Cara Welch, Director of Office of Dietary Supplement Programs

September 17, 2012

5 Min Read
Consumer Reports Reminds Us to Be Vigilant about Supplement Attacks

Dietary supplements are used by millions of Americans and have a number of well-known benefits. Research shows supplements can address nutritional deficiencies, improve overall health, and could save billions in health care costs through a lower incidence of sickness and ailments. Yet, as a recent cover story in Consumer Reports reminds us, too often we see articles that are misleading or just plain wrong. We cant let this go unchallenged.

Youre probably familiar with the Consumer Reports article by now. The Natural Products Association (NPA) immediately issued an aggressive response challenging the accuracy of the story. Its important for those of us in the industryfrom the trade associations to ingredient suppliers and supplement manufacturers to the retailers and their customersto make sure our side of the story is told.

NPA believes Consumer Reports has historically been biased against supplements. About every two years, we see another scare story in the publication, although this one was over the top, even for them. Here are NPAs top 10 "facts" about their 10 dangers" of supplements.

  1. Supplements are not risk-free." As many of us are taught from a young age, nothing in life is risk-free and this is not a danger" unique to supplements. Government data shows supplements have an excellent safety record, especially taking into account the millions of supplements sold annually.

  2. Some supplements are really prescription drugs." If it has a drug in it, it is not and never was a supplement. NPA leads the charge to see the folks that market illegal drugs as supplements prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

  3. You can overdose on vitamins and minerals." Actually, you can overdose on almost anything, even water. This is just another obvious point that too much of anything is not necessarily a good thing.

  4. You cant depend on warning labels." NPA has been a leader in providing education to the supplement industry. Each year, we offer a popular seminar covering labeling requirements at our trade show. All supplement manufacturers are encouraged to attend our training to find out what is required for their labels.

  5. None are proven to cure major diseases." Supplements arent intended to cure diseases. And if a product makes a disease claim or includes a drug, its no longer a supplement, but a drug.

  6. "Buy with caution from botanicas." NPA provides the Retailers Staff Education Toolkit free of charge for all retailers selling supplements. It provides an overview of the legal limits for supplement claims and what sales staff may and may not discuss with customers.

  7. Heart and health protection: not proven." The article relies on disputed and inaccurate studies to draw the wrong conclusions. More importantly, though, the American Heart Association (AHA) disagrees. It has recommended a diet high in omega-3s with supplementation for those who cannot get enough from their diet. In addition, the federal government has approved health claims for some supplements, such as associating vitamin D and calcium intake with a reduced risk of osteoporosis.

  8. Betcha cant guess this commonly reported problem." Choking, seriously? Another danger" not unique to supplements, but included to make sure the list had an even 10. This is just an example of fear mongering by Consumer Reports.

  9. "Some natural products are anything but." Legislation passed by the U.S. Congress mandates that marketers cannot differentiate between synthetic and natural ingredients for vitamins. Regardless of the source, were talking about the same product, and our bodies treat the synthetic version the same way as the natural version.

  10. You may not need supplements at all." Getting an adequate amount of nutrition from your diet would be ideal in a perfect world. Unfortunately, we know that many Americans dont get the nutrients they need from the foods they eat. NPA encourages Americans to talk to their doctors and health care providers about what they may need to supplement their diet and exercise program.

Although supplement sales continue to grow in leaps and bounds, misleading stories like this one have the potential to harm not just the industry, but those who rely on supplements to improve and maintain their health. Its important for all us to act as ambassadors of truth when something publicized doesnt get it right. Here are a few tips.

  • Reach out to members of the media who write about consumer, health and nutrition issues. Offer to be a resource for information and analysis. Invite them to your place of business to see how supplements are manufactured or sold.

  • Highlight the economic impact of the industry. Supplement manufacturers, chain stores and independent health food retailers sell natural products and supplements in communities across America. Tens of thousands of Americans depend on this industry for jobs. They are dedicated to supporting the healthy lifestyles of millions of people.

  • If you see a story you think needs a response, contact the writer and give them the facts. Even writing a letter to the editor or posting in the comments section of an online story can be helpful.

  • Share positive stories from credible sources about supplements. Post these stories in your website's newsroom and on social media. Connect with NPA on Facebook and Twitter and re-post the positive studies we highlight regularly.

Our industry has a great story to tell. By working together, we can improve the way the media and the public views our industry, and the way they view the safety and benefits of dietary supplements.

Cara Welch, Ph.D., serves as the senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at the Natural Products Association (NPA). Welch assists natural product industry members to implement policies in response to government initiatives in the regulatory and policy arena, and works with members of Congress and their staff, FDA officials and other agencies whose actions have direct impact on the natural products industry. Additionally, she is responsible for advising association members on regulatory, safety, nutrition and health issues.

About the Author(s)

Cara Welch

Director of Office of Dietary Supplement Programs, Food and Drug Administration

Cara Welch, Ph.D., is the director of the Office of Dietary Supplement Programs (ODSP) in FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN). She has been with FDA since 2014 in different roles working on regulatory, compliance and scientific matters for the agency’s regulation of dietary supplements. Welch also worked in the Office of the Commissioner as the acting special assistant to the deputy commissioner for policy, legislation and international Affairs, providing expertise on agency-level food policy issues. Prior to joining FDA, Welch was the SVP of scientific and regulatory affairs at the Natural Products Association (NPA). She earned her doctorate in medicinal chemistry from Rutgers University working with traditional medicinal African plants.

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