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The Risks of Unproven Dietary Supplements

The dietary supplements industry has seen rapid growth over the last decade. Supplements are available in virtually every grocery store, with many more available online. The industry pays significant sums to promote products, often making wild claims about the health benefits customers will experience. But many dietary supplements aren’t subject to the kinds of regulations that protect consumers. Especially when a supplement claims to have drug-like efficacy, consumers need to be careful about consuming a product that may not work, or worse, may cause significant health problems.

The regulatory process for dietary supplements

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration enforces regulations related to dietary supplements. These regulations are distinct from those that apply to other kinds of food, and importantly, they do not come close to the standards used to regulate medicinal drugs. This despite the claims of many supplement manufacturers that their products have profound medical benefits, like enhanced brain function or improved sexual performance. The FDA’s regulatory authority has two prongs:
  • Selling adulterated products is prohibited. Adulteration simply means using a substitute ingredient for the one that is claimed on the label. The substitute typically is of lower quality than the ingredient that is described. A simple example would be if a business claims that its products’ ingredients are 100% organic, but in fact they include non-organic materials.
  • Selling misbranded products is prohibited. This rule is important, because brand information is key to determining the source of, and therefore the responsibility for a product’s safety.
Applicable rules place the burden on manufacturers and marketers to test the safety of their products within the parameters of applicable food safety laws. There is no independent process of review that applies to all products. Some companies have gone to great lengths to devise showy “testing” procedures that in fact are grounded in arbitrary measures and not in a rigorous and studiously neutral scientific process.

The potential health risks of dietary supplements

One hopes that at worst a supplement simply doesn’t do anything other than drain one’s wallet. But organizations like the National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society have raised the possibility of serious complications arising from their use. These complications can include:
  • Unforeseen interactions with medications, such as reduced effectiveness of birth control pills.
  • Potential complications for women who are pregnant or nursing.
  • Dangerous overdoses of certain vitamins or minerals, especially when taken in conjunction with other foods.
  • Lack of disclosure of allergens, especially from businesses operating behind the relative anonymity of websites.
Someone who suffers serious side effects from a supplement should stop taking the supplement and consult with a doctor. In severe cases, pursuing compensation through a lawsuit may be appropriate. A lawsuit may be especially appropriate if the manufacturer or seller of the product has failed to disclose a significant danger associated with the supplement, but there may be other circumstances where a lawsuit makes sense. The attorneys at Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez have represented Nevada clients in products liability and personal injury cases for over 45 years. If you have been injured by a dietary supplement and you would like to discuss your legal options, please reach out to us today for a free attorney consultation. We can be reached at 702-388-4476 or through our website.