Supplements a gamble with your health

Supplements, a gamble with your health

Jay Be Brookman

Staff Writer

Recently, The Corsair reported on a new “inhalable caffeine” supplement. Many people’s immediate reaction is to wonder if such a product is safe—and for a good reason. The supplement industry has a dirty secret: Supplements are not subject to any kind of regulation for safety or efficacy at all.

Many SMC students take supplements for various reasons, such as to help their focus, have more energy, exercise harder, or prevent themselves from getting sick. Students buy these supplements under the assumption that what they’re buying has passed a test to make sure it’s not harmful to their health, and that the product actually does what it claims.

Most people think that supplements are regulated for safety just like pharmaceutical medicines, but that is not true at all. How can this be?

In 1994, the Supplement Act created a false “supplements” category that lets companies sell products to the public and bypass the entire process of testing and regulation that the FDA requires of medicine, even though many supplements claim to act as medicine. Since then, the supplement industry has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry.

The Supplement Act gave carte blanche to any product that is called a “supplement,” as long as they put the following disclaimer on the packaging (which is usually found in tiny print that is difficult to see): “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”

FDA approval requires that the medication be safe, effective, and actually do what it claims; that “what you see is what you get.” In other words, if a bottle of aspirin says that each tablet contains 100 milligrams of aspirin, that’s what it has.

In contrast, supplements can make just about any claim about their product, and their purity cannot be trusted. It could easily contain a sugar pill with no medicine in it at all.

Here is a telling example how dubious the medical claims can be.  Try to guess which supplement is in the bottle with the following benefits printed on the label:

Naturally derived; absolutely essential for a healthy life; promotes longevity; boosts the immune system, promotes healthy digestion and nutrient absorption; vital for proper organ function; supports healthy joints; key to proper liver function; improves cognitive mental function, concentration, creativity, and memory; male, and female, enhancement; increases energy, athletic performance, balance, and vitality; and helps support quality, restful sleep.

The answer? A bottle of water. They’re all true for water, and by that logic, these claims can be true for just about anything, making those claims on supplements meaningless.

It doesn’t help that many supplements are sold by companies that also sell real medicine. The illusion that the “all-natural” and “safe” supplements come from a small, caring “Mom & Pop” company is a clever marketing strategy to make a profit off of those who don’t trust pharmaceutical companies.

There are plenty of reasons to distrust the pharmaceutical industry - it is why we have the FDA.

The system isn’t perfect, but between supplements and medication there’s clearly a smarter choice here: avoid supplements—at least the medication has been tested, and they both came from the same companies, anyway.