Does the FDA Certify Dietary Supplements?

Jessica Gore
Laboratory Testing
Supplement manufacturers are responsible for product testing.

If you are taking dietary supplements to improve your nutrition or lose weight, you may be wondering, "Does the FDA certify dietary supplements?" The answer may surprise you. While the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the safety and quality of food products and pharmaceuticals, dietary supplements fall under a different category and are subject to separate regulations.

What Is a Dietary Supplement

With grocery store shelves lined with nutrition bars and fortified foods, it can sometimes be hard to know the difference between a food product and a dietary supplement. It is an important distinction. When you purchase a food product, you can feel confident it has passed inspection by the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN). This inspection agency works to ensure your food is safe and accurately labeled, but does not cover nutritional products.

The FDA identifies dietary supplements as products you take by mouth and that contain 'dietary ingredients.' It is the presence of added dietary ingredients, such as vitamins, minerals, or amino acids, that distinguish supplements from food products. If you are unsure if your chosen supplement, such as a diet bar, is considered a food or a supplement, look at the nutritional label. Ordinary foods are labeled with a 'Nutrition Facts' panel that outlines the nutrients in the food product, whereas supplements have a similar panel labeled "Supplement Facts."

Does the FDA Certify Dietary Supplements?

In short, no. Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, the FDA left product testing, labeling and regulation up to product manufacturers themselves. This act spelled out that supplements are to be treated separately from both pharmaceuticals, which must meet strict guidelines for safety and purity, and food products, which are regulated by the CFSAN.

This means supplement manufacturers have no obligation to submit to independent testing of product safety or labeling accuracy before a supplement hits the store shelves. Unless it comes to light that a supplement has been contaminated or is misleading, the FDA does not become involved with the production or marketing of dietary supplements.

In February 2010, Senator John McCain introduced the Dietary Supplement Safety Act of 2010. Under this act, the FDA would have had more power to control and regulate the production, marketing and sales of dietary supplements. After widespread opposition, the act was quickly withdrawn, as consumers and manufacturers made clear they wanted less regulation on dietary supplements, not more.

Ensuring Product Safety

So what is a consumer to do? If you want to be sure the dietary supplement you are taking is safe and accurately represented, you do have options. You can begin by buying brands you are familiar with from known and trusted sources. Additionally, you can look for independent, third-party certification of safety and purity on your dietary supplements. Some reputable organizations include:

  • NSF International: An internationally recognized, independent, not-for-profit organization. The NSF certification program certifies the product meets label claims, does not contain other products not identified on the label, and is free of contaminants.
  • USP Certification: The United States Pharmacopeia certifies the purity, quality and potency of nutritional products.
  • NPA Certification: The Nutritional Products Association is the largest and oldest non-profit organization of its kind, and offers a wide selection of quality assurance programs for dietary supplements.

You are wise to ask "Does the FDA certify dietary supplements?" because it is important to feel confident in the safety of your dietary products. Impartial third-party certification is your assurance that your chosen diet product is safe and accurately identified. If you cannot find a product that carries a reputable certification label, ask your doctor or pharmacist to recommend an appropriate product for your needs.

Does the FDA Certify Dietary Supplements?