Just 52% percent of U.S. adults took dietary supplements regularly in 1999 when I first started working for the dietary supplement industry—interestingly, a small majority but nowhere near today’s rates.
In 2021, 80% of Americans reported using dietary supplements, according to the CRN Consumer Survey—an all-time high.
Cut to 2008—supplement use grew to 64% and continued to grow steadily over the decade.
Additional legislation was passed:
The Designer Anabolic Steroid Control Act (2014)
Food Safety & Modernization Act (2011)
DSHEA provided a solid foundation and these added provisions enhanced this foundation to allow the industry to grow, propelled by an ever growing body of scientific research supporting an array of health and wellness benefits.
Responsible industry is now calling for FDA to publish final guidance for new dietary ingredients (NDIs) and most are aligned, at least in concept, with a mandatory product listing requirement.
Dietary supplements are now decidedly mainstream. And supplement users demonstrate that they understand the appropriate role these products are meant to play—as one of a constellation of habits that contribute to overall wellness.
More supplement users report practicing healthy habits than non-users, according to data from several years of CRN’s Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements, with 2021 data showing:
So, what’s next for dietary supplements? Although we’ve arrived at a baseline of mainstream acceptance, the industry is faced with ongoing challenges from an array of angles.
Reflections on the 15th anniversary of dietary supplement GMPs
At a recent meeting of CRN’s board of directors, I had the pleasure of connecting with some of our new industry leaders in person. I’m often asked how long I’ve been with the association, and I’m proud to share I started my communications career with CRN back in 1999. I “grew up” with both CRN and the industry.
During some meet and greets, I was asked what the most impactful event has been during my time in the industry, and FDA’s release of good manufacturing practices (GMPs) for dietary supplements stood out for me—not only because of the importance to the industry but because it also marks the birthday of my first and only child, 15 years ago today, June 22, 2007.
The day the GMPs were announced, CRN offered a cutting edge (at the time) opportunity to telework as my labor progressed. I remember posting CRN’s press release heralding the long-awaited news to our website in the early afternoon from my home office and then giving birth to my daughter just before 9 pm a couple of doors down, in my bedroom. CRN was ahead of the curve back in 2007, with remote capabilities and a flexible work setup, that extended to leading the industry in calling for our regulators to deliver on their end of the relationship.
Industry veterans will remember that day as well, albeit for less personal but perhaps no less dramatic reasons—we waited a long time for those GMPs to become reality. GMPs were promised as part of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA)— so that’s 13 years to be exact! Commemorating the 10-year anniversary in a NutraIngredients-USA bylined article, CRN President & CEO Steve Mister once asked, “Which Took Longer: Harry Potter or GMPs?”
CRN and its members were vocal advocates for dietary supplement GMPs to be released, sounding a steady drumbeat from responsible industry for years. CRN had been on the front line, just like with the serious adverse event reporting requirement we advocated for and got passed in 2006, the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004, and more recently, the Designer Anabolic Steroid Control Act in 2014. There was also the Food Safety & Modernization Act we supported, signed into law in 2011. Today, we’re still calling for final guidance on New Dietary Ingredient (NDI) notifications.
Steve also predicted in that 2007 NutraIngredients article that soon “consumers will demand more… With unlimited access to information in the palm of their hands and an increased curiosity about the products they put into their bodies, it’s short-sighted to believe your business can survive without complying with GMPs. More educated and inquisitive consumers will not tolerate poor manufacturing and empty promises if trust is broken.” Fifteen years later, his prediction remains true.
Responsible industry players have always led the way when it comes to advocating for regulation that would level the playing field by putting teeth behind the self-regulatory best practices to which they already adhere. Today, CRN and its members are shaping next-level transparency measures for consumers with mandatory product listing. Even as we face uncertainty while the legislative process unfolds, we remain steadfast in our resolve to see this important resource appropriately developed.
Mandatory product listing—the idea that FDA should have easy, efficient, and complete visibility into the current dietary supplement marketplace by requiring manufacturers and marketers of dietary supplements to provide the agency with a copy of their products’ labels and ingredients—should not be controversial. Unfortunately, some corners of the industry have allowed fear to overtake them.
While some voices who have not participated in the extensive bipartisan relationship-building process are raising alarm—even attempting to compel consumers to act against their own interest and oppose mandatory product listing outright—CRN chose from the start to lead and shape the concept.
The saying that “it’s better to help steer the bus than get run over by it” comes to mind—and it’s true. In the years since GMPs were released and my daughter was born, I’ve learned a lot about supplement industry regulation and policy as well as about life and leadership.
It’s normal to fear what you don’t understand—or what you feel like you can’t control. I’ve personally worked through many fears in life, so I get it. As a working mom, I’ve become a devotee to professional and personal self-improvement—reading the books, doing the workshops, maturing in my self-care practices. On the professional side, I keep current with industry trends to remain vital to CRN’s mission. No longer the graphic design undergrad who entered this industry, I’ve grown into a communications leader with an understanding of the business, policy, and science angles so crucial to the supplement industry. On