In an article published in the Sunday Review of The New York Times, the safety of dietary supplements was called into question, referring to the opinions of medical professionals at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for support. According to the hospital’s chief of infectious diseases and the clinical manager of the pharmacy department, it is not unusual for patients to bring with them dietary supplements to aid in their medical care. Unfortunately, the tendency to supplement treatments is riddled with problems, perhaps the most offensive being the fact that dietary supplements are not regulated as drugs by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Without proper regulation from the FDA, dietary supplements are permitted to be manufactured and sold to consumers without first being tested for safety and efficacy.
In the past decade alone, more than a fair share of incidents have proven that the lack of safety regulations for dietary supplements is problematic, to say the least. More than once, the FDA has uncovered contaminated manufacturing facilities, mislabeled supplements, and more. For example, in 2003, researchers reported that about 20% of the “ayurvedic” remedies they tested in Boston health food stores contained unsafe levels of arsenic, lead, and mercury. Earlier this year, another dietary supplement, OxyElite Pro, was pulled from shelves across the country for its potential links to liver disease. As recently as last month, researchers in Ontario reported their findings of potentially dangerous herbs in popular products such as ginkgo biloba and St. John’s wort.
The issue of dangerous dietary supplements is so prevalent that the FDA suggests that approximately 50,000 adverse health reactions occur every year among users of supplements. This is a reality that many consumers do not know, and it’s a fact that many manufacturers would like to remain under wraps. While the problem is nowhere near an end, there are programs and facilities that are taking action against these wrongful practices. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is one such facility. Staff members of the hospital no longer allow patients to use products whose quality is unverified – at least not without first making the patients sign a waiver disclosing the potential dangers associated with using the supplement.
Anyone who is currently taking a dietary supplement should look into whether or not the product has been “USP Verified.” This verification appears on a product’s label and acts as proof that the supplement has been inspected and approved by the United States Pharmacopeial Convention. Given the fact that less than 1% of all 55,000 supplements on the market do not have this verification on their label, it is certainly a worthwhile investigation for the consumer.