It is said that there is no such thing as bad publicity, but Dr. Phil might not agree right now. The TV psychologist is in danger of being named in a class action law suit regarding diet products that he has endorsed. The plaintiffs charge that the diet products do not meet the claims that Dr. Phil and the product literature tout, nor were there ever any clinical trials to validate those claims. What most people don’t realize is that dietary supplements, those claiming to aid in weight loss or otherwise, do not need clinical trials before going to market. Dietary supplements are regulated by the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) which allows manufacturers to market dietary supplements without the sort of rigorous testing required for drugs or food additives. The FDA still has the power to control supplements that it can prove are dangerous, but that onus falls on the FDA instead of on the manufacturers to prove that their supplements are safe. What this means is that consumers need to be cautious about what supplements they take as they are not protected from harmful supplements, even though they may think they are. As an example, it took the FDA close to a decade to ban the sale of ephedra – a supplement often used in weight loss efforts which had dire side effects, including many deaths.
While the regulation of dietary supplements isn’t a particularly sexy issue, it is the sort of meat-and–potatoes issue (or meat-and-veggies for the low-carb dieters) that deserves a lot more public interest than it is currently getting because it promises to affect just about everyone in one way or another. So whether you want to treat your cold with echinacea or are worried that your spouse shouldn’t take gingko biloba with her Coumadin, you might want to follow this issue.