FDA requires new diet supplement labels
March 23, 1999
From Medical Correspondent Linda Ciampa
ATLANTA (CNN) -- Beginning Tuesday, dietary supplement manufacturers are mandated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to put new, easier-to-read, standardized labels on their products. Only very small companies are exempt.
"These new labels will provide very clear information on what ingredients are in each dietary supplement: what vitamins, what minerals, what amino acids, what herbs are in the products, how much are in the products," said Joseph Levitt of the FDA.
While the new labels may make it easier for consumers to shop, several companies are moving into a new phase in marketing dietary supplements by offering scientific proof that their products work, something the FDA can't require.
A 1994 federal law essentially removed dietary supplements, like herbs, from FDA control. As a result, supplements aren't subjected to the same strict clinical testing standards as prescription and most over-the-counter drugs.
Companies to use science to sell supplements
Given that the American appetite for dietary supplements has risen almost 50 percent since 1995, companies like PharmaPrint Corporation see an opportunity to cash in if they can set their products apart by proving they work.
PharmaPrint says it is putting the dietary supplement saw palmetto through the same rigorous clinical trials the FDA requires of prescription drugs.
The company describes saw palmetto as a "benign prostatic hyperplasia" which "helps maintain prostate health and normal urine flow."
"We don't want herbal roulette, it's not fair to the consumer ... they should have a product that's been guaranteed the active ingredient, each time," said PharmaPrint's Elliot Friedman.
The Bayer Company, which now sells herbals, is also considering sponsoring a clinical trial of dietary supplements.
Meanwhile, General Nutrition Center (GNC), one of the nation's leading vitamin and supplement retailers, is putting a scientific spin on its products by saying it tests its herbs to make sure the right amount of active ingredients are in each pill.
Approaching the issue from a different angle, a number of companies, including Indena, an Italian based herbal manufacturer, are pushing for stricter policing from the herbal industry itself.
Though company sponsored research and new labels may help, it is still largely up to consumers to educate themselves and decide with their doctors whether these unregulated products are right for them.
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