Although there is no FDA dietary supplements approval process, manufacturers must be honest about the contents of their supplements.
What Are Dietary Supplements?
Dietary supplements include pills, capsules, powders, drinks, and other products containing vitamins, minerals, and herbs. Some supplements have vitamins that are necessary for good health while others contain herbs which are associated with holistic benefits.
Certain dietary supplements have been proven to improve the health of consumers. For example, calcium and vitamin D supplements are important for bone health. Similarly, folic acid may decrease the risk of birth defects when taken by pregnant women. For consumers who aren’t looking for a specific benefit, multivitamins are available to provide all-around nutrition.
Although these supplements can be beneficial, there are some risks involved. Supplements are not pharmaceuticals but may contain naturally active ingredients which can influence prescribed medications.
For example, vitamin K is known to reduce the efficacy of warfarin, a widely used blood thinner. Supplements with St. John’s wort may change the way that the body processes medications, resulting in a faster breakdown.
Additionally, taking too much of a vitamin can be harmful as well. Taking multiple vitamins with the same ingredients or eating a vitamin-rich diet in addition to taking supplements can lead to serious consequences such as organ damage.
Do Dietary Supplements Need FDA Approval?
Despite the significant consequences supplements can have on a person’s health, these products do not have to do through an approval process from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Based on the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, it is not the FDA’s duty to approve these products. Instead, it falls on the company to make sure their products are safe and marketed with true claims.
What Are the FDA Dietary Supplements Regulations?
Rather than requiring a lengthy approval process typically associated with pharmaceutical medications, supplements are instead regulated in terms of their marketing and manufacturing.
There are a variety of requirements under FDA dietary supplements regulations, specifically the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, including the following:
- The products must be labeled with the term “dietary supplement” or an equivalent term such as “herbal supplement” or “calcium supplement;”
- Supplements can not be marketed or sold as a treatment or cure for a specific disease or symptom;
- Products cannot be adulterated or misbranded;
- Manufacturers must report any serious adverse effects associated with their supplements;
- Supplement producers must register themselves with the FDA according to the Bioterrorism Act before selling dietary supplements;
- Manufacturers must inform the FDA if it intends to market a supplement with a “new dietary ingredient” and show why the ingredient is expected to be safe.
Supplement manufacturers are also required to follow good manufacturing practices established by the FDA. These standards help ensure the composition, strength, purity, and identity of supplements in order to protect consumers and reduce contamination.
Regulations also require that vital information be included on supplement ingredient lists. Supplement Facts panels are required to identify each dietary ingredient included in the product and the amount contained. Any additional ingredients such as sources of dietary ingredients, food ingredients, additives, and processing aids are to be included in an “other ingredient” statement below the Supplements Facts panel.
How Are the Regulations Enforced?
In order to ensure that manufacturers are following good manufacturing practices, the FDA may periodically inspect manufacturing facilities.
As its resources permit, the FDA can also review the marketing and labeling of supplements. If manufacturers are found to have violated FDA dietary supplements labeling regulations, the agency may take action. In some cases, action may only include sending warnings to companies ordering them to change their labeling.
Any time that the FDA suspects a supplement is dangerous, they can take action. In some cases, the agency can release public alerts to inform customers of the issues. In more serious cases, the FDA can remove the products from the market and conduct criminal prosecutions.
A variety of issues may lead to an FDA dietary supplements recall, including any of the following issues:
- Contamination with microbiological, pesticide, or heavy metal content;
- Absence of a dietary ingredient which has been listed as part of the product;
- Too much or too little of a dietary ingredient based on the amount listed on the product label;
- Bogus products that should not be on the market at all.
For example, in 2011, the FDA released a mass warning after finding that nearly 300 dietary supplements had been fraudulently marketed. In some cases, the supplements reportedly contained active ingredients. Consumers reportedly suffered serious injuries from mislabeled dietary supplements, including life-threatening strokes, liver injury, kidney failure, heart palpitations, and deaths.
“These products are masquerading as dietary supplements—they may look like dietary supplements but they are not legal dietary supplements,” Michael Levy, who then served as the director of FDA’s Division of New Drugs and Labeling Compliance, said at the time.
“Some of these products contain hidden prescription ingredients at levels much higher than those found in an approved drug product and are dangerous.”
Concerns about falsely advertised supplements have become especially relevant during the coronavirus pandemic. There is no vaccine for the potentially deadly respiratory virus, leaving many consumers scared and uncertain. Unfortunately, businesses may be taking advantage of consumer fears by marketing their supplements as able to treat or prevent COVID-19 infections.
These claims are so prevalent that the FDA has established a dedicated website detailing the actions they’ve taken against fake COVID-19 cure products. According to the agency, companies who fraudulently market their products as able to prevent, treat, diagnose, or cure the coronavirus are hit with warning letters, seizures, and even court-ordered injunctions in order to halt the sale of these items.
The FDA notes that they are working with researchers to develop vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. Some interventions have reportedly moved to the clinical trial phase, although the agency notes that these unapproved products are still in their early stages and haven’t been evaluated for safety or effectiveness.
While researchers and medical experts work to manage the coronavirus outbreak in the country, the FDA recommends that consumers use caution when looking into products marketed for COVID-19 treatment. The agency states that unproven and untested “cures” can result in serious consequences, including death. Although consumers may only aim to protect themselves and their families, these fake treatments may do more harm than good.
“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” the FDA notes.
The FDA encourages consumers to be suspicious of fraudulent products and report any fake treatments to the agency so they can take action.
How to File a FDA Report
Although the FDA has the power to take action against fraudulent or dangerous dietary supplements, the agency doesn’t have the ability to test or monitor every single supplement available. In addition to encouraging the public to be wary when purchasing supplements, the FDA also asks consumers to report fraudulent products or adverse effects.
In addition to inspections, adverse events, and select laboratory analyses, consumer reports provide significant information to the FDA about potentially fraudulent supplements.
If individuals have been sold mislabeled or deceptive dietary supplements, they have a few options. Consumers can contact their district’s FDA consumer complaint coordinator via telephone to inform them about an issue. Consumers can also report problems to MedWatch, the FDA’s safety information and adverse event reporting program.
Consumers may also have legal rights if they were harmed by dangerous or mislabeled supplements. An experienced attorney can evaluate their case and see if they are eligible to recover compensation for potential consumer protection law violations.
Join a Free California Supplements Class Action Lawsuit Investigation
If you live in California and purchased a dietary supplement with a label that touted health claims you believe may be false and misleading within the last four years, you may have a legal claim.
This article is not legal advice. It is presented
for informational purposes only.
Top Class Actions is a Proud Member of the American Bar Association
LEGAL INFORMATION IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE
©2008 – 2020 Top Class Actions® LLC
Various Trademarks held by their respective owners
This website is not intended for viewing or usage by European Union citizens.
Please note: Top Class Actions is not a settlement administrator or law firm. Top Class Actions is a legal news source that reports on class action lawsuits, class action settlements, drug injury lawsuits and product liability lawsuits. Top Class Actions does not process claims and we cannot advise you on the status of any class action settlement claim. You must contact the settlement administrator or your attorney for any updates regarding your claim status, claim form or questions about when payments are expected to be mailed out.