Dietary supplements are regulated as food, even though the safety and efficacy of some supplements are unknown. These products are often promoted as 'natural.' This leads many consumers to fail to question the supplements' safety, and some consumers even equate 'natural' with safe. But, 'natural' does not mean safe. For example, many wild berries and mushrooms are dangerous although they are natural. Another example is tobacco -- a key ingredient in cigarettes: it is natural, but overwhelming studies have established the harm of cigarette smoke. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only has limited ability to regulate the entry of new dietary supplements into the marketplace because supplements are treated as food.
Two main arguments support the current regulatory structure of dietary supplements: (1) cost and (2) access. But lower cost and increased access to dietary supplements do not necessarily have an relationship to safety and efficacy. Manufacturers' marketing techniques tout the health benefits of their supplements. Meanwhile, consumers are ingesting supplements without scientific studies indicating whether or not they are harmful.
The FDA Food Safety and Modernization Act, signed into law on January 4, 2011, did not address the safety concerns regarding dietary supplements. This article discusses the regulatory deficiencies concerning dietary supplements and proposes novel solutions to address this specific sector of the food supply. This article advocates for the use of scientific data to support a multi-tiered classification system to ensure that dietary supplements on the market are safe.
American Journal of Law & Medicine, 41 (2015): 374-394.