Dietary supplements, also known as nutritional health supplements, are used by an increasing number of people every day. The reasons for taking these supplements are numerous: for better health, to enhance performance in a sport, to build muscle, to lose weight, to boost mental performance, to boost energy, to stop or slow the aging process, and the list goes on.
They are the subject of much controversy and debate in many countries, as they are generally not regulated in the same way that prescription drugs are. For that reason, many feel that the nutritional health supplement industry is potentially a very dangerous one. In the United States, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 spells out the definition of what a dietary supplement is.
According to the act, such a nutritional supplement is a product intended to supplement a natural diet which contains one or more of the following dietary ingredients: a mineral, vitamin, amino acid, or herb and must be as such labeled as a dietary supplement.
Health supplements in the United States are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, supplements are not subject to the same scrutiny as pharmaceuticals are: vitamin and supplement manufacturers do not have to prove the safety or effectiveness of their products.
As a result, the FDA does not have the authority to ban or otherwise impede production of any nutritional supplement until it has been proven harmful. Although they escape much of the scrutiny of the FDA, the dietary supplement industry cannot market products as a cure or treatment for any disease or ailment.
In the European Union, the supplement industry faces considerably greater regulation. Supplements are required to be proven as safe and not harmful by the Food Supplements Directive. While many Americans are calling for greater regulation of supplements in the United States, the opposite is true in the European Union. Many Europeans feel that the nutritional health supplements industry faces undue scrutiny and regulation.