Needed Regulation for Diet Supplements

by Kirby Lambert

A quick fix always sounds enticing. Or at least it does until the dust settles. As a former diet pill enthusiast, I have always honed in upon the beacon of light promising a future skinny self. A shiny new life. Thusly, I am a veteran of quite a few weight loss supplements including Metabolite Ephedra. Looking back on my parade of pills I feel confident in stating the following: I have put debasing substances in my body, potentially harmed normal body functions and in my naivety, and I was not protected by the FDA.

The supplement industry is a multibillion dollar a year field which in turn spends substantial money opposing the FDA regulations that hinder it. A subunit of the supplement industry, the weight loss industry, is by itself a sixty billion dollar field. It hires many lobbyists to sway FDA control. For example, Metabolife alone spent over four million dollars lobbying against state regulations in 1998 through 2000. The outcome is that there is no need for the supplements to be proved safe or effective, no need for FDA approval before drug marketing. More surprisingly, there is no standard for potency or dosage and no requirement for providing warnings of potential side affects. The only control the FDA offers is if “significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury” arises, then it may potentially remove it from the market. This was made into law in 1994. Therefore, by our current laws and standards, these supplements must cause harm to the general public before the government will get involved. Understandably health professionals think that the laws governing supplements should be more stringent.

A case in which our laws were not strict enough, causing deadly consequences was in Metabolife 356. Ephedra, formerly the main ingredient in Metabolife 356, is herbal by nature and thusly the FDA deemed it a food rather then a weight loss supplement. While in high school my friends and I had a diet of saltines, pineapple and Ephedra. Strange, unhealthy and shakes inducing, but highly effective! This version of Metabolife claimed to work by speeding up ones metabolism, stimulating the nervous system and by suppressing ones appetite. The combination forced the supplies of fat one stores to be metabolized. Only when it started causing health issues, started being found as an ingredient in meth and was causing numerous deaths in otherwise healthy individuals was it pulled from the market. When looking at the Metabolife Criminal Investigation, it sites over one hundred dead since 1994. Between 1997 and 2001 alone, 13,000 individuals came forward with health-related issues stemming from ephedra. Of those, 80 reported such issues as seizures, strokes and heart attacks. And another 120 were referred to hospitalization. Shockingly, there was no law requiring the company to follow up their afflicted customers. What diet pills are being touted today that in five years will be banned? As we have learned with Metabolife, that is the natural progression of finding a supplement unfit for the general public. Until there is more stringent regulations for diet supplements, the consequences of using such an aid are unstudied and unknown unless obvious problems materialize. As health professionals and scientists alike agree, the FDA needs to handle the supplement industry with much stronger stipulations and regulations.

Metabolife Criminal Lawsuit
Ephedrine News

[Editor's Note: The Dietary Health Supplement Education Act of 1994 was passed by Congress. The sponsor of the bill was Sen. Orrin Hatch who's son was affiliated with the supplement industry. The Act prohibits FDA involvement except in serious cases in the supplement industry. These are not medicines in the conventional sense, and the 1994 law prohibits regulating supplements as if they were medicines (something the FDA can do). It isn't that the FDA doesn't want to have more control over the supplement industry, but they can only do what the law allows.---J. Learn]

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