An illustration of dietary supplements.
Illustration: Mike McQuade

You should never have to guess when it comes to your health—nor should you have to worry about dangerous products being for sale online or on store shelves before they’ve been adequately vetted.

The world of supplements is one especially prone to alluring promises. So when I found a suspect supplement in my 94-year-old father’s medicine cabinet, I certainly could understand why he’d try it—given his aches and pains and the convincing marketing language claiming the product would make them go away. But these promises are too often more myth than reality, and that’s why proper oversight is so important.

More than two-thirds of us take supplements on a regular basis. Many consumers assume that these have been tested and proved to be safe before we can buy them, but are then shocked to learn that the law doesn’t require that. In fact, consumers might not even be notified when the government is actively probing a supplement safety issue. Instead, a deficient Food and Drug Administration database puts the burden—and the potential health risks—squarely on consumers’ shoulders. Read our special investigation, “The FDA’s Tattered Safety Net for Dietary Supplements.”

For decades now, the FDA’s role in monitoring and removing dangerous supplements from the marketplace has not kept pace with the flood of products promising quick fixes to either improve one’s health or treat conditions. The agency urgently needs more resources to protect consumers.

Our mission at CR has always been to serve as a check on false advertising and to be a source of trusted information, and a central mandate has always been to have consumers and corporations on even footing. Supplements are one example of the current imbalance: A multibillion-dollar industry operates with insufficient oversight, and families bear the brunt when things go wrong. Consumers deserve a level playing field—and that starts with credible information and accountability in government and industry.

At CR, that’s the fight we’re fighting every day.

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the September 2020 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.