Editorial: FDA should toughen food-supplement oversight

About 70 percent of the nation's supplement companies About 70 percent of the nation's supplement companies have run afoul of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's manufacturing regulations during the last five years, according to a top agency official. (Aug. 16, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / Jeffrey Basinger

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Black Powder -- it sounds more like what minutemen loaded into their muskets during the Revolutionary War than something you drink before hitting the gym.

It's just one workout booster you'll find on your local vitamin store shelves, alongside Jack3d, Beast Mode, Juggernaut and The Curse. Such pre-workout supplements have more in common than names seemingly chosen by pubescent weightlifters: They're inadequately regulated as dietary supplements, a broad category that includes multivitamins, herbal remedies, and weight-loss and sexual-enhancement aids.

About half of Americans use dietary supplements, a $28-billion industry. But not all supplements are as healthful as advertised. Most complaints filed with the Food and Drug Administration for adverse reactions to products involve supplements, not prescription drugs. Hair loss, lower testosterone, lost menstrual periods or worse are hefty prices to pay for looking good in a swimsuit.

Congress foolishly allows this industry to largely police itself, so there are no federal evaluations of products. A startling 70 percent of supplement makers have been found to have violated FDA safety codes in the past five years. Indeed, the FDA urged a Long Island company to recall its vitamin products this month after discovering some were laced with anabolic steroids. At least 29 illnesses have been linked to those supplements.

Regulators shouldn't have to wait until people get sick to inspect supplements. A Senate proposal would require better labeling and make manufacturers register products and ingredients with the FDA. A better remedy would be to treat supplements as drugs -- and require premarket clearance -- rather than regulate them as food.

Most supplements are healthful. And while many that are harmful do work, efficacy isn't a blank check for safety. The problem with black powder is that, unless you're careful, it can blow up in your face.

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