By C. Michael White
More than two-thirds of Americans take dietary supplements. The vast majority of consumers — 84 percent — are confident the products are safe and effective.
What Are the Risks?<p>Heavy metals, which are known to cause <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4427717/" target="_blank">cancer, dementia and brittle bones</a>, contaminate many diet supplements. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0049676" target="_blank">One study of 121 products</a> revealed 5 percent of them surpassed the safe daily consumption limit for arsenic. Two percent had excess lead, cadmium and aluminum; and 1 percent had too much mercury. <a href="https://www.fda.gov/food/dietary-supplement-products-ingredients/fda-advises-consumers-stop-using-certain-life-rising-dietary-supplements" target="_blank">In June 2019</a>, the Food and Drug Administration seized 300,000 dietary supplement bottles because their pills contained excessive lead levels.</p><p>Bacterial and fungal contamination in dietary supplements <a href="https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2014/08/dietary-supplements-recalled-for-possible-salmonella-contamination/" target="_blank">is not uncommon</a>. <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1745-4565.2009.00167.x" target="_blank">In one assessment</a>, researchers found bacteria in all 138 products they investigated. Toxic fungi were also in many of the supplements, and counts for numerous products exceeded the acceptable limits set by the <a href="https://www.usp.org/" target="_blank">United States Pharmacopeia</a>. Fungal contamination of diet supplements <a href="https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/fpd.2015.2108" target="_blank">has been linked</a> to serious liver, intestinal and appendix damage.</p><p><span></span>From 2017-18, <a href="https://www.fda.gov/food/outbreaks-foodborne-illness/fda-investigated-multistate-outbreak-salmonella-infections-linked-products-reported-contain-kratom" target="_blank">dozens were hospitalized</a> with salmonella poisoning after ingesting kratom, a highly addictive natural opioid. Thirty-seven of the kratom products studied were contaminated.</p><p>Some dietary supplements contain drugs, yet the manufacturers <a href="https://theconversation.com/beware-of-natural-supplements-for-sex-gain-and-weight-loss-106484" target="_blank">don't disclose that information</a> to consumers. Frequently, the concealed drugs are experimental and, in some cases, removed from the market because they're dangerous. Hundreds of weight-loss, sexual-dysfunction and muscle-building products are adulterated with inferior or harmful substances.</p><p>Sometimes, the herb you think you're buying contains little to no active ingredient. Occasionally, another herb is substituted.</p><p>The consequences for consumers are considerable. When manufacturers replaced the herb <a href="https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM200006083422301" target="_blank">Stephania tetrandra with the herb Aristolochia fangchi</a> in 2000, more than 100 patients developed severe kidney damage; 18 more got kidney or bladder cancer. Although the herb is now banned by the U.S., <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19440049.2014.892215?src=recsys" target="_blank">a 2014 investigation</a> found Aristolochia fangchi in 20 percent of the Chinese herbal products sold on the internet.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/jcph.1387" target="_blank">In an assessment</a> of CBD products, only 12.5 percent of vaporization liquids, 25 percent of tinctures and 45 percent of oils contained the promised amount of CBD. In most cases they held far less. A few CBD products had enough THC to put the user in legal jeopardy of marijuana possession.</p><p><span></span>Embarrassed by a New York Attorney General's Office <a href="http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1532311-supplements.html#document/p1" target="_blank">investigation</a> suggesting widespread and fraudulent under-dosing of active ingredients in dietary supplements, <a href="https://cvshealth.com/newsroom/press-releases/cvs-pharmacy-launches-tested-be-trusted-program-vitamins-and-supplements" target="_blank">CVS pharmacies analyzed</a> 1,400 products that it previously sold in its stores. <a href="https://cvshealth.com/newsroom/press-releases/cvs-pharmacy-launches-tested-be-trusted-program-vitamins-and-supplements" target="_blank">Seven percent,</a> or about 100 products, failed, resulting in updates to the supplement facts panel or removal of the product from shelves.</p>
