Supplements and protein powders aren’t regulated the same way medications are — here’s what experts say to watch out for

Supplements and protein powders aren’t regulated the same way medications are — here’s what experts say to watch out for

Emily Hemmendinger He is an assistant professor of psychiatry at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus And Katie Solita He is a Ph.D. Candidate in Medicine and Health in George Washington University.


Dietary supplements are big business. The industry generated nearly $39 billion in revenue in 2022, and with Very little regulation and oversightit stands to continue to grow.

Dietary supplement marketing has been very effective, with 77% of Americans reporting that they feel the dietary supplement industry is trustworthy. The idea of ​​taking your health into your own hands is attractive, and supplements are popular with athletes, parents, and people trying to recover more quickly from a cold or flu, to name a few.

A 2024 study found that nearly 1 in 10 teens used over-the-counter weight loss and weight control products, including nutritional supplements.

Notably, that systematic review found that the use of nonprescription diet pills was significantly higher than the use of nonprescription laxatives and diuretics for weight management. These types of unhealthy weight control behaviors are associated with poorer mental health and physical health outcomes.

As licensed clinical social workers who specialize in treating anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and biomedical research administrators, we have seen firsthand the damage these supplements can do based on unfounded beliefs. The unregulated market for dietary supplements leads consumers to be misled and potentially seriously harmed by these products.

Wild West

The FDA specifies that dietary supplements must contain a “dietary component” such as vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, enzymes, live microbes, concentrates, extracts, and more.

Unfortunately, manufacturers can claim that a product is a supplement even when it does not meet those criteria, e.g Products containing tianeptineIt is a highly addictive drug that can mimic the biological action of opioids. Some of these products are labeled as dietary supplements but they are not.

Products containing kratom, a substance with opiate-like effects, which are sold without a prescription at many gas stations, claim to be herbal supplements but are mislabeled.

Under the 1994 law, dietary supplements are classified as foods, not medicines. This means that supplements are not required to prove effective, unlike medications. Regulators also do not take action on a product until it is proven to cause harm.

However, the FDA website states that “many dietary supplements contain ingredients that contain… Strong biological effects Which may interfere with medication you are taking or a medical condition you may have. Products containing hidden medications are also sometimes falsely marketed as dietary supplements, putting consumers at greater risk.

In other words, dietary supplements are regulated as foods rather than drugs, although they can interact with medications and may be accompanied by hidden medications not listed on the label.

Dietary supplement manufacturers can make claims about their products that fall into three categories: health claims, nutritional content claims, and claims about the product’s function, structure, or both, all without having to provide supporting evidence.

Misbranding and false advertising are rampant around nutritional supplements, including false claims about curing cancer, improving immune health, improving cognitive performance, improving fertility, improving cardiovascular health, and, of course, promoting weight loss and control.

The Food and Drug Administration is taking strict action

You can find supplements that claim to be beneficial for every health condition, concern, or goal, so it should come as no surprise that supplements are marketed for weight loss.

In August 2021, the US Food and Drug Administration cracked down on some of these weight loss products due to the presence of undeclared drugs. For example, of the 72 recalled products, sibutramine, sold as Meridia, was found in 68 of them.

While the FDA may take other action beyond recalls, the agency has acknowledged that it is unable to test every weight-loss supplement for drug contamination.

These crackdowns show some progress, although many problems remain. Labeling warning labels, ingredients, and beliefs based on misleading or false advertising remains a major problem.

Some weight loss supplements may contain warnings from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Of those that do, the disclaimer is rarely displayed on the front of the product label, so consumers are less likely to see it.

Ingredients in weight loss supplements can have harmful effects. It has put people in the emergency room with cardiovascular and swallowing problems, including in seemingly healthy young people.

Eating disorders

Concerns about mental health and eating disorders are on the rise. As a result, researchers are studying unhealthy weight control behaviors, including the use of nutritional supplements and their access to them by adolescents and children.

People with eating disorders often have related health problems such as bone loss, osteoporosis, and vitamin deficiencies. In response, doctors may prescribe nutritional supplements such as calcium, vitamin D, and nutritional supplement shakes. But these are not the supplements to worry about.

The concern is with the nutritional supplements that are promoted Weight lossBuild muscle or both.

People with eating disorders may be attracted to supplements that claim to lose weight or gain muscle quickly and painlessly. Additionally, users of dietary supplements may experience an increase in compulsive exercise or other unhealthy weight control behaviors.

The use of diet pills and nutritional supplements has also been associated with an increased risk of developing eating disorders and eating disorders, as well as low self-esteem, depression, and substance abuse. While dietary supplements do not solely cause eating disorders or disordered eating, they are a contributing factor that can be addressed through preventative measures and regulations.

The appeal of protein powders and fitness supplements

Protein powders and other fitness supplements also enjoy wide acceptance. Research shows that girls are more likely than boys to use weight loss supplements. But a growing problem among boys is the use of fitness supplements such as protein powder and creatine products, a compound that provides muscles with energy.

The use of fitness supplements sometimes indicates a preoccupation with body shape and size. For example, a 2022 study found that protein powder consumption in adolescence was associated with future use of stimulants in emerging adulthood.

Protein powders claim to build lean muscle, while creatine prides itself on providing energy for short-term, intense workouts.

Protein itself is not harmful at recommended doses. However, protein powders may contain unknown ingredients, such as some toxins or excess and excess sugar. They can also be dangerous when used in excess and replacing other foods that contain vital nutrients.

While creatine can usually be used safely in adults, excessive use can lead to health problems and is not recommended for minors. Ultimately, the effect of long-term use of these supplements, especially in adolescents, has not yet been studied.

Possible solutions

One regulation proposed by researchers at Harvard University involves taxing dietary supplements whose labels tout weight loss benefits.

Another policy recommendation includes banning the sale of dietary supplements and other weight loss products to protect minors from these unregulated and potentially dangerous products.

In 2023, New York successfully passed legislation banning the sale of these products to minors, while states such as Colorado, California and Massachusetts have considered or are considering similar action.

Finally, medical professionals recommend that parents and caregivers encourage their children to get protein and vitamins from whole foods rather than turning to supplements and powders. They also recommend encouraging teens to focus on balanced nutrition, sleep, recovery, and a variety of resistance exercises. Strength and conditioning an exercise.

This article was republished from Conversation Under Creative Commons license.

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