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UNC-CH nutrition expert says nation should regulate some diet supplements

CHAPEL HILL - In 1996, U.S. consumers spent more than $6.5 billion on dietary supplements - ingredients extracted from foods, herbs and plants that are ingested for their possible health benefits.

By last year, the market had almost doubled to $12 billion and is projected to increase to more than $14 billion in the year 2000. Unlike drugs, the compounds are mostly unregulated.

With so much interest in supplements and so many Americans consuming them, the federal government needs to protect the public by creating a special supplement category known as "nutraceuticals" and requiring that they be proven safe before they're sold.

That's the view of Dr. Steven H. Zeisel, professor and chairman of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill schools of public health and medicine. Zeisel, who says the idea that dietary supplements are natural and therefore must be safe is false, made his remarks in the Sept. 17 issue of the journal Science.

"Increased review and regulation of dietary supplements will decrease (public access) to some beneficial products," the scientist said. "For supplements administered at doses that can be found in foods, adoption of Good Manufacturing Practices (rules proposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for manufacturers) should not significantly alter availability."

For nutraceuticals that expose humans to ingredients at doses they would normally not be exposed to, demonstration of safety could mean it would take years rather than weeks to introduce new products, and some products might never be introduced, Zeisel said.

"This seems a reasonable cost to protect the public health," he said.

Hazards of not testing supplements for safety are real, Zeisel said. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), passed by Congress in 1994, ensures people can buy the products quickly, but also makes it likely that some of those
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Contact: David Williamson
David_Williamson@unc.edu
919-962-8596
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
17-Sep-1999


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