FDA under scrutiny for putting business interests first

pill$Kelsey Lannin / Xpress

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders moved to block President Barack Obama’s nominee for the head of the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday, criticizing his cozy relationship with the pharmaceutical industry, according to Reuters.

The FDA’s current leadership faced similar criticisms last year after an investigation led by the New York attorney general found that the supplements sold by major retailers contained, on average, less than a quarter of what was advertised on the label.

“With regulations as they are, it’s very easy for those companies to make appealing claims to customers,” said Claire Walsh, director of the didactic program in dietetics at SF State. “The researchers who’ve proven some of these supplements could be harmful have a much smaller platform than supplement producers.”

Walsh said the money spent on unfounded treatment is concerning, but not as concerning as the lack of standardization in the industry, mentioning some cases of prescription drugs being found in supplements.

“As long as I’m not frothing at the mouth or having heart attacks, maybe the placebo effect is enough,” said Justin Granados, a broadcast and electronic communication arts senior who takes vitamin B12.

Global dietary supplement sales totaled $32 billion in 2014, according to a Forbes summary of a report in the Nutritional Business Journal. A 2013 Gallup poll found that 50 percent of Americans reported regular use of vitamin or mineral supplements.

“The idea of taking a pill is very attractive, and corporations pick up on that,” said Gretchen Lynn George, assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics at SF State. “Although pills seem easy, our bodies don’t necessarily know what to do with it.”

George said the FDA only steps in when they catch wind of a problem. Until then, companies can keep producing pills with no oversight on purity, potency and potential health risks.

“A myriad of reasons could be cited for this – FDA funding, current law, trade group lobbies against regulation,” Walsh said. “Many factors play a role.”

Sabrina Guzman, a junior business and marketing major at SF State and GNC employee, takes a fairly casual approach to trying out supplements. Guzman said she gets information about which supplements to take from a mix of reviews online, people she works out with and athletes she follows on Instagram.

“If I follow a certain person and see their results, I want to give it a try,” Guzman said.

Lauren Muckley, SF State’s new health educator, said that the need for supplementation must be evaluated on an individual basis, depending on a person’s typical intake of nutrient-dense and fortified foods.

“Food first,” Walsh said. “All the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients in supplements come from a food source. While it’s relatively easy to make yourself sick with an excess of a nutrient from a supplement, doing so with food is nearly impossible.”

 

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