The dangers of health supplements are overstated even by the government
The dangers of health supplements are overstated even by the government, so when Attorney General Loretta Lynch warned consumers about it earlier this year, she wasn’t quite telling the whole story.
Last spring, Lynch released a video warning about the dangers of taking nutritional supplements. She warned viewers that, unlike with pharmaceutical drugs, the FDA doesn’t test dietary supplements. But that statement is misleading, because the truth is that the FDA doesn’t test anything. The FDA just requires drug companies to do their own testing and submit the results to the FDA. And, while it’s true that the FDA doesn’t require supplement testing, that doesn’t mean that all supplements are bad or unsafe.
“The highest legal officer in the country needs to understand the process by which drugs and supplements come to the market,” said Gretchen DuBeau, legal and executive director for the Alliance for Natural Health-USA.
“Her office has rightfully prosecuted a number of bad industry actors this year, including USP Labs, but her misstatements about the regulation of these products will dissuade consumers from taking the supplements they need to stay healthy.”
The inflammatory video references cases where the government has targeted companies mislabeling their products. That doesn’t mean the supplements themselves are unsafe. It just means that there are unscrupulous types who market products dishonestly – which is true in any industry. It’s an important distinction to recognize before condemning a whole industry.
“This is the equivalent of calling monopoly money legal currency,” DuBeau said. “The fact that the products were deemed illegal and misbranded necessitates that they be called what they are— counterfeits.”
In fact, counterfeit or real, there’s some indication that dietary supplements may be safer than heavily-regulated pharmaceutical drugs.
“You’re five times more likely to be killed by a lightning strike, 581 times more likely to be killed in a boating accident, and 98,000 times more likely to be killed by an FDA-approved and properly prescribed pharmaceutical drug than by a legal dietary supplement,” said DuBeau.
“The bigger, more important picture is this: despite some bad apples, the supplement industry still produces the safest products that humans ingest.”
Lynch’s video came just months after the Department of Justice announced a crackdown on the supplement industry by targeting bad actors with criminal and civil sanctions. While there are definitely bad actors in the industry, announcements like the attorney general’s exaggerates the dangers of health supplements.
Making sure the dietary supplements are safe is important – but it’s also important not to paint an entire industry in broad strokes.