Dietary Supplements: Stay Educated, Make Smart Decisions

Herbal SupplementsThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate herbal products and alternative medicines.

Unfortunately, most people don’t know that. A 2002 poll showed that 58% of Americans believe that government agencies, such as the FDA, must approve herbal products before they can be sold to the public.

However, supplements do not have to undergo the same stringent approval process as drugs and supplement manufacturers do not have to prove the safety, quality, or effectiveness of their products before they arrive on shelves.


This has resulted in serious consequences. Sometimes contaminants or substitutes have been found in products.

For instance, some products have been contaminated with lead, and other products touted as being “herbal” have contained prescription drugs.

How do these dangerous lapses occur?

Because the manufacturer—not the government—is responsible for ensuring that the label is accurate and the ingredients are safe. Indeed, the FDA would have to prove that a supplement was unsafe in order to be allowed to remove it from the market.

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This material is adapted from The American Diabetes Association Guide to Herbs & Nutritional Supplements, written by Laura Shane-McWhorter, PharmD, BCPS, FASCP, BC-ADM, CDE, and published by the American Diabetes Association, ©2009.

  • Last Reviewed: February 20, 2014
  • Last Edited: May 14, 2014

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