilked and harmed from what I call “big natural.”


You definitely have a point there and an educated consumer should proceed with caution, even when buying weekly groceries. Adding more government control is only going to play into the hands of the multi-nationals. I prefer to get my nutrition from whole foods, but like the option to consider a supplement, many of which are now outlawed, from what I read, in the EU.

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Any one have any experience with ?? They review supplements, but it is a monthly subscription to read the actual test results.
Also reviews supplements in general, but does not seem to compare brands.


Point of Inquiry had a great podcast about this a little while back. They discuss the Purity First recall, which is the type of consumer safety debacle you’d think would be limited to China or elsewhere.

If there’s no regulations in place, managed and maintained by a regulatory body, what’s forcing the supplement manufacturer to properly label their products? Even if they did provide a list of ingredients, if the entire supply chain isn’t regulated then there could be ingredients not listed because the manufacturer doesn’t know whether or not the materials they’re purchasing contain fillers. If a filler contained gluten, such as a cereal-based filler, then that could cause serious harm to people who have celiac disease. Being an informed consumer isn’t enough, you need regulations and a regulatory body so consumers are able to be informed.


“Express flattery followed by caution and concern. Repeat just-debunked fallacy of Big Pharma vs. Little Guy. Token mention of alternatives to vitamins to deflect accusations. Scary communist EU!”

All that, and you just signed up today. This is the most obvious astroturf I’ve ever seen.


I recall reading articles in the past where “all natural supplements” actually contained pharmaceuticals.

Even when someone gets sick, the burden of proof is on the FDA to prove the supplement caused it, rather than on the supplement company to prove it didn’t.

Not to be too contrarian, but I will point out this is totally consistent with the whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing.

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I don’t like your (Maggie’s) promotion of “guilty until proven innocent” in this market. Let the FDA prove there is a problem before they can interdict. We should be working to discourage false claims, not clobbering free association and sober justice.

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Indeed. So yet another example how an important right for people can harm society when naïvely applied to corporations.

A difference is that if there were some indication I was personally selling something that poisons people, I expect it would get stopped long before I went to court.


Yes, and that’s also been true for homeopathic products as well!

Good point. IANAL, and I hadn;t thought about it that way.

There needs to be better enforcement of existing laws but this author is using DMAA as an example and it this isn’t the issue. There is nothing wrong with DMAA and most studies have shown this. Whether it is DSHEA compliant or not is a different subject. It is being used as a scare tactic just as ephedra was a decade ago. The biggest issue in the US market is not that people’s lives are in danger because of rogue ingredients, it’s because many supplements are under-dosed from what is listed on the label or are adulterated with the wrong substance that many times is virtually inert. When companies outsource product creation to China, they don’t always run in-house testing on the raw powders they receive due to cost. Now prescription drugs, that is a serious issue.

“First: do no harm.”

I believe that’s part of the ethics and code of conduct for some profession. Danged if I can remember which one it was though.

So you’d rather have an underfunded and slow FDA prove things which are meant to be consumed are poison after the fact, than make corporations prove they’re safe before they get to sell them to consumers who assume the product is safe?