Supplement Safety and Your Health

In October 2015, the Council for Responsible Nutrition published survey results showing that an estimated 68% of Americans take one or more dietary supplements daily to fill nutritional gaps, address diagnosed nutrient deficiencies and support or improve physiological function for more optimal health. Of the people surveyed, 80 percent believe nutritional supplements are safe and effective. That belief is well-founded as dietary supplement companies are held accountable for the safety of their products and supplements in America have an enviable safety record.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is primarily responsible (along with the FTC, DEA, and USDA) for enforcing compliance with manufacturing, labeling, and advertising regulations established with the passage of 1994’s Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act (DSHEA). The FDA has the authority to inspect manufacturing facilities, seize supplements that pose significant health risks, stop the sale of unsafe supplements, and refer producers of unsafe or unsanitary supplements for criminal action. On December 15, 2015 the Division of Dietary Supplements was elevated to ‘Office’ status within the FDA.

In 2008, The FDA began collecting reports of adverse effects related to the ingestion of dietary supplements. This data reveals that between 2008 and 2011, adverse effects from prescription drugs were 488 times those of supplements though sales of prescription drugs were only 10.5 times higher. Additionally, the severity of the events were much greater for the drugs.  We are all familiar with the long and frightening lists of possible side effects associated with prescriptions advertised on television. It is estimated that 106,000 people in this country die every year taking drugs as prescribed.   

In contrast, a study conducted by a group of CDC (Centers for Disease Control) physicians and pharmacists assessed emergency room visits related to the ingestion of supplements between 2004 and 2013. Of the estimated 23,000 visits during the ten-year period, most were due to heart palpitations related to ingestion of caffeine from weight loss and energy supplements, mild allergic responses to micronutrients, unsupervised ingestion of supplements by children, and swallowing difficulties among elderly patients. Less than 10% of the sample group were admitted to hospital, and those mostly for observation.

Particular supplement categories such as weight loss aids, energy supplements (relying on high caffeine and sugar content), and athletic or sexual performance enhancers are targeted by unscrupulous manufacturers. Many of these companies sell their products online with claims that sound (and are) too good to be true. In order to avoid these products and derive the most benefit from your dietary supplement choices, always educate yourself about your own health and well-being, work with a physician who supports safe and effective supplement choices, take and store supplements as directed, and keep bottles away from small children.




Council for Responsible Nutrition. “Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements.” Press Release: October 23, 2015 (PDF)

FDA. “Dietary Supplements.” Web. Accessed August 20, 2016.

Geller M.D., Andrew I., et al. “Emergency Department Visits for Adverse Events Related to Dietary Supplements.” New England Journal of Medicine October 15, 2015: 1531-1540.

Mercola, Dr. Joseph. “Consumer Reports Joins Pharma Campaign Against Dietary Supplements.” August 9, 2016. Web. Accessed August 20, 2016.

Murray, Dr. Michael. “A Clear Perspective on Supplement Safety.” Vitamin Retailer November 2015: 52-53. Print