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Should Californians assume safety of dietary supplements?

Many people in Orange County take some kind of medication on a daily basis. Whether the medicine requires a prescription or is available over-the-counter, the people who take these medications probably assume that they are effective and work as advertised. At a minimum, consumers expect that their medications are at least safe for their intended uses.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates all prescription and over-the-counter drugs in the country, and it requires developers of new drugs to prove the safety of those drugs before consumers can use them. But what about dietary supplements, who watches out for the safety of those products?

The FDA takes a hard line when it comes to drugs; it essentially assumes that they are not safe until the producers demonstrate through clinical trials that the drugs are safe. But supplements get the exact opposite treatment -- they are considered safe until someone proves otherwise.

Under a law from 1994 called the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, dietary supplements are categorized as food instead of drugs. The law gives the FDA the power to stop production of a supplement, but only if it can prove that the product is dangerous. Although millions of Americans use vitamins and supplements without any problem, some supplements on the market may be unsafe products.

A study in 2013 showed that some supplements are mislabeled because they contain none of the ingredients listed on the packaging. Likewise, other samples from the study contained ingredients that were not shown on the package.

Mislabeled ingredients or insufficient warnings on a product's packaging can cause serious harm to consumers. Anyone who suffers injuries or illness due to the negligence of a product manufacturer or seller should hold all parties legally accountable for their actions. While supplements may be a big business, that cannot come at the cost of consumer safety.

Source: American Cancer Society, "FDA regulation of drugs versus dietary supplements," Accessed June 2, 2015

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