Many companies produce large quantities of dietary supplements with promises and labels that claim the purest, highest quality of ingredients, and for the price the customer pays for them, you can only hope they are as honest as they seem, right? The problem is that quality control for dietary supplements is left up to the companies themselves since the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, otherwise known as DSHEA1. The purpose of DSHEA was to improve the health of all Americans through the use of vitamins and dietary supplements that were well regulated and labeled for consumer knowledge.

The reason behind DSHEA, while noble, has not been regulated since “dietary supplements are exempt from rigorous FDA regulation” (Gurley et al., 963).  The safety of the consumer is not taken into consideration because a lot of people believe that even if the label does not accurately identify all of the products or their alternative chemical compounds, it won’t change the side effects they have on them. The problem is many chemical compounds, even in dietary supplements, have alternative chemical forms that do not react with your body in the same way.

Take Ephedra, for example.  It is a plant native to Asia and has been taken for years to help relieve colds, fever, flu, headaches, asthma, nasal congestion, and wheezing2. What you don’t know is that Ephedra naturally produces five different alkaloids that are important in the drug-body interaction.  “Package labels for ephedra supplements often make a claim for total alkaloid content, yet the quantities of individual alkaloids are not specified.”   This lack of preciseness poses a problem because “Knowledge of specific alkaloid content may be useful to both consumers and health care providers because ephedra alkaloids not only vary in pharmacologic activity and potency but may have additive or synergistic effects in certain combinations” (Gurley et al., 964). In other words, the quantities of the alkaloids in supplements can amplify the side effects that already exist with ephedra which include: “restlessness, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, nausea, vomiting…high blood pressure, rapid or irregular heartbeat, stroke, seizures, addiction, and even death”3. So, pay attention and research the companies you buy your dietary supplements from because even natural plant products can take a bite out of your health when not properly screened and tested.

For More Information

See the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 Public Law 103-417.

See also, “Ephedra.” NCCIH, no. D336, Nov. 2016.

See “Ephedra.” University of Maryland Medical Center, Feb. 2016.

Gurley Bill J. et al. “Content versus label claims in ephedra-containing dietary supplements.” American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, vol. 57, May 2000, pp. 963-969.