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"Dietary Supplements," Herbs, and Hormones

The most logical definition of "dietary supplement" would be something that supplies one or more essential nutrients missing from the diet. However, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 -- commonly referred to as DSHEA -- defines "dietary supplement" as any product (except tobacco) that contains at least one of the following: (1) a vitamin, (2) a mineral, (3) an herb or botanical, (4) an amino acid, (5) a dietary substance "for use to supplement the diet by increasing total dietary intake," or (6) any concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract, or combination of any of the aforementioned ingredients. Herbs ,of course, are not consumed for a nutritional purpose and often are marketed with therapeutic claims. The supplement industry, which lobbied vigorously for passage of this act, included them in this definition to weaken the FDA's ability to regulate their marketing. Since DSHEA's passage, hormones have also been marketed as "dietary supplements."

This page provides an index to Quackwatch's information on the wide variety of substances sold as "dietary supplements" by health-food stores, pharmacies, multilevel companies, health practitioners, and mail-order entrepreneurs, and Internet outlets. A few such substances are useful, but most are promoted with false or misleading claims. Quackwatch has assembled an expert advisory team to evaluate the claims made for them. We plan to cover more than a hundred. The FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition offers information about supplement products consumers have asked about. Its Web site also hosts the FDA Adverse Event Monitoring System, a searchable database of reports the FDA has received about dietary supplements and herbal products.

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General Observations

Consumer Protection

Legal/Political Issues

Misleading Ads

"Supplement" and "Health Food" Products

Herbal Products


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This page was revised on February 28, 2005.