Blame the system, not the kids
Tainted dietary supplements have accounted for slightly more than half of all drug-related recalls since 2004. In each case, the supplement contained pharmaceutical ingredients (such as steroids) that could have caused “serious adverse health consequences or death,” according to research published by JAMA Internal Medicine on April 15, 2013. Most of the products recalled were bodybuilding, weight loss, or sexual enhancement products.
“Many of these substances are essentially hormones, so the side effects are related to changes in secondary sex characteristics—facial hair growth in women, breast development in men,” Eisenberg said. “This could have lasting effects for young people going through puberty.”
What’s more, supplement manufacturers can make claims without solid scientific evidence behind them. In fact, the evidence of effectiveness for most supplements is nonexistent.
“A major flaw in the law is that manufacturers don’t need to provide a shred of data showing that these supplements do what they say they will,” Cohen said. In addition, a product might be labeled as “all natural,” but that doesn’t mean it’s safe (venomous snakes are natural, too) or, for that matter, made from a natural source. “Many of them haven’t seen the light of day,” he said. “They’re made in factories.” Remember: supplement products don’t have to undergo safety testing by the government before reaching store shelves.
In a survey of 1,022 U.S. adults conducted in May by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, 47 percent thought that the government must review the products before they go on the market. And 55 percent of respondents thought that the government required companies to include warnings about the potential dangers and side effects of supplements. Wrong on both accounts.
What you can do
Consumers Union, the policy and action arm of Consumer Reports, urges parents to contact their lawmakers at senate.gov and house.gov and urge them to pass a new bill in congress, called the Dietary Supplement Labeling Act. Sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., the bill would demand more information on labels and require manufacturers to register products and ingredients with the FDA. The bill would help ensure that supplement makers put safer products on shelves, especially since the legislation also forces manufacturers to provide evidence for any cited claims.