Nearly 20 years ago, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) created the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) based on an initiative outlined in the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA).
Since then, ODS has supplied a number of resources on supplements for industry, consumers, health care practitioners and researchers. For a short list:
- Six NIH Botanical Research Centers
- Vitamin D Initiative, which reviews health effects, establishes biomarker testing methods and established the international Vitamin D Standardization Program (VDSP)
- Iodine Initiative, developed in response to the concern that many pregnant women were not using supplements containing iodine
- Evaluating dietary supplement use in the United States
- The Dietary Supplement Label Database (DSLD), which lists the full label contents of dietary supplement products marketed in the United States and maintains an archive of products and formulations
- Working with AOAC International, which is prioritizing 25 ingredients for analytical methods validation between 2013 and 2018.
For a long list of ODS’ activities, check out its Strategic Plan for 2010 to 2014. This plan shows ODS’ current activities and future plans, which is convenient because the office is asking the public to review its recent progress and provide input to help the office’s development. The office seeks feedback on future goals and current activities by March 9, 2015. To provide comments, email ODSplan@od.nih.gov.
ODS director Paul M. Coates, Ph.D., outlined four ODS goals in an introduction to its Strategic Plan: 1) foster research on the role of dietary supplements in health promotion and disease risk reduction, 2) fund new research and training to expand the scientific knowledge base on dietary supplements, 3) support the development of tools for dietary supplement research, and 4) make up-to-date knowledge about dietary supplements publicly available.
Coates noted the ODS budget has been stable during the last 10 years. “To make the best use of that funding, setting priorities and critically evaluating the output and future of every ODS program are of paramount importance," he wrote.
The ODS has brought knowledge and legitimacy to natural products, building awareness to consumers, heath care practitioners and researchers; however, some supplement manufactures are frustrated with the direction of the ODS, especially its inclination to study natural ingredients using pharmaceutical standards.
It will be interesting to see industry comments on ODS’ direction; my expectation is that several will ask it to review its health benefit testing standard, which is usually based on randomized controlled trials (RCTs). While RCT are a good way to help establish health benefits, many in the industry argue they shouldn't be the only support used. Rather, health effects should be based on the totality of the evidence, including human intervention studies and history of use.
Beyond that, industry may ask ODS to look at certain nutrients they haven’t researched for health benefits or established reference methods for. Perhaps it can focus on more reference materials for botanicals, given recent disagreements over herbal identity testing.
Learn more about industry’s take on the works of the ODS in the INSIDER Report: Explore and Promote: The Office of Dietary Supplements.
Hear more from Coats on ODS’ Strategic Plan in a video interview with Informa’s Jon Benninger.