Consumers Union is endorsing the Dietary Supplement Labeling Act sponsored by Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). The Act would force manufacturers to register their supplements with the FDA and make sure that companies don’t evade stricter safety rules by re-categorizing their products. A study conducted at St. Michael’s Hospital last spring found that dietary supplements were responsible for more than half of the Class 1 drugs recalled by the FDA from 2004 to 2012. Almost one-fourth of the recalled supplements are manufactured outside the United States.
Between 2007 and mid-April 2012, there were more than 6,300 reports of serious adverse events associated with dietary supplements reported to the FDA. Issues included heart problems, allergic reactions, liver illnesses, and kidney disease. Supplements were associated with 115 deaths, 2,100 hospitalizations, and 900 emergency-room visits. Dr. Pieter Cohen, with the Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts, said in an article on Consumer Reports that there are more serious problems reported with prescription medicine, but “powerful medications are actually saving lives when used appropriately. But when healthy consumers use supplements, there’s rarely, if ever, a powerful lifesaving effect.”
In addition, some supplements contain prescription drugs that are a threat to human health. In the past year, there have been many recalls for supplements that contain sildenafil (Viagra), sibutramine (Meridia), and tadalafil (Cialis). Just in the last week, vitamin supplements were recalled because they contained anabolic steroids. And in July, the FDA started pursuing companies making illegal claims that their dietary supplement products can cure or treat diabetes. Because these products are unregulated, the FDA only finds out about these problems after they have caused injury and illness. These drug-tainted supplements have caused strokes, kidney failure, pulmonary embolism, liver injury, and death.
Even vitamins and minerals have issues. Most people don’t know this, but you can overdose on vitamins and minerals. Megadoses of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K can cause problems. Safe upper limits for vitamin A, for example, is 10,000 IU; for vitamin C it’s 2,000 mg and 2,500 mg for calcium. Some of these supplements can also interfere with prescription medications unless taken under a doctor’s supervision.