The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is having a difficult time managing the massive influx of illegal raw ingredients and finished products that reach the U.S. market. Black-market products, mostly coming from Asia, pose significant health risks to those who take them. Dietary supplements are not fully regulated by the FDA, although a vast majority of legal supplements have been deemed “safe” for use – like those sold at retailers like GNC. However, several other products are made with dangerous ingredients and marketed under the guise of being “natural” supplements. The most commonly tainted products include those marketed for weight loss, bodybuilding and sexual enhancement. According to the FDA, these products often contain amphetamines, synthetic steroids, laxatives and compounds like the active drug in Viagra. Use of these tainted products can lead to heart attacks, strokes, liver damage, kidney damage and even death.

Removing these illegal products from the marketplace is an expensive, time-consuming and difficult process. In fact, before federal regulators can even take action, they must first identify questionable products, catch them at the border and then test them in agency laboratories. Pharmaceutical companies are required by law to prove their products are safe and effective, and they must also obtain FDA approval prior to taking new products to market. Conversely, companies who manufacture dietary supplements are able to introduce new products with great ease. Under federal law, dietary supplements contain only dietary ingredients, and therefore are not subject to the same pre-market approval process. This essentially provides the makers of tainted or spiked supplements with the perfect cover to sell their products and avoid FDA oversight.

According to the Director of the FDA’s Division of Dietary Supplement Programs, the ever-increasing availability of dangerous ingredients and tainted products on the market is quickly becoming a significant public health problem in this country. The safety issues surrounding shady supplements could ultimately tarnish the entire dietary supplement industry.

New safety regulations are now in effect within the legitimate business of manufacturing and selling dietary supplements. Federal guidelines put into place in the last three years require the makers of supplements to test and certify each of their ingredients. They are also required to test finished products in order to ensure ingredients match those listed on the product’s label. Regardless of the new safety regulations, it is clear that the supplement industry’s “whisper campaign” for increased regulation is in dire need of several additional decibel levels. Improved and more rigorous regulation is essential to consumer safety.

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