It was not that long ago the herbal supplement industry was viewed as left wing subversive community of activists. Back in 1994 when the Dietary Supplement Health Education Act (DSHEA) was passed the supplement industry made a platform arguing that the FDA and pharmaceutical market were in conspiracy to keep a multi billion dollar business thriving by driving up prices of prescription drugs that were generally unsafe to the public and preventing the manufacturing and sale of less costly, safer and healthier herbal supplements. Since then, what is now commonly known as the Dietary Supplement industry or CAM (Complimentary Alternative Medicine) industry, has skyrocketed. No longer do you have to search out small mom and pop stores you can go right to your local pharmacy (ironically) to purchase your supplements. New products are flooding the market that claim to be as effective or better and less expensive than pharmaceuticals.
In an industry that has been entirely self regulated problems were bound to occur. These range anywhere from efficacy, quality, toxicity, contamination and standardization, not to mention the plethora of issues that arise from exporting the processing herbal supplements to countries in Europe and Asia who have less strict regulations than the USA. In fact 95% of one of the most in demand supplements Black Cohosh is grown in the USA and then exported elsewhere to be processed and manufactured. The FDA has acknowledged the potential for dangers by promoting reporting through MedWatch where it became mandatory to report all serious health related illnesses. But we as consumers need to become educated about product safety and understand the difference, potential dangers and efficacy of Botanicals, Biologicals, Dietary Supplements Herbal Supplements and Complimentary Alternative Medicines.
I will be exploring these subjects in a series of upcoming Blogs. Fortunately there are many resources now readily available to the general public as well as health care practitioners to provide insight and education so we can all navigate these waters ahead safely. The National Institute for Health, NCCAM and FDA have resource lists and fact sheets that are consumers friendly to research supplements posted on their websites. These materials generally encourage health care providers to partner in on decision making when it comes to selecting appropriate supplements. Here are some websites that offer valuable information on supplements:
National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine
United States Department of Agriculture