Putting out too much information is rarely a problem for the government, but most reports about Tuesday’s announcement by federal agencies of their new and ongoing “sweep” against unlawful dietary supplements overlooked some important consumer information. In addition to the criminal and civil actions made public Nov. 17, 2015, by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the federal government is also trying to enlist consumers in the campaign to infuse some safety improvement into the nation’s $40-billion supplements industry. “Consumers turn to supplements when they want to lose weight, get an edge in athletic performance, or improve their overall well-being,” said Benjamin C. Mizer, principal deputy assistant attorney general. “From California to Maine, consumers ingest pills, powders and liquids every day, not knowing whether they are wasting money or whether they may end up harming, rather than helping, themselves.” In actions against “more than 100 makers and marketers” of dangerous dietary supplements and related products, DOJ has reached out to some old and some new ways of communicating with the public. Specifically, the agency has brought on organizations that deal with athletics and with military service members, in addition to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences’ Consortium for Health and Military Performance partnered, through its Human Performance Resource Center (HPRC), with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to develop educational resources for service members to protect them from risky dietary supplements. Through this partnership, the organizations will jointly launch an online interactive educational module called, “Get the Scoop on Supplements: Realize, Recognize, and Reduce Your Risk.” There are also two mobile applications. HPRC’s Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) High-Risk Supplement List mobile application for service members and USADA’s Supplement 411 mobile application for athletes have been released (both accessible via Google Play and Apple App stores and available to the general public). The new educational products augment important information available on USADA’s Supplement411.org website and the OPSS website, including the OPSS High-Risk Supplement List, which was launched in February 2015. To access more information available to service members, consult the OPSS website and a recently released video. To access the educational resources USADA provides for athletes and general consumers to help realize, recognize and reduce the risks associated with using supplement products, visit USADA’s website. FTC created an infographic to help consumers understand the range of dietary supplement products and claims, the potential risks of taking supplements, and questions to ask a health care professional before taking any supplements. FTC also publishes blogs for consumers and businesses and has articles and videos with more information here. FDA also warns consumers about the risks associated with some over-the-counter products falsely marketed as dietary supplements, which contain hidden active ingredients that could be harmful. In the past year, the agency has warned of more than 100 products found to contain hidden active ingredients. These products are most frequently marketed for sexual enhancement, weight loss and body building. Within the past year, FDA also sent warning letters to manufacturers selling dietary supplements which contain BMPEA and DMBA, two ingredients that the agency stated do not meet the statutory definition of a dietary ingredient, as well as to several companies selling pure powdered caffeine products, which FDA determined to be dangerous and presents a significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury to consumers. Mizer said that consumers must be on guard before taking dietary supplements. He noted that often it is impossible to know the conditions under which supplements are manufactured or when “unsupported hype” is being substituted for “real scientific substantiation.” What he especially wants consumers to do is discuss supplements with their health care providers. “At physical exams, ask a physician whether the bottle seen on store shelves or the Internet could cause you harm or whether it is worth the money you are spending on it,” Mizer said.
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