Journal review mischaracterizes dietary supplements, says CRN


The Council for Responsible Nutrition is pushing back against mischaracterization of dietary supplements as dangerous and adulterated.

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The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN; Washington, D.C.) is pushing back against mischaracterization of dietary supplements as dangerous and adulterated. A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology assessed the US. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Tainted Supplements Databased between the years of 2007 and 2021. Its assessment found that 1068 products were found to be adulterated with active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), with sexual enhancement and weight loss supplements being the most common culprits. Phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors were the most common APIs found in sexual enhancement products, and sibutramine, a drug removed from the market due to cardiovascular adverse events, was the most common adulterant API in weight loss products. However, the study did find that muscle-building dietary supplements while commonly adulterated prior to 2016 did not have additional adulterated product identified since 2017.

CRN has taken issue with the study and the media attention surrounding it for being misleading. “Unfortunately, media coverage about this study, and even the study author’s interpretation of the findings, does not tell the complete story. The report shows the number of adulterated products marketed as dietary supplements identified in the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) database in the 2017–2021 period decreased compared to previous years,” explained Andrea Wong, PhD, CRN’s senior vice president, Scientific & Regulatory Affairs, in a press release. “Further, the percentage of adulterated products in the weight loss category decreased significantly in the same time period, and no adulterated muscle building products were identified. These findings suggest that enforcement and responsible industry action has helped to reduce adulteration in recent years and should be celebrated. Instead, reporting the results as evidence of ‘continued risk’ is unreasonable and unfairly maligns the vast majority of dietary supplements shown to be safe and beneficial in supporting consumers’ health.”

This is why CRN supports the establishment of a mandatory product listing to better monitor adulterated dietary supplement product, says Wong. Unfortunately, adulterated products are a reality in the dietary supplement industry, and consumers have to make educated decisions about the product they are buying. Recently, FDA published a consumer update titled, “Caution: Bodybuilding Products Can Be Risky.” In the consumer update, FDA warns that bodybuilding products may contain illegal steroids and steroid-like substances that may pose serious health risks such as potentially life-threatening liver injury. FDA advised consumers to stop taking products that claim to contain steroids or steroid-like products, and provided a list of symptoms associated with these products, in case their presence in undisclosed.

In response to this the consumer update, Wong stated that CRN agrees with FDA’s recommendations, but adds that the majority of sports nutrition products are safe and beneficial. “Legitimate sports nutrition supplements—the ones most consumers would encounter in conventional stores or mainstream shopping platforms—are safe, beneficial, and help consumers meet their fitness goals. As with other dietary supplements, these products are meant to complement other smart lifestyle choices, not to replace the hard work and healthy habits that athletes must develop to be well-conditioned,” Wong explains. “CRN continues to call for greater enforcement against products containing substances such as illegal steroids. We supported the Designer Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2014, which gave the Drug Enforcement Administration additional authority to identify and quickly respond when new designer anabolic steroids are falsely marketed as dietary supplements.

“CRN reminds consumers to seek products from nationally-recognized brands or store brands from trusted retailers, avoid products that promise extreme results, research companies and supporting science, and always talk to a healthcare practitioner for advice on responsible supplement use. Visit our website for more consumer tips on selecting supplements.”

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