The story made the cover of the September 2016 Consumer Reports print edition, and the content was divided up into several articles online with the headlines: Supplements Can Make You Sick; We Made This Weight-Loss Supplement (It was easy. It was fast. And it’s dangerous); What Supplement Labels Mean, and Don't; and What 'USP Verified' and Other Supplement Seals Mean.
The article, 15 Supplement Ingredients to Always Avoid, listed: Aconite; Caffeine Powder; Chaparral; Coltsfoot; Comfrey; Germander; Greater Celandine; Green Tea Extract Powder; Kava; Lobelia; Methylsynephrine; Pennyroyal Oil; Red Yeast Rice; Usnic Acid; and Yohimbe.
“A very one-sided and inaccurate picture of the industry”
Steve Mister, president and CEO of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, told NutraIngredients-USA: “Overall, it’s more of the same. They discuss the history of the regulations, the nature of the marketplace, and they produce a very one-sided and inaccurate picture of the industry.”
Mister said that, despite this being a biennial series for Consumer Reports (they used to publish a Dirty Dozen of supplement ingredients) he hasn’t seen a direct impact on the marketplace. “There is a cumulative effect that we’re concerned about,” he said.
Mister picked out caffeine powder, green tea extract, and methylsynephrine for special mention. “Caffeine is only a problem when sold in bulk form. The FDA has already said it’s illegal when sold in bulk form, and none of the retailers mentioned by Consumer Reports sell bulk powdered caffeine. They do sell other products containing caffeine but the ingredient is present within safe limits.
“Methylsynephrine is illegal, so if Consumer Reports is finding products in the marketplace with that ingredient they should be reporting them to the FDA and demanding legal action.
“As for green tea extract, for the most part there are very few safety concerns.”
“If you took 14 of the ingredients (excluding green tea, which is more mainstream), then they represent a fraction of 1% of total dietary supplement sales. They are hardly representative of the mainstream products”
- Steve Mister, CRN.
A spokesperson for the FDA told NutraIngredients-USA that is does not comment on the regulatory status of an ingredient unless the agency has taken action on that ingredient. While the agency has previously issued consumer advisories about some Caffeine Powder, Comfrey, Kava, Methylsynephrine, and Red Yeast Rice, not regulatory action has been taken against the majority of the ingredients listed.
Understanding the industry
Responding to the article about making the (dangerous) weight loss supplement, Mister noted that this brings into question how much Consumer Reports actually understands about the industry.
“If they wanted to go into business as a supplement manufacturer they would have had to register their facility with the FDA under FSMA. They would have had to file documentation about the structure-function claims being made on the label. By doing those things they would have alerted FDA about their existence, formulations, and claims,” he said.
“More of the same ridiculousness”
Dr Dan Fabricant, CEO and executive director of the Natural Products Association, told us: “[These Consumer Report articles are] more of the same ridiculousness. It’s more of the same lowest common denominator attacks. Unfortunately they will not go away, and we need to do a better job educating the consumer, and I think we’re doing that.”
Dr Fabricant also pointed to an article published today in the Washington Post about the height of Americans plateauing while other nations have gotten taller. The reason? Predominantly nutrition.
NHANES data supports the nutritional challenges facing the American public with 50% of Americans reportedly not making the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations for vitamin A, 40% for vitamin C, and over 90% for vitamins D and E. For potassium, 98% are not meeting the requirements. For calcium and magnesium it is 50% and 60%, respectively.
“People are attacking supplements and also saying you can get everything from food. Let’s just be realistic for a second,” said Dr Fabricant. “We’ve seen that movie. You need to get a new story.”
Dr Fabricant added that consumers can look for NPA’s TruLabel for quality and safety standards in the dietary supplement industry.
“Our association is continually working to strengthen our standards, including making participation in the TruLabel program a requirement for membership.”
“The recent launch of NPA’s warning letter database is also a major step for transparency and in maintaining the high quality and safety standards of nutritional supplements Americans expect and deserve. It’s programs like these that give consumers and health care professionals the powerful tools to decide the best way to improve wellness and quality of life for themselves or their patients.”