Part of the health and nutrition industry’s responsibility is not only to support consumers’ pursuits of health and wellness, but also to maintain external stakeholder confidence in the quality and integrity of dietary supplements. The dietary supplement marketplace has seen tremendous growth and innovation since the passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) in 1994, and, for industry outsiders looking in, it can be hard to keep up.
Consumer safety is the top priority of the dietary supplement industry, of course. But we can’t forget about the well-being of the other groups that play a major role in shaping our future. For regulators and researchers, a rapidly expanding and changing marketplace makes for a cumbersome workload—more companies to identify, more products to research, more new dietary ingredients (NDIs) to process, more sites to visit and more literature to read. As an industry, what tools or resources can we provide these audiences to help them do their jobs better? To help them improve the market landscape? To help them protect consumers?
Industry doesn’t need an epiphany from Kevin Costner to tell us: If we build it, they will come.
The “it” isn’t a field of dreams in this case, but a comprehensive system for documenting dietary supplement products available on the market. Industry built two: The Dietary Supplement Label Database (DSLD) and the Supplement OWL (Online Wellness Library).
These two databases work in tandem to support the needs of stakeholders looking to examine and evaluate the dietary supplement marketplace. Free to use, the DSLD and the Supplement OWL feature information voluntarily presented by supplement manufacturers to increase transparency and accountability for the industry.
The DSLD is a joint project of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) and the National Library of Medicine (NLM), funded by taxpayer dollars. Comprised of product label information taken from dietary supplements currently and previously available in the United States, the DSLD serves the needs of scientific and academic researchers interested in looking at the marketplace over time. Therefore, in addition to products sold today, entries in the DSLD include non-compliant dietary supplements, OTC products and dietary supplements that are no longer available.
If a researcher needs information on a product a study participant used 15 years ago, the DSLD can provide nutrient and ingredient data exactly as it was presented at the time of purchase. If a health care practitioner needs to review changes in units of measure for a product, she need not look further than the DSLD. This database presents an invaluable account of the U.S. dietary supplement marketplace and helps the research community conduct thorough analyses that can help guide clinical trials, influence product innovation and support a holistic health care practice.
The Supplement OWL serves the needs of regulators (and retailers) looking to get a real-time view of the marketplace. What products are currently available to consumers? What companies are behind those products—and are they following the law? Helping interested parties find the answers to these questions, the Supplement OWL is an industry-supported, self-regulatory initiative that features supplement labels and additional product information as presented on the market today.
As participants in the Supplement OWL, brand owners understand it’s in their best interest to ensure the information presented in the database is not misleading. Created by the supplement industry for its regulators to better police the marketplace, the Supplement OWL seeks to present an unclouded view of the products currently accessible to consumers. If a label reflects out-of-date information or appears to violate the law, it reflects poorly on a company’s integrity and creates a regulatory risk. In fact, a company might avoid the OWL if it fears the registry will increase regulatory exposure—and it would be correct. That’s what the OWL is supposed to do, and that’s how regulators will learn which companies are reputable and which need an urgent visit from FDA.
More than 170 million Americans take dietary supplements each year. As demand increases, the industry does its best to deliver a wide selection of high-quality products that appeal to the entire consumer spectrum. But it must also do its best to deliver a robust toolkit for stakeholders to use so they’re not left in the dust. The DSLD and the Supplement OWL are simple solutions to give regulators and researchers what they need and want so they can do their jobs, protect consumers and support our robust industry.
Supplement Databases at SupplySide West
Duffy MacKay, N.D., and Joseph Betz, Ph.D., acting director of the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, will speak about these two complementary dietary supplement databases and how these tools support the market at SupplySide Central on Friday, Nov. 9, at 2 p.m.
Duffy MacKay, N.D., is senior vice president, scientific & regulatory affairs, Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), the leading trade association for the dietary supplement and functional food industry.