Herbal Dietary Supplements: Understanding FDA Requirements

Herbal dietary supplements have gained popularity in recent years as more and more people look for natural ways to improve their health.  Dietary supplements are defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a product taken by the mouth that contains a “dietary ingredient” designed to supplement the body.  This definition was created as part of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994.  The DSHEA dietary supplement definition is fairly clear, and the DSHEA also spells out the responsibility of the FDA when it comes to regulating the supplement industry.

The Dietary Supplement Process

There are any numbers of dietary supplements on the market that make claims of easing the pain of arthritis, that make claims of being that magic diet pill, or that claim to help any host of illnesses.  It is important to note that companies are on the honor system, in a way, when it comes to the claims they make about their product.  The FDA dietary supplements regulatory authority is always after the fact in terms of a product going to market.

The companies producing the dietary supplements must make sure that the product they are marketing is safe according the DSHEA.  Also, according to the DSHEA, companies producing dietary supplements are to commit to making a voluntary report to the FDA in the event that there are any adverse reactions reported to them by consumers.  What this means for consumers is the dietary supplements on the market have not had to go through testing by the FDA before being sold in stores to consumers.  So to a point, while most likely the products are safe, there is not the regulatory assurance by the FDA until after the fact, which means until after you or others may have already taken the supplement.

Due to the fact that dietary supplements are only loosely regulated, it can be difficult for the average person to know about any potential harmful interactions without discussing it with your doctor.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line on dietary supplements is really that you must do what is best for you and your dietary needs.  A discussion with your doctor, and research on the dietary supplements you are considering, should also be a part of your decision-making process.  It is important to know what you are taking and all the potential benefits and risks.  As the more and more products come to market, understanding their differences can become more difficult. Always do your homework!


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