The supplement business gaining pharmaceutical conglomerate interest


Eric Huettl


Claudette Rodriguez, Reporter

While multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical conglomerates purchase supplement companies, consumers are unaware that the FDA has little regulatory power over the safety and quality of supplements.

In 2017, the Nutrition Business Journal reported 43.4 billion dollars in supplemental product sales.

According to the Council for Responsible Nutrition, 68 percent of Americans consume one or more supplements, which include vitamins, herbs or botanicals, enzymes, and amino acids.

Many Americans place confidence in the ethical standards of businesses to distribute safe and effective products. A recent report states that 84 percent of consumers express that they have confidence in the quality of their supplements.

Lower quality supplements on the market is another issue.

Dr. Yu-Rhee Hyun, is a naturopathic physician in Scottsdale, Arizona. Hyun addressed the question of whether supplemental product quality varies.

“Absolutely, or at the very minimum it does not contain what it says it contains on their labels in terms of dosages, etc.  Also, the sourcing of high-quality ingredients can be costly, so cheaper costing supplements usually indicate low-grade raw ingredients that the company is buying in bulk,” Hyun said.

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, commonly referred to as DSHEA, was intended to protect the rights of consumers who purchase supplements.

The regulatory power the FDA holds on the supplemental industry is modest at best.

Unlike the intense scrutiny given to pharmaceutical drugs, DSHEA outlined that the FDA regulation of supplements relates largely to labeling issues and good manufacturing practices.

Supplements do not require clinical studies proving the effectiveness of products before placing them on the market.  As a result, supplements might contain very little of the active property advertised on the bottle, thus decreasing its usefulness.

“The supplement industry is big business these days.  So, there are many who have jumped on the bandwagon.  I generally recommend patients do not buy their supplements from Costco, Walgreens or Wal-Mart, etc.  Even online with the reputable companies can be an issue, since there are counterfeit items available online, especially on Amazon, “ Hyun said.

The only way for the FDA to question the safety of a supplement is to rely on adverse reporting measures by the public. If these reports become a concern, the FDA will then intervene and investigate the possibility of pulling a supplement off the market.

With safety and quality issues at stake, the fact that pharmaceutical conglomerates are acquiring supplement companies and that some of these conglomerates have a sordid past, some speculate how a union of these industries will play out on the consumer at large.

“It’s very frightening. It’s not one of the things that make us excited,” said Dr. Kimberly Volk, a practicing naturopathic physician in Tempe, Ariz.