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The Supplement Industry: An Overview

The Supplement Industry

2020 was a historic year, bringing dramatic changes to the ways that we live. And while the pandemic recession was devastating for many sectors of the economy, certain industries boomed. Among these, the supplement industry.

And it’s no wonder. As the COVID-19 pandemic rampaged across the world, it’s only natural for individuals to seek new ways to take charge of their health and wellness, boost their immune system, and help keep their bodies and minds in top shape despite social distancing and quarantine isolation.

The supplement industry’s booming growth is good news for stakeholders and individuals alike, but it also presents new challenges and highlights the need for higher quality standards.

In this article, we take a look at recent trends, developments, and projections for the supplement industry. Perhaps most importantly, we’ll also cover what’s wrong with the supplement industry and what needs to be done to protect consumers health and safety.

What Are “Supplement” Products?

You’ve almost certainly heard of “supplements”, but many people are unclear about what, exactly, supplement products are.

Supplements are more appropriately called “dietary supplements”. As their name implies, they are products designed to provide nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids that might be otherwise lacking in a user’s diet.

Popular supplements include:

  • Vitamins like Vitamins D and B12.
  • Minerals like iron and calcium.
  • Herbs like echinacea.
  • Other products such as fish oils or probiotics.

A Booming Supplement Industry

The supplement industry has enjoyed consistent growth over the last several decades, but the COVID pandemic resulted in record boosts.

Over the past 25 years, the industry grew from approximately $4 billion annually with roughly 4,000 products to $50 billion annually with over 50,000 products available.

But in all that time, 2020 was one of the industry’s biggest growth years, with double-digit growth (12.1%) for the first time since 1997. It’s only natural in a year where health and wellness were brought into focus more clearly than any other point in living memory.

What’s more, the supplement industry is projected to keep these booming gains and the new customers they gained in the pandemic, even after the COVID-19 pandemic fully subsides.

But the news isn’t all good for the supplement industry. With this explosive growth comes a renewed focus on the problems surrounding supplements and the need for regulatory reform.

Regulatory Standards for Dietary Supplements: Framework and Criticism

Supplements are governed under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). 

The DSHEA affords great leeway for supplement manufacturers to produce and market supplements with little official oversight.

  • Dietary supplements marketed before 1994 (the year the DSHEA was made) do not need any form of FDA approval.
  • Ingredients not “grandfathered in” must be reviewed by the FDA but need not be approved by the FDA before marketing.

The DSHEA has been harshly criticized for these allowances, and many legal critics suggest that the law requires drastic changes in order to better protect public health from misleading or even potentially harmful supplements. Such arguments typically revolve around the following points:

  • The DSHEA allows the supplement industry to market unproven products and make baseless claims about their effectiveness.
  • Regulatory agencies have great difficulty disproving such claims, and their power is essentially limited to educating the public about the ineffectiveness of certain products.
  • Supplement manufacturers are not required to show that their products are safe before marketing them.

The Need for Reform in the Supplement Industry

Let’s be clear: these problems in the supplement industry hurt us all.

When manufacturers are able to market harmful, contaminated products with virtually zero transparency, both consumers and legitimate supplement manufacturers suffer.

From the genuine health concerns that arise from taking unproven products to the reputational damage that the industry suffers, there are simply too many holes in the boat. Simply put, the current regulatory framework is in need of very real change.

That’s not to say that the FDA should be granted free rein to independently restrict access to products. After all, the FDA has a history of cracking down on products like kratom, even when they are 100% pure and uncontaminated.

But reforms to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act could (and should) dramatically benefit both consumers and the supplement industry’s good-faith actors.

Think of it like the Kratom Consumer Protection Act, which more and more states are passing. DSHEA reforms should improve consumer health and confidence while simultaneously protecting the supplement industry itself.

DSHEA reforms should:

  • Require absolute transparency in product labeling and ingredient disclosures
  • Require testing to prove that there are no contaminants or undisclosed ingredients
  • Limit manufacturers from making wholly unfounded claims about their products
  • Improve consumer confidence in the efficacy of the supplements they take
  • Protect supplement manufacturers from product seizures and adverse actions by the FDA, so long as they adhere to the revised requirements

In the Meantime: Navigating the Supplement Industry

As it stands, the supplement industry and the DSHEA that governs it are riddled with problems. But with the booming growth that 2020 brought to the industry, there is now renewed attention to these issues and greater zeal from lawmakers about improving the quality and safety standards around supplements.

But until the DSHEA is appropriately revised, consumers need to be wary of the supplements that they purchase and use.

The most important thing is to do your homework. Don’t blindly believe the claims made by supplement manufacturers. Look into clinical research on your supplements, read-up on the reputation of your supplement manufacturers, and rely on independent certification agencies that verify quality and bring greater transparency to the industry.

The need for reform in the supplement industry is clear, and both consumers and manufacturers will benefit. But until then, it’s on manufacturers like Kratom Spot and advocacy groups like the American Kratom Association to independently push for greater quality, transparency, and safety standards throughout the supplement industry.