VICUS.COM (21 July 2000) -- According to Mark Blumenthal, president
of the American Botanical Council, 10 years ago the No. 1 question
about herbal remedies and dietary supplements was, "Are these
Today, the main question is, "Which products do I trust?"
This is an important issue for the dietary-supplements industry today
as well as for consumers and health-care professionals.
As of January 5,
2000, federal law allows dietary supplement
manufacturers to make truthful claims on
product labeling that say they maintain the healthful
"structure or function" of the body, but they may
not claim to treat diseases. Some say this decision means more
confusion for consumers.
and Drug Administration
As the public becomes more skeptical of the industry, the
increasing acceptance and growth of marketed dietary supplements are
at risk of being curtailed. Therefore, it is essential to
differentiate these products based on quality.
It is here that the “third party” comes into play.
First, it is important to define who the "third party"
is, as referred to in this process. These are generally individuals
who represent neither the producer nor the consumer (i.e., the first
and second party).
This generally means they have no financial ties to the source of
the product being tested. Therefore, they are less likely to be biased
and more likely to design and implement testing procedures that will
fairly and accurately assess the product.
The process of
The process by which dietary supplements are reviewed varies.
Frequently, a panel of unbiased scientists, nutritionists and
physiologists will conduct the review. To do this, they may review the
results of studies that have been published in journals. They
generally start by assessing the claims for the product and the theory
that supports these claims.
Based on these parameters, they will assess the scientific support
for the claims as well as the safety of the substance and come to a
conclusion regarding the value the product provides.
An alternative approach is to measure the contents of each product
and compare the results to what is printed on the label. Either way,
the findings are then presented in a report that should be written in
A word of caution
Not all third-party sources are reliable sources of information.
Neither should it be assumed that all third-party sources are
qualified to render judgments on dietary supplements.
During the Nutracon 2000 conference in mid-July in Las Vegas, Nev.,
Blumenthal told a story about how good intentions can result in
misleading and inaccurate information that does more to confuse
consumers than help them make intelligent product choices. The story:
A local magazine that generally confines itself to covering the
latest activities in the city it represents decided to commission a
study for the purpose of publishing an article on "Herbal Remedy
Rip-offs." They hired a laboratory to assay the contents of a
range of unrelated herbal remedies, but unfortunately, the laboratory
was not qualified to conduct this type of work. Finally, the magazine
neglected to have the results of the study reviewed by recognized
experts in the field.
The result was an unjustified condemnation of the products tested,
as well as the herbal remedies industry in general.
The value of
Third-party investigations, when conducted by qualified individuals
in an unbiased manner, help everyone make more intelligent decisions
about dietary supplements. Consumers become educated about the true
value of these products as a group as well as the value of individual
products. Manufacturers obtain important information that can be used
to promote or upgrade their products. Health-care professionals
benefit because they receive reliable information that can be used to
advise their patients and clients on the best sources of supplements.
As stated by Tod Cooperman, M.D., who is president of
ConsumerLab.com, a Web-based company that provides results of
independent tests of health products: "In the dietary supplement industry
as well as every other industry, when a product is of high quality,
consumers are more likely to repurchase that product and buy related
products. They are also willing to pay a premium and recommend the
product to others."
The concept of third-party analysis to ensure quality control of
dietary supplements is at an early stage of development. Early results
suggest that it is badly needed. ConsumerLab.com, which has been in
the quality testing business for about one year, has tested more than
100 products. One-third of these products failed to pass their tests.
If the dietary supplement industry follows the trends in other
industries where quality testing is commonly performed, consumers and
health-care professionals will rely on the results to make informed
Jr., Pharm.D. is senior vice president of medical
communications at Vicus.com. He is a pharmacist and medical writer
with more than 20 years of experience in medical education.