Dietary Supplements: Are They Entirely Futile?

Nov 08,2019

Nutrition is becoming the new vantage point for consumers today, making it a focal point for nearly all the innovations in the food and dietary supplements industries. Furthermore, consumers’ need for including various nutrients in their daily diets are commonly being combined with their need for the convenience in their dietary habits. As a result, dietary supplements have gained immense popularity in the landscape.

Growing awareness about body’s need for all the nutrients and convenience of satisfying that need by resorting to dietary supplements is contributing to the rise in their sales. The global market for dietary supplements is growing at a CAGR of approximately 7.5%, and is set to surpass a valuation of US$ 252 billion by 2025. Dietary supplements are available in a variety of forms. Nutrition pills, capsules, powders, energy drinks, and nutrition bars that include nutrients, such as vitamins, proteins, and antioxidants, are selling high.

No only among adults, but rise in consumption of dietary supplements is also increasing significantly among children. In 2016, the sales of probiotic supplements of worth ~US$ 3.7 billion were recorded, and they are expected to increase nearly by 6X through 2027. Consumers’ belief about potential health benefits of consuming dietary supplements have been driving growth of the market.

However, recent studies and research have shed light on the fact that dietary supplements are ineffective in weight loss and obesity management. Some studies suggest that food supplements can also be linked in severe health issues in children and young adults. With growing awareness about how these food supplements could have a negative impact on health, how would the future look like in the global market for dietary supplements?

How Dietary Supplements are Regulated by Governing Bodies Worldwide

The United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) published its New Dietary Ingredients (NDI) Notification Process in 2019. It also modified the regulations on finished dietary supplement products and dietary ingredients. FDA prohibits manufacturers and distributors of dietary ingredients as well as dietary supplements from marketing and distributing products that are misbranded or adulterated. They have to take the responsibility of evaluating the safety and labeling of dietary supplement products, dietary ingredients, and probiotic ingredients. FDA is only responsible for taking disciplinary action only after any dietary supplement product, which is misbranded or adulterated, reaches the market.

The safety of dietary supplements is regulated in the European Union under Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 of the European Parliament and Council. It controls the health and nutrition claims made on foods supplements sold across the region. Dietary supplements are also regulated in Bulgaria under three laws – Food Law, Health Law, and Law on Medicinal Products in Human Medicine. Manufacturers and distributors of dietary supplements have to notify the local relevant Regional Health Inspectorate before launching their products in the Bulgarian markets for the first time.

North America and Europe are among the largest markets for dietary supplements, and collectively, these regions are expected to account for more than half the revenue share of the global market. However, the demand for dietary supplements is expected to grow at a CAGR of more than 9% during 2015-2025 in Asia Pacific (excluding Japan). Though regulatory framework is more favorable for dietary supplement manufacturers and distributors in Asia Pacific than in developed regions such as North America and Europe, governing bodies in the region are likely to introduce new categories for these products in their existing regulations in the coming years.

Evidence for Inefficiency or Negative Health Impacts of Dietary Supplements

Various nutrients such as antioxidants, minerals, water soluble vitamins, and proteins are essential to maintain health and fitness of body. However, recent studies have found that they are only effective when they are consumed through natural sources. Natural sources of vitamin E, vitamin C ingredients, and other vitamins including A, B, and K, are more effective than those taken through dietary supplements or multivitamin pills, recent studies have found.

Use of Illegal and FDA-rejected Pharmaceuticals in Dietary Supplements

A study on nearly 800 dietary supplements, most of which were sexual enhancement, weight loss, or muscle building, was published in JAMA Network Open – a medical journal published by the American Medical Association – in October 2019. It found that over 80% of the supplements contained one pharmaceutical ingredient, while the rest of the 20% were contained two or more pharmaceutical ingredients, and at least 33 dietary supplements under research contained three or more pharmaceutical ingredients.

According to the study, most of the hidden pharmaceutical ingredients were never approved by FDA or removed from the market. These ingredients have the potential to cause severe harm from overuse, accidental misuse, underlying health conditions, reaction with other medications, or other drugs within the same dietary supplement, the study finds.

Vitamin Supplements Fail to Improve Health

Another study, which included over 27 thousand American adults aged 20 or older, found that nutrients taken from dietary supplements fail to offer the same health benefits they do when they're taken through food or natural ingredients. The study found that dietary supplements with vitamin C ingredients were consumed by most of the participants, followed by dietary supplements with vitamin E, calcium supplements, and supplements consumed as a part of vitamin D deficiency treatment. However, they were proved to be have no positive impact on the health of participants.

Calcium Supplements May Cause Health Risks

Another U.S. study that included data from more than 30,000 adults in the country suggests that taking dietary supplements or vitamin supplement are not only ineffective in maintaining health but also may cause negative effects on the body. The study concludes that vitamin and mineral supplements usually fail to reduce health risks, while high-dose calcium supplements may, in fact, increase the risk.

Dietary Supplements for Weight Loss and Fitness More Detrimental

According to a study published by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, dietary supplements sold for energy, muscle building, and weight loss are linked to increased risk for severe medical issues among children and young adults. The study found that, as compared to vitamin supplements, dietary supplements for weight loss, energy, and muscle building are associated with at least three times as many severe health conditions.

What does it Mean for Dietary Supplement Manufacturers and Distributors?

Many studies published recently have been linking dietary supplements with severe health issues, and consumers are becoming aware about it. Does that mean the death of the dietary supplements market? What can the manufacturers and other stakeholders in the market can do to survive this and improve the health benefits of their products?

A mounting number of leading manufacturers of dietary supplements have identified the change of tide in the market, and are modifying their business strategies to maintain their product sales high. Taking into consideration the increasing acceptance of multi-nutritional supplements, leading stakeholders will have to focus on replacing pharmaceutical ingredients with fruit & vegetable ingredients in their products.

Introducing dietary supplements with natural vitamin ingredients and herb & spice extracts are expected witness high demand, especially with their increasing popularity in the personalized nutrition landscape. However, regulatory bodies, including FDA, have imposed stringent regulations on the use of some plant-based ingredients such as hemp-derived cannabinoid, as a dietary ingredient. Nevertheless, bolstering research & development activities to boost innovation for discovering new dietary ingredients will continue to remain a popular strategy among manufacturers and distributors of dietary supplements and ingredients, in the coming future.