The New York Times recently reported on the growing evidence that unregulated dietary supplements are a significant cause of injury and death. According to research by a group of liver specialists, supplements now “account for nearly 20 percent of drug-related liver injuries that turn up in hospitals, up from 7 percent a decade ago.”
I have previously discussed the gross inadequacy of regulation of dietary supplements, and even the FDA recognizies that the purely voluntary system for quality control of these products is ineffective: “The F.D.A. estimates that 70 percent of dietary supplement companies are not following basic quality control standards that would help prevent adulteration of their products. Of about 55,000 supplements that are sold in the United States, only 170 — about 0.3 percent — have been studied closely enough to determine their common side effects, said Dr. Paul A. Offit, the chief of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and an expert on dietary supplements.”
Despite the widespread and uninhibited marketing of dietary supplements as safe and beneficial, the reality is we know little about the risks and benefits of such products, and the current system guarantees we will have to tolerate a tremendous amount of unecessary suffering and death before we are able to identify particular products that do harm.