Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Diet Supplements Industry Finally meets its Match in the FDA

If it weren't so sad, it would be hilarious. The General Mills Corporation tries to sell Cheerios on the claim that it lowers your cholesterol. If you watched any TV, and paid attention to the commercials, you'll certainly recognize this claim. It was the Bush administration's understanding approach that got companies confident over getting away with just about any claim they chose to put out there. Under President Obama though, the FDA is asking Cheerios to prove it or cut it out. It's also going against Nestle's Juicy Juice drinks that claim they will help you with brain development. Nestlé takes that claim so seriously, they actually call the product Juicy Juice a brain development aid. The FDA is asking Nestlé to prove their claims, or stop making claims that would typically belong on serious diet supplements or on drugs.

But the FDA and the Institute of Medicine are not stopping there. They're wondering now if diet supplements and nutrition supplements are being marketed accurately either. They're wondering if the strict standards that they apply to drugs before passing them for sale to the public, should be applied to diet supplements too. That's quite a thought there - no one will be able to sell vitamin tablets without proving that they actually do any good. The FCC says that there is really no scientific reason why you should have strict standards for drugs, and lenient ones for nutritional supplements. There may be no scientific reason why they should be treated difeferently; but there certainly is a political one. The food and diet supplements industry is a richly funded one.

So according to research done by the FDA, it is now believed that the best way to get makers of diet supplements to prove the merit in their products, is to get them to use biomarkers - standard measures of the way the body responds to a drug, a diet supplement or anything. This could be really big. If the makers of diet supplements were made to prove that their products actually did anything, nine out of ten of those companies would go under. You'd better be prepared now to see most of your favorite supplements and potions are wiped off the face of the earth. There is certainly going to be some terrible opposition from the industry over this. You can expect a lot of news coverage too.

Most of the makers of diet supplements are set up in Utah, home to Senator Orrin Hatch who under President Clinton, pushed through laws that let manufacturers of diet supplements and foods say just about anything they wanted. Still, in removing the diet supplements firms from existence, the FDA has a pretty tough job cut out for it. It needs to prove that the products are actually harmful. It took the FDA years to do anything about ephedra for instance; and that was a product that was actually killing people.


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