Did you know supplements aren’t regulated like medications? Did you know that a ‘natural’ supplement doesn’t mean a safer supplement? Did you know that you can’t trust supplement labels? Due to post-market regulation, all supplements come with some amount of risk, which you can learn more about below.
This five-part series on supplements will give you an overview of the dietary supplement industry so that you can decide if the potential benefits of dietary supplements outweigh those risks. And, if you find you do need to use supplements, how you can better choose a low-risk product.
For both athletes and other consumers, there is often a misconception that dietary supplements are safe since they must go through the same rigorous vetting process that medicines and medical devices go through. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Supplements are regulated in a post-market manner, meaning that neither the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nor any other regulatory body evaluates the contents or safety of supplements before they are sold online and at major retailers, including grocery stores and GNCs.
Due to post-market regulation, the use of unhealthy, low-quality, or unlisted ingredients is a big problem in the supplement industry. Even though there are many high-quality and safe dietary supplements on the market, there is always the possibility that the supplement an athlete chooses could contain dangerous or illegal ingredients.
There are often no warning signs that a product is unsafe, and many athletes have suffered health problems or had positive drug tests from using products that are incorrectly labeled or contaminated with dangerous ingredients, such as anabolic steroids, pharmaceuticals, or research drugs. Sometimes, risky or dangerous ingredients are even listed right on the label or identified by a confusing name. Supplements can also contain low-quality ingredients or old or unstable ingredients that degrade very quickly.
Other supplements might not even contain the ingredients on the label. The FDA and other organizations list many examples of tested products containing zero amounts of a listed ingredient. In some situations, this could lead to malnutrition if the athlete stops eating foods with the ingredient because they relied solely on the supplement.