When learning about supplements and health products, we often see approval or registration with the FDA as a selling point. Most of us understand that the Food and Drug Administration serves as a federal oversight body handling matters of public health and food safety. But do we really understand the agency’s specific roles and duties? What does the FDA do? What is their involvement with dietary supplements in comparison to pharmaceuticals and drugs? And how much credibility should we put behind certain claims regarding FDA certifications or inspections?
What does the FDA do? In order to answer that question, we must first fully comprehend what it is.
Food and Drug Administration Core Functions
The FDA casts a broad net, regulating more than $1 trillion in consumer goods annually. The scope of its operation includes food, drugs, cosmetics and supplements. Much of the organization’s work focuses on evaluating and measuring products to ensure they are safe and transparent for users. Additionally, the agency plays an important role in monitoring and enforcing rules with regards to advertising and promotional claims. This is why we hear narrator rattle off a laundry list of side effects at the end of drug commercials. It’s also what keeps manufacturers from being able to make baseless and unsubstantiated claims about their ingredients.
This oversight is continually gaining importance as new pharmaceuticals and ingredients enter the fray seemingly every week. We rely on FDA data to gain a clear idea of how different ingredients will interact with our bodies, and how safe they are. As generic drugs enter the market and claim to mimic the effects of name brands, this regulatory structure becomes even more vital. But what about supplements? What does the FDA do with regards to this specific category? You may be aware that these products face less stringent standards than the pharma industry or convetional foods, but by no means do they get a pass.
What Does the FDA Do for Supplements?
First and foremost, the FDA is responsible for preventing misleading or misguiding information in supplement marketing or on labels. This is more of a self-enforcing rule (brands are accountable for meeting requirements on their own and don’t face the same hands-on regulatory process as others) but it’s tough to escape. When supplement brands use false info, it almost always gets back to them. In these cases, the fines and repercussions from the FDA can be difficult to absorb.
The FDA regulates this niche under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), originally implemented in 1994. The Good Manufacturing Practices system ensures quality standards in production facilities. If you’re buying supplements, you should always make sure you find a GMP stamp on the label. It is difficult to trust brands that bypass this minimal level of compliance.
However, supplements do have the advantage of going to market without direct FDA approval, which separates them from drugs. Under law, only products containing new ingredients require direct FDA involvement. The lack of oversight for dosing, concrete benefit assurance and other matters has been problematic for the supplement space. It has led to the formation of a somewhat seedy reputation. This is unfortunate, because so many manufacturers take great pains to stay in line with policy and regulation. For this reason, you should always look for the proper seals and registrations on a product label. This can help you find the safest testosterone booster or most reliable weight loss pill.
What does the FDA do? An awful lot, and we should be cognizant of their role at all times in our buying decisions.