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Ask Dr. Mike: What Is the FTC & What's Its Role in Regulating Supplements?

Here you'll find the answers to a wealth of health and wellness questions posed by Healthy Talk fans. Listen in because what you know helps ensure healthy choices you can live with. Today on Healthy Talk, you wanted to know:

What is the FTC and how does this agency enter into the supplement arena?

FTC stands for Federal Trade Commission. This agency looks at how supplements are marketed. According to the FTC's website, they protect you and other consumers by stopping fraudulent, deceptive or unfair practices within the marketplace. The FTC handles complaints, files investigations, and can also sue companies that violate the law.

Is this sufficient?

Yes, the FTC does catch a handful of products that are contaminated with metals, microbes and contain drugs within the product that shouldn't be in there.

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RadioMD Presents:Healthy Talk | Original Air Date: March 24, 2015
Host: Michael Smith, MD

You're listening to RadioMD. It's time to Ask Dr. Mike on Health Talk. Call or email to ask your questions now. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 877-711-5211. The lines are open.

DR. MIKE: Please send me your email questions. I really love this part of my show. I like the challenge. I try to answer, as I said before, most of these questions, just kind of off the cuff here. I do review them beforehand because I think I do a disservice if I don't do some research behind some of the questions, so I can really bring the best answers.

But, some of them, I'll read beforehand and I say, "You know what? I'm not going to think about that one. I'm just going to read it on air and just answer it the best I can." But, this question, I wanted to do a little bit more research and it has to do with the FTC and it really goes back to how supplements are regulated.

By the way, over the past couple of weeks, I have received a lot...I mean, I'm looking at all my emailed questions here and I have at least, maybe 2 pages left, of email questions, so please send me your questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , but a lot of these are about regulation. About how the government regulates supplements, proof of labels and I think that's just because there's just some stuff out there in mainstream media about supplements.

There was the New York Attorney General, what he did with testing of final products of herbal supplements on the shelf. Those products didn't do very well, but, of course, he was using the wrong form of testing, but that's a whole other story. I've talked about it before, but I think that's where a lot of the questions are coming from right now.

So, I got this question and I wanted to do a little bit more research because I think it's a great one. "What is the FTC and how do they enter into the supplement arena?"

So, the FTC is the Federal Trade Commission and there is...So, you have overarching, in some cases, competing, government institutions. You've got the FDA, right? And then you have the FTC. Both of them play a role in regulating supplements. The best source for me is to go to the FTC and the FDA. So, I went to the FTC website. I found some information about how they're listing out what their role is when it comes to supplements. So, let me just share some of that information with you. Before I do that, let me just, in a nutshell, tell you the difference between the FDA and the FTC in terms of supplements—just in a nutshell.

The FDA has the responsibility of making sure that products are safe and that the labels are correct and that the claims for products are correct. That's the FDA. Now, when it comes to drugs, the FDA does it pre-market, to get approval, and post-market. When it comes to supplements because they're listed as food sources, it's only post-market. So, the FDA does regulate supplements. They do. They require that the product itself has to be made at a factory that follows good manufacturing practices. That has to be done.

At that point, they do follow labels, they pull products off shelves and they test labels to make sure that what's stated on the label is actually in the ingredient. So, the FDA does play a role in regulating supplements. It's a myth to think that they don't. I hear it all the time, especially on mainstream media, usually on news shows, right? There's usually a conventional medical doctor who just makes the blanket statement that, "Oh, supplements should not be taken because they're not regulated by the FDA." That is just a half-truth. No. They're not regulated like drugs, that's true. But, they are regulated in terms of label, safety and claims. So, there is regulation. And, manufacturing. GMP. So, that's the FDA.

The FTC, on the other hand, is more about how the products are being marketed. That's the simple breakdown. So, the FDA—how the product is made, claims, what's in it, label. The FTC – how it's marketed.

So, this is right from the FTC website: "The role of the Federal Trade Commission, which enforcing laws, outlawing unfair or deceptive acts or practices, is to ensure that consumers get accurate information about dietary supplements so they can make informed decisions about these products. As applied to dietary supplements, the FDA has primary responsibility for claims on product labeling including packaging inserts and other promotional materials distributed at the point of sale. The FTC has primary responsibility for claims in advertising including print and broadcast ads, infomercials, catalogues and similar direct marketing materials."

So, that's just the breakdown. I mean, basically, the FTC is there to make sure that any advertisement for any product, really, including supplements, is truthful. It's not misleading, right? And sometimes, it's not just looking at the way something's being advertised and saying, "Well, that's not true." It's also, is the claim substantiated enough? That's where they have to work with the FDA a little bit. You know, it's one thing to say, "Pomegranate can lower blood pressure." I'm not talking about a labelled product—just pomegranate, in general. So, if someone wanted to talk about pomegranate lowering blood pressure, the FTC would maybe ask the FDA,"Is that really substantiated?" Now, if you're talking just about pomegranate, it sure is and I can say that about pomegranate. I may not be able to say that about a specific brand of pomegranate, though. That's a whole other issue.

So, the FTC does work with the FDA and they kind of work together to decide if something is substantiated enough to be allowed on some marketing materials. But, that's it in a nutshell. Supplements are regulated. I think we need to do—when I say "we", those of us who work in natural medicine; integrative doctors; supplement companies; and some of the organizations (trade organizations) in the industry need to do a better job of getting that message out. Supplements are regulated. They are. And, we have to start fighting back against that blanket statement that they're not. I hear it all the time. I just heard it a couple of weeks ago on, I think it was Fox News or something. I can't remember what it was, but, yes.

Usually, it's a medical doctor who, for whatever reason, has a certain bias against using supplements and they use that basic claim, "Oh, but we shouldn't take supplements because they're not regulated." That's my staunchy, medical doctor voice. "They're not regulated." That's not true. It's a half-truth. Okay?

The FDA, one more time. The FDA does regulate the manufacturing; the ingredients; the label and any disease claims and the FTC regulates the marketing materials. They do work together. So, supplements are regulated. Okay. Let's go on to the next question here.

Oh, by the way, there was a follow up question this person had. "Is the FDA and the FTC's regulation of supplements, is it sufficient? Is it good enough?" Yes, it is. We do catch bad products. We catch products out there that have been contaminated with microbes, metals, whatever it is, sometimes on purpose with like drugs, adulterated, where they add drugs to certain supplements. So, we do catch that stuff. If you hear about a supplement having a drug in it, for instance, which is not good. Those companies should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, in my opinion, but the fact that we found it, that shows you that the FDA and the FTC are doing their job.

So, the fact that we have these stories sometimes about some bad products is because we have that regulation. If they really weren't regulated, how would we ever know that? People would just end up being hurt. Keep in mind, too, that when it comes to supplements, how often do you really see supplements causing problems in people? You just don't. You see it a lot with prescription drugs, but not with supplements. But, yes. The regulations are adequate. They are.

That's why we catch some of those bad products. This is Healthy Talk on RadioMD. I'm Dr. Mike. Stay well.