A public-health lawyer at Temple University says individual states need to step in an area where the federal government has failed — regulating the marketing of supplements sold for weight-loss and muscle building.
Jennifer Pomeranz, from Temple’s Center for Obesity Research and Education, said state attorneys general have the power to challenge the claims of supplement makers.
“They could urge marketers in their states to prove — with scientific evidence — that their claims are, in fact, valid. State governments also conduct laboratory testing … they could ban products, they can institute safety warnings and education for their consumers,” Pomeranz said.
Dietary supplements for weight loss and muscle building are in drugstores all over the country. And another strategy to protect the public, Pomeranz said, would be for pharmacies to self-regulate.
“We applaud CVS for discontinuing selling tobacco products. They and other pharmacies could consider not selling these dangerous supplements,” she said.
The Council for Responsible Nutrition is a trade association for supplement makers. Spokeswoman Judy Blatman said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has the tools and authority it needs to protect consumers.
“Creating a patchwork of state by state legislation is overly burdensome for companies following the law, and creates disruption in the marketplace,” Blatman said by email.
Citing a survey that found about 10 percent of those age 14 to 18 have tried some kind of weight-loss supplement, Pomeranz said a physician rarely recommends those products for young people.
“It’s very worrisome especially for adolescents that might want to use them for body modifications purposes to try these products. Not only are they being bamboozled, but also they’re potentially very dangerous and can harm them,” Pomeranz said.
Critics say the federal government’s oversight of supplements needs to shift from reactionary to preventive.
Katherine Sherif, director of the Jefferson Women’s Primary Care, said the Temple study is a call to action for better regulation of a particular class of supplements.
“The FDA doesn’t have enough resources to address supplements, so what we do have is considered reactionary. When something bad happens, when people take supplements and they die, that’s when the FDA can step in and pull something off the market,” Sherif said.
In some other countries the government examines manufacturer’s claims before a product goes to market, she said.
Sherif is a member of the Global Nutrition & Health Alliance, a group working to “make sense” of confusing and conflicting information about vitamins and supplements.
“Not only are consumers confused, but so are health care providers and even dietitians,” Sherif said.
One group, NSF International, has developed a certification program for dietary supplements.
Stan Hazan, NSF senior director of regulatory affairs, has reviewed the regulatory suggestions from the Temple study.
“I think it captures the high-risk product categories well. That particular category of weight loss and muscle building has seen a lot of adulteration in terms of stimulants that are not FDA approved — or on the label — showing up in weight-loss products,” Hazan said. “And in the muscle-building area, steroids, anabolic steroids, may be added to enhance the effectiveness.”
“I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t know exactly what the law is going to permit, but, certainly if the states are not pre-empted from passing their own regulations, then it might make sense for these high-risk product categories to be additionally regulated by the states,” Hazan said.