Are Dietary Supplements Safe?

“Just imagine, how much easier our lives would be if we were born with a ‘user guide or owner’s manual’ which could tell us what to eat and how to live healthy.”
― Erika M. Szabo

For those of us who care about what we put in our mouths, the PBS FRONTLINE report on supplements that aired on January 19, 2016 was downright scary – until you start paying attention to reality.

I went to my supplement cabinet.  The first bottle I pulled out was manufactured by NOW®.  It has the little green Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) emblem on it.  (All my supplements except LifeExtension have that symbol.)  What that means is that NOW® was certified with the Natural Products Association (more stringent than the FDA standards which were “Johnny-come-lately”).  NOW® also conducts independent inspections of their ingredient suppliers.    Resveratrol was the next supplement I pulled out of the cabinet.  The resveratrol I am currently taking is by BRI Nutrition.  BRI Nutrition is also GMP certified which once again means it meets all FDA requirement for health supplements.  Every supplier must provide a certificate of analysis for each of their raw material as a consistent measure of quality.  BRI conducts random and independent laboratory testing on all raw materials.  BRI also test its final products to make sure that the product complies with all the product label claims.

Things I have learned about whether my dietary supplements are safe include:

  1. Supplements are regulated.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on their own website states that it regulates both finished dietary supplement products and dietary ingredients.  I highly recommend that everyone interested visit the FDA webpage and see for themselves how dietary supplements are regulated.
  2. Supplements are not in and of themselves dangerous – many pharmaceutical drugs are.  There were no deaths from vitamins in the year 2014 as reported in the 32nd annual report from the American Association of Poison Control Centers.  In 2013, 44,000 people died from drug overdoses.  Over 50 percent of these deaths were related to prescription drugs. These data represent people who abuse prescription drugs.  What few people understand is that new prescription drugs have a 20% chance of causing serious reactions after they have been approved.  As reported by Dr. Donald W. Light systematic reviews found that even properly prescribed drugs cause about 1.9 million hospitalizations a year. Another 840,000 hospitalized patients are given drugs that result in serious adverse reactions.  Approximately 128,000 people die from drugs prescribed to them making prescription drugs the 4th leading cause of death.

I am not averse to prescription drugs.  According to the Mayo Clinic, nearly 70 percent  of Americans are on at least one prescription drug and more than 50% take two.  I believe that many people can be helped by drugs.

I also believe that the pharmaceutical industry would like to shut down the natural supplement industry and will use any means necessary to do so, including supporting one-sided reporting on the highly respected news show – FRONTLINE.

An example of one-sided reporting was that Dr Paul Offit was featured on the show, but there were no disclosures that Dr Offit and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia had received multiple millions of dollars for worldwide royalty interest for the Merck Rota Teq vaccine.  In fact, the promo above from the FRONTLINE show was filmed at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. There was a “Conflicts of Interest in Vaccine Policy Making Majority Staff Report” published on August 21, 2000 that identified Dr Offit among others as being involved in conflicts of interest over vaccines.  The conclusions section of this report quoted a New England Journal of Medicine editorial.

“What is at issue is not whether researchers can be ‘bought’ in the sense of a quid pro quo, it is that close and remunerative collaboration with a company naturally creates goodwill on the part of researchers and the hope that the largesse will continue.  This attitude can subtly influence scientific judgment.”

The global pharmaceutical industry is a $300 billion industry that is expected to grow to $400 billion in the next 3 years, as reported by the World Health Organization.  The US supplement industry is a $37 billion industry. It actually turns out to be an easy target.  While I do not have a desire to spend my time and energy trying to determine if “Big Pharma” is trying to destroy the supplement industry, I do believe it is important to be aware of the vast and influential nature of the industry and to listen to reports like the report on FRONTLINE with the jaded ear they deserve.

Thanks for taking the time to let me rant.




  1. Wil

    I think dietary supplements are safe, but it definitely depends on the ingredients in the supplement. many supplements have fillers or even the capsules themselves that contain the vitamin have filler or harmful chemicals. Dietary supplements is a huge industry that the pharmaceutical companies have a hand in so for sure they will want to dictate the various nuances of it. Hopefully we choose the correct supplements by educating ourselves on the ingredients and not just the benefits.

  2. JeffWA

    Hi Susan,
    That was a very well written article, and thank you for as you described in your own words at the bottom of the article it being your rant. You needed to spell it out clearly in the article, and indeed you did an outstanding job!

    Simply put more people need to be aware of the fact that not all dietary supplements are safe.

    My site which has to do with bicycling, fitness, health and nutrition. in articles that I’ve written I have pointed out the fact that so many people now look to the latest diet pill thinking that ingesting them daily will do the trick in taking off the weight that they are seeking to lose.

    In reality these people would need to take a lot at the type of foods that they put into their mouths often loaded with high fat, calories, sodium, sugar, and other bad ingredients that make them overweight in the first place.

    Many of these diet pills in research that I did, all advertised at Amazon are not even approved by the FDA, yet people consume them daily unaware that in fact that the ingredients contained in those supplements could be dangerous!

    You brought to light something that I was not aware of when you addressed the NOW manufactured products and the Natural Products Association specifically as being even more stringent than the FDA. Thank you because I had never heard of the NPA before. I can only assume that the supplements I mentioned above not approved by the FDA certainly would not be approved by the NPA as well.

    The point of the video is so true. We really DON’T know what is inside the bottles of so many different pills/medication/supplements that are out on the market. People need to wake up to reality and at least do their due diligence by taking a closer look!

    Susan, your rant was a needed wake up call to your readers that they need to stop trusting what it may say on the label of a pill bottle. Instead they need to find out EXACTLY what are among the chemical ingredients in each of those little pills!

    Great job, Susan!

    • Susan

      Jeff, Thank you so much for your comments. It is critical that we are always aware of what we put in our bodies and how it affects us, including our prescription meds. As I pointed out in Best Body Yet! what is right for me may not be right for you and in Ubiquinone vs Ubiquinol Review � And what are the Benefits of Coenzyme Q10 anyway? I added the disclaimer that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force neither recommends nor advises against multivitamins or other supplements. Unfortunately, as you point out we now live in a culture where a magic pill is better than preparing quality healthy foods. Maybe sites like yours and mine can change that. I look forward to visiting your site.

  3. Mara

    Hi Susan,
    An interesting article indeed. It’s unfortunate that one-sided reporting can appear in documentaries, when it’s also shown that large sums of money or commercial interests are being protected. I hadn’t realized so many people take prescription drugs. have you thought of writing an article on accessibility of supplements online? So many people seem to buy products that way, and unless you have a lab there’s no way to check what you’re actually buying. I think that’s when supplements can become dangerous.

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