Dietary Supplement Industry Polices Itself

Every industry has its challenges…and the dietary supplement industry is certainly no exception.  But as the saying goes, every challenge also presents an opportunity. When it comes to the challenges within the supplement industry, one important concern lies with companies making overreaching claims and irresponsibly advertising products. This is an area where more education about what supplements do (and don’t do) can also be accomplished.

Dietary supplement claims are regulated under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and advertising by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Both federal agencies are now working more closely to ensure that decisions within their individual jurisdictions match up. 

It’s especially important for consumers and retailers to remember that supplements are meant to support health, but they are not substitutes for other healthy habits or for medicines.  Nor is it legal for a supplement to claim to treat or prevent a disease. Consumers should also have realistic expectations for what supplements can do, and if a supplement claim seems too good to be true, it probably is. (*Find out the top ten reasons consumers take supplements.)


Companies selling and marketing supplements need to assure that their product claims are supported by credible scientific evidence, not only because it’s the right thing to do for consumers, but also because there can be significant legal consequences if they aren’t.  Retailers need to be mindful of not straying beyond the boundaries of the law, even when it comes to their employees having conversations with customers. Risks and responsibilities go beyond the manufacturer—as  evidenced by the recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) hearing—and retail associates also need to be acutely aware of what they can and can’t say to consumers at the point of sale. Education is key, and responsible supplement companies should do what they can to weed out bad actors to help ensure consumer confidence.

Take, for example, an initiative which is funded by grants from the Council for Responsible Nutrition Foundation to the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.  The dietary supplement self-regulatory initiative began in 2006, and allows the NAD to more closely scrutinize dietary supplement ads to ensure they are truthful and not misleading. Removing false and misleading advertising boosts consumer confidence and promotes a level playing field for dietary supplement companies that play by the rules.

The supplement industry is committed to building its reputation with consumers.  If supplement manufacturers and their retail partners step up education efforts when it comes to responsibly marketing these valued health products, we can demonstrate that we are putting the interests of our consumers first.
Douglas “Duffy” MacKay, N.D., is the vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN). Dr. MacKay is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor and was a co-owner and practitioner in a family-owned New Hampshire complementary and alternative medicine private practice for seven years. In addition to his hands-on experience as a practitioner in the field of integrative medicine, he spent eight years working as a medical consultant for two companies in the dietary supplement industry, including four years as an executive with Nordic Naturals, in charge of clinical research. He previously served as Technical Advisor for Thorne Research. Dr. MacKay has published articles in peer-reviewed journals, and serves on the Editorial Board of two peer-reviewed publications: the clinical journal Alternative Medicine Review and the official publication of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, Natural Medicine Journal.  Dr. MacKay earned his B.S. in Marine Sciences from the University of California, Santa Cruz and his N.D. from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, OR. Dr. MacKay is licensed in the state of New Hampshire.

Posted on WholeFoods Magazine online, 8/30/2010