What’s a supplement?

Any product that contains amino acids, herbs, minerals, or vitamins and is ingested orally meets the definition of a supplement under the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA).  Since supplements are different from drugs, they do not require review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they are sold.  However, the FDA does regulate the information a supplement manufacturer can provide consumers.  By law, supplement companies cannot state that a product will diagnose or treat a disease.  For example, it is illegal to claim that certain minerals will treat osteoporosis.  However, manufacturers can legally state that calcium lowers the risk of osteoporosis after the FDA has received scientific investigations that clearly link calcium intake with reduced incidence in humans.

A ruling by the FDA earlier this year has broadened claims for supplements that affect the “structure” or “function” of the body.  This separates natural states )such as adolescence, pregnancy, menopause, and aging) from disease states (such as toxemia during pregnancy or osteoporosis at menopause).  While this decision allows supplement manufacturers to make claims for natural products that ease natural or age-related conditions, claims for disease states remaining subject to the FDA’s review.