Dietary supplements and vitamins collectively comprise a multi-billion dollar industry, with thousands of products claiming to treat everything from the common cold to arthritis to diabetes. In fact, vitamin and supplement sales grew to a whopping $42.6 billion in 2018 in the United States alone, a number that is expected to grow 500% by the year 2026.
In addition to health and vitamin supplements, sports supplements account for a large chunk of all supplement sales.
While there are demonstrable benefits of taking some dietary supplements, consumers need to approach supplement claims with a keen insight into how these products are regulated (or rather, how they aren’t regulated).
You can quite literally start a dietary supplement company in the comfort of your home if you really want to.
How are Supplements Regulated?
There is essentially no governing body that oversees how dietary supplements are made, what they contain, or if the ingredients in a product substantiate the health claims made about it. Moreover, there is minimal regulation when it comes to quality control and product transparency.
You can quite literally start a dietary supplement company in the comfort of your home if you really want to. Just order some raw materials online from a factory overseas, buy empty capsules, fill them with your ingredients, slap a pretty label on a bottle, and list it on a website as being the next big thing for any health condition you can imagine.
Voila! You’re in the supplement game.
Obviously, that’s a fairly extreme example. Nevertheless, it illustrates the main point of how hands-off the supplement industry can be.
Most consumers are quick to filter out “home-made” supplement brands when shopping. Yet, it’s important for both supplement consumers and supplement brands to acknowledge the need for independent third-party lab testing given the autonomy of the industry.
Does the FDA regulate supplements?
As it stands, the supplement industry operates on a bona fide honor system with periodic interventions from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the form of random facility audits and inspecting product formulations to make sure they don’t contain any banned substances.
However, both the FDA and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) remain fairly aloof to the supplement industry since it’s so vast and burdensome to try and identify claims that are deceptive amongst a sea of products.
The upshot of this is that supplement brands have a good amount of flexibility and freedom when it comes to making health and benefit claims about their products.
Consider caffeine – a well-researched ingredient in many fat burner supplements. Despite an abundance of research to support the efficacy of caffeine in weight loss, the claims that the FDA will approve are quite conservative.
Here are some examples to demonstrate the difference between a typical supplement claim and an FDA-approved claim:
FDA-approved Health Claim for Caffeine: “May help support healthy body weight management”
Supplement Health Claim for Caffeine: “Targets stubborn body fat for rapid weight loss!”
As you can see, there’s a drastically different tone and meaning to both of those claims. To fit within FDA parameters, a health claim about a specific ingredient or supplement needs to be very modest and carefully worded.
Also, consider that pharmaceutical drugs need to go through multiple stages of clinical trials and intensive human studies before they gain FDA approval. Supplements and vitamins, on the contrary, don’t need to prove anything. Hence, the diversity of nutritional supplements is much more comprehensive than pharmaceutical drugs.
How to Identify a High-Quality Supplement
Now, does the lack of regulation mean that all the claims you read or hear about a supplement or vitamin are bogus?
Many supplements contain ingredients that have a good amount of evidence to support their efficacy. More brands are taking the initiative to provide consumers with hard evidence to back their formulas, and this is a promising direction for the industry to move as a whole.
The next big step for supplement brands to take is providing hard evidence that their products are high-quality, transparent, and pure. This is where third-party lab testing comes into play, and precisely why we started Tru 3rd Certified.
We are on a mission to help supplement companies build trust and confidence in the quality of their products, which ultimately does the same for consumers. Contact us today to learn more about the benefits of becoming Tru 3rd Certified and our cost-effective third-party product testing services.