Are Dietary Supplements Tested for Effectiveness? - An Expert's Perspective

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not evaluate whether dietary supplements are effective before they are sold. Many people believe that taking large doses of certain vitamins can prevent or cure diseases, but there is no scientific evidence to back this up. In fact, taking too much of some vitamins or minerals can be dangerous and even harmful. For instance, the body cannot process large amounts of vitamin A.

If taken in excess, it can reach toxic levels, which can damage organs and interfere with certain medications. Multivitamins, vitamin D, echinacea and fish oil are some of the dietary supplements that are available in stores or online. Vitamin D is essential for absorbing calcium from the intestines, which is why it is so important for bone health. The scientists at research centers conduct laboratory studies on the safety, efficacy and mechanisms of action of botanical dietary supplements that have a high potential to benefit human health.

Botanical supplements (such as garlic, ginger, ginkgo biloba, echinacea, and others) are made from plant material, so many of them are labeled as “natural products.” The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) was amended in 1994 by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which defined the “dietary supplement” and established the authority of the FDA with respect to such products. Until better oversight is available, supplements will remain largely unregulated. In general, even if a product is labeled as a dietary supplement, a product intended to treat, prevent, cure, or alleviate the symptoms of a disease is a drug and is subject to all requirements applicable to medications. The public has a legitimate desire for good health, and the supplement industry has a strong desire for good sales.

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act restricts the FDA's ability to regulate products that are marketed as dietary supplements, even though most people buy them for health reasons. However, dietary supplements aren't totally safe and taking them can pose risks, especially for people being treated for cancer. The Food and Drug Administration needs to regulate them and how to ensure that you and your family use supplements safely. Most pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers of herbal supplements don't research potential drug interactions, so the risks of taking supplements with other medications are largely unknown.

Additionally, keep in mind that supplements should not replace the variety of foods that are important to a healthy diet. In some cases, when herbal supplements have been tried, they have been found to contain very little or none of the ingredients listed. Nevertheless, most people who have side effects, illnesses, or drug interactions from dietary supplements don't call the poison control center or supplement manufacturer.

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