Consumer Reports Questions Supplement Safety

This week, Consumer Reports magazine released their September 2016 issue, which focused on dietary supplement safety. With articles such as “Supplements Can Make You Sick,” “15 Supplement Ingredients to Always Avoid,” and “We Made This Weight-Loss Supplement,” among others, the magazine and subsequent media coverage portrayed the entire industry as one that is relatively unregulated and rife with dangerous products.

The Council for Responsible Nutrition Weighs In

The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN)—a trade group representing supplement and functional food manufacturers and ingredient suppliers—questions how well Consumer Reports understands industry regulation. Commenting specifically on “15 Supplement Ingredients to Always Avoid,” the CRN notes that the FDA has in fact taken action—by issuing consumer advisories—against certain ingredients named in the article, including caffeine powder and methylsynephrine. The CRN also responded to “We Made This Weight-Loss Supplement,” stating that, in order to lawfully manufacture supplements, Consumer Reports would need to register their facility and the claims on their product’s label with the FDA, thereby alerting the FDA to their existence, formulation, and claims, and inviting regulatory action.

Bad Actors in the Industry do Exist

Of course, that’s not to say there aren’t bad actors in the industry: The Natural Products Association (NPA)—a trade group that represents the natural products industry—has previously acknowledged that there are manufacturers who sell contaminated supplements as well as ones lacking scientific support. There are also manufacturers who fail to abide by the FDA’s federally required Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs)—a set of rules that cover every stage in the manufacturing process, including testing the ingredients for identity, purity, and strength; establishing rigorous quality control; and keeping records of manufacturing activities.

Data Indicate Most Consumers Take Supplements Safely

However, the data indicate that most Americans who consume supplements do so safely. According to the CRN, over 150 million Americans regularly take dietary supplements. And, based on figures from the CRN, the number of adverse events that occurred from 2004 to 2013 represented an incredibly small percentage of those supplement consumers, about one-tenth of one percent—a point Consumer Reports concedes in “Supplements Can Make You Sick.” And just to drive home the importance of context for an accurate understanding of the supplement industry: It seems that 25% of these adverse events were caused by weight-loss supplements, a category which, unfortunately, has a history of not following GMPs, and 21% were due to accidents, such as from misuse by unsupervised children.

To Protect Your Health, Educate Yourself

Consumer Reports gets it right when they assert that certain supplement ingredients may exacerbate pre-existing medical conditions and that some have the potential to interact with prescription drugs. This is why it’s important to always consult with your healthcare practitioner before taking any new supplement. It’s also crucial to do your research when considering a supplement. This includes checking whether the product has been tested by independent labs and checking the FDA’s website to see if it has any health warnings or recalls. NPA members also have the option of using the NPA’s new warning letter database, which tracks enforcement actions taken by various agencies including the FDA.

Source: Consumer Reports and NutraIngredients

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