High School Biology and Chemistry High School Mind, Brain, and Behavior TSS

Unregulated Dietary Supplements: Scientific Perspective

Companies can claim their product provides any benefit they want, as long as it is not labeled to cure an illness. Therefore, dietary supplements are used in order to provide the consumer with necessary, or wanted health benefits-ranging from better cholesterol to weight loss-, often coming with adverse side effects. During 2010, the American Cancer Society (ACS), a health organization trying to eliminate cancer, found that there were 1,009 cases of reported symptoms from these drugs. In 2012, the ACS recorded 2,844 reports of adverse effects. In addition, 102,500 people called the U.S Poison Control Center because of supplements in 2013. The ACS reports two deaths from ingesting unregulated supplements (2015). Considering about half of the United States population takes dietary supplements, 102,500 is an outstanding percentage who experienced a reaction. These statistics exemplify the number of reactions people can have from these supplements. This number is increasing every year (2,844 to 1102,500) because of new fad drugs. Many times, a supplement becomes a fad because it contains a new “miracle ingredient”. David A. Taylor, author of the journal article, Botanical Supplements: Weeding out the Health Risks, writes about a famous example of one of these trendy supplements. In 2003, a botanical drug containing ephedra (Ephedra), was commonly used for performance enhancement and weight loss. Despite there being reports of health problems from ephedra, the drug was still sold. In 2003 a baseball pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles passed away after taking this pill. Only after did the FDA ban ephedra (Taylor, 2004). This accident was not from an overdose, but from the usage of a dietary supplement. The case study of this pitcher goes to show how the lack of regulations and government interference has harmed people.

Fish oil, vitamin C, folic acid, and vitamin B; what do these all have in common? They are touted for being the source for a long, prosperous life. If Americans want to live until they are 100 with no health problems, it is expected that they take these multivitamins every day. Recent studies have shown that this is a false belief. Taking these pills rarely have any significant impact in a person’s well-being. In the book, Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Maternal and Child Health: An Updated Systematic Review (an analysis on multiple studies conducted by notable scientists), found that fish oil has an insignificant impact on people. “Most studies in this report examined the effects of fish oil supplements on pregnant or breastfeeding women or the effects of infant formula fortified with DHA plus AA… supplementation or fortification has no consistent evidence of effects on peripartum maternal or infant health outcomes. No effects of n-3 FA were seen” (2016). This is interesting because fish oil has been a revered supplement and fad claiming to better cholesterol, prevent cancer, among a plethora of other benefits. If the holy grail had been continuously disproven to contain said advantages, what about all of the other multivitamins? Overall, dietary supplements have proven to cause harmful side effects or no effects at all, making them a waste of money.

Dietary supplements can work as intended. Some of them are proven to be effective for nutrition deficiencies. However, even if the drug works, the person may still live an unhealthy life. This ultimately cancels out any prosperity the user was hoping to attain. Wen-Bin Chiou, Chao-Chin Yang and Chin-Sheng Wan, wrote an article on the psychological responses to taking dietary supplements in the renowned journal of Psychological Science. They found out that after taking dietary supplements, people were less likely to exercise and eat healthier foods when given the choice (Chiou, Yang and Wan, 2011). Someone may take dietary supplements in order to get all their nutritional requirements, but they will most likely not gain health betterment if they do not change their whole lifestyle. Dietary supplements are merely an aid, not a cure-all. The National Institute of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements, states, “If you don’t eat a nutritious variety of foods, some supplements might help you get adequate amounts of essential nutrients. However, supplements can’t take the place of the foods that are important to a healthy diet” (2011). In order for people to truly reap the benefits from dietary supplements, they have to also change their lifestyle, whether it is exercising, or eating a well-balanced diet.


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