(Lack of ) Quality of nutritional supplements

In my last post, I blogged about how we must not confuse marketing with truth. They are often two different things.

A patient I saw today was absolutely convinced that his fish oil was the best available in the world: purer, uncontaminated by mercury or pesticides--"not like that other crap on the shelves." I asked him how he knew this. "They say so," he proudly declared.

Do you recognize this? He fell for the marketing. While there may be some truth in the manufacturer's claims, you can't believe it from the mouth of the manufacturer. True judgements about quality and purity have to come from an independent source like Consumer Reports, Consumer Lab, or the FDA.

But the FDA doesn't regulate the quality and purity of nutritional supplements. On the positive side, this has allowed supplement manufacturers to keep costs down, not having to navigate arcane and complex regulatory restrictions.

On the negative side, a fair number of supplement manufacturers get away with 1) producing supplements that fail to contain the stated amounts of ingredients, occasionally containing none of the essential ingredient(s), 2) contain contaminants like lead, and 3) make extravagant and often unfounded claims like "superior", "more effective", and "purer". (DHEA, for instance, is a particular landmine of poor quality. I recently suggested that a patient take DHEA; despite consistently taking 50 mg of a specific brand for several months, the blood level of DHEA-S didn't budge one bit--there was likely little or none in the capsule.)

The Fanatic Cook at http://fanaticcook.blogspot.com has posted some very insightful discussions on this issue and the proposed FDA regulations of supplements. They're worth perusing.

I really wish regulation weren't necessary and that the industry could have policed itself. But it clearly has failed and perhaps federal oversight is not such a bad thing, as long as the FDA regulations restrict themselves to oversight over quality and purity and not to efficacy. It's the efficacy regulation that could hogtie innovation in supplement development.