What Should Consumers Do?<p>The <a href="https://ods.od.nih.gov/About/DSHEA_Wording.aspx" target="_blank">Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act</a> of 1994 allows manufacturers to sell dietary supplements without providing proof of their quality to the FDA. Instead, it's up to the FDA to prove a product is unsafe and take it off the market. That's an incredibly tall order, and woefully inadequate. But it's unlikely to change.</p><p>In the meantime, I recommend that consumers should not purchase supplements without verification from one of three highly regarded independent laboratories: the aforementioned United States Pharmacopeia, the National Science Foundation and ConsumerLabs.com. The United States Pharmacopeia is an organization that <a href="https://www.usp.org/dietary-supplements-herbal-medicines" target="_blank">sets reference and quality standards</a> for prescription medication and food in the U.S.; the National Science Foundation is a governmental scientific body that sponsors basic science research; and ConsumerLabs.com is a company started to verify product quality for consumers that are paying members. These laboratories conduct an <a href="https://www.consumerreports.org/supplements/how-to-choose-supplements-wisely/" target="_blank">initial analysis</a> and then perform periodic unannounced assessments of the products; those with the appropriate amount of active ingredient, and without contamination or adulteration, can put the United States Pharmacopeia, National Science Foundation and <a href="https://www.consumerlab.com/seal.asp" target="_blank">ConsumerLabs.com seals</a> on their bottles. CVS announced that all products sold at its stores going forward will need to provide the company proof of quality. Other major retailers should follow suit.</p><p>In the meantime, I recommend that consumers should not purchase supplements without verification from one of three highly regarded independent laboratories: the aforementioned United States Pharmacopeia, NSF International and ConsumerLabs.com. The United States Pharmacopeia is an organization that <a href="https://www.usp.org/dietary-supplements-herbal-medicines" rel="noopener noreferrer">sets reference and quality standards</a> for prescription medication and food in the U.S.; the NSF International is an independent group that assesses safety and risk for food, water and consumer products; and ConsumerLabs.com is a company started to verify product quality for consumers that are paying members. These laboratories conduct an <a href="https://www.consumerreports.org/supplements/how-to-choose-supplements-wisely/" rel="noopener noreferrer">initial analysis</a> and then perform periodic unannounced assessments of the products; those with the appropriate amount of active ingredient, and without contamination or adulteration, can put the United States Pharmacopeia, NSF and <a href="https://www.consumerlab.com/seal.asp" target="_blank">ConsumerLabs.com</a> seals on their bottles. CVS announced that all products sold at its stores going forward will need to provide the company proof of quality. Other major retailers should follow suit.</p><p>Some manufacturers conduct quality testing and post certificates of analysis on their websites. But the autonomy of the laboratory, and its standards, <a href="https://www.consumerlab.com/answers/can-i-trust-supplement-manufacturer-lab-reports-and-certificates-of-analysis/certificates-of-analysis/" target="_blank">are often not known</a>. Sometimes, labs may select an inappropriate testing method, intentionally or unintentionally. Sometimes they perform the test incorrectly, or simply make up results.</p><p>Because the FDA can't fully protect you from quality issues in dietary supplements — at least not right now — you must protect yourself. Even if a celebrity or "health guru" recommends a product, that doesn't mean it's high-quality. Before you put any supplement into your body, demand proof.</p><p><em>Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the organization that tests consumer products for safety is the National Science Foundation. It has been corrected to clarify that NSF International is the organization who conducts the testing. </em></p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
After a year that saw the most Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) food safety investigations in at least 12 years, one of the most frightening impacts of the ongoing government shutdown has been the suspension of routine food safety investigations by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
- Lettuce Recall Is a Wake Up Call for Food Safety - EcoWatch ›
- Routine FDA Food Inspections Suspended by Shutdown - EcoWatch ›
Americans only just survived the great romaine lettuce scare of 2018, and now the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has postponed routine domestic food safety inspections due to the partial federal government shutdown, the agency's commissioner said on Wednesday.
FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb tweeted that the agency usually conducts about 160 domestic inspections on manufacturing and food processing plants each week. About a third of that inventory are foods considered at high risk for causing foodborne illnesses, such as seafood, dairy products, fruits and vegetables. The ongoing government impasse, however, has postponed much of these inspections.
- Lettuce Recall Is a Wake Up Call for Food Safety ›
- 6 Ways Trump Is Bad for Food, Health and the Environment ›
If you're hosting Thanksgiving tomorrow, be sure to leave romaine lettuce off the menu! The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are warning everyone to avoid the classic salad green until investigators can pinpoint the exact source of an E. coli outbreak that has sickened 32 people in 11 states.
The FDA advised Americans to stop eating romaine and to toss any that's left in the fridge. Restaurants and retailers should also stop serving it until more is known.
By Dan Nosowitz
When we think of dangerous gases emitted by cattle, the logical first thought is of methane, let loose into the air by burps and farts to contribute to climate change. But cattle are complex creatures in their diversity of noxious fumes, and the FDA just approved the first drug to treat a lesser-known one.
By Dan Nosowitz
Various parts of the cannabis plant have already received full FDA approval; a drug consisting of cannabidiol, better known as CBD, has already been approved to treat two rare forms of epilepsy. Researchers have been pushing for years for relaxed legal status to study the possible medicinal benefits of hallucinogenic drugs, and now the FDA has given psilocybin—magic mushrooms—a conditional form of research approval, according to Compass Pathways, the company granted that approval.
A problem at a single food-processing plant in California has led to a massive recall impacting millions of pounds of pre-made salads and meals, more than two dozen chains and 13 food companies, USA Today reported Tuesday.
The problem started October 15 when McCain Foods USA recalled the Fire Roasted Black Bean Corn processed at its plant in Colton, California near Los Angeles for potential contamination with Listeria monocytogenes or Salmonella, Food Safety News reported. McCain Foods has since recalled all products from its Colton plant, which makes fire roasted, caramelized and sauteed frozen fruit and vegetables.
Under pressure from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and other environmental and public health groups, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned seven substances used in artificial flavors that have been linked to cancer in animals.
By Dan Nosowitz
A report from the Office of the Inspector General found that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was not only slow to find problems in food production but that it often didn't take the right steps to correct violations and ensure that proper procedures were followed after violations were found. Foodborne illnesses, in some ways, are on the rise, and certainly, reporting of those violations are more visible than ever before. But there are still issues to correct.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released on Monday the final results of a "special assignment" that examined the residue levels of glyphosate and a competing herbicide glufosinate in corn, soy, eggs and milk during the fiscal year 2016.
Their labs detected glyphosate in 63 percent of the corn samples and 67 percent of the soybean samples at "non-violative levels," or in compliance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) pesticide tolerances. Glufosinate was found in 1.4 percent of the corn samples and 1.1 percent of soybean samples, also within legal limits. No residues of either pesticide were found in the milk and egg samples.
The first U.S. study of the effect on people of exposure to a hormone-disrupting chemical widely used in food packaging showed that levels the Food and Drug Administration deems "safe" can alter insulin response, a key marker for diabetes.
The groundbreaking study, published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society, administered low doses of bisphenol A, or BPA, to 16 people, then tested their insulin production in response to glucose, commonly called blood sugar. When insulin and blood glucose levels were compared to the same measurements taken without exposure to BPA, researchers found that BPA significantly changed how glucose affected insulin levels. Similar insulin and glucose tests are used by doctors for diagnosing diabetes.
Scientists with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ( FDA) have found traces of a ubiquitous and controversial weedkiller in granola, crackers and other everyday foods, according to internal documents obtained by The Guardian through a freedom of information request.
The FDA has tested food samples for glyphosate for "two years, but has not yet released any official results," Carey Gilliam reported in The Guardian article. Gilliam is an author, investigative journalist and research director for U.S. Right to Know.
Rose Acre Farms voluntarily recalled more than 206 million eggs after FDA testing determined that the eggs were connected to 22 reported cases of salmonella infections traced back to the farm.