by Dr. C.H. Weaver M.D. updated 2/2021

On the grocery-store shelf, a bottle of turmeric capsules states that the product “promotes the body’s natural healthy inflammation response.” A multivitamin marketed at adults over the age of 50 claims to provide “energy and heart health support” and “anti-aging defense.” A website selling hemp oil promises “natural therapeutic benefits,” by stimulating receptors in the body involved in mood and memory.

What do these claims have in common? None are required by law to be proved true before they’re made.

Dietary supplements are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, for regulatory purposes, supplements are treated like food, not drugs[1]. They are supposed to be sold to supplement nutrients that might be lacking in a person’s diet, not to prevent or treat any medical condition.

But the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, commonly abbreviated as DSHEA and passed by Congress in 1994, expanded the definition of dietary supplements from vitamins and minerals to include herbal and botanical products. It also gave supplement manufacturers permission to promote their products with so-called “structure/function” statements[2]. These statements can claim that the product supports the normal workings of the body’s organs and systems, but manufacturers do not have to provide the FDA with rigorous proof that they do so before making such claims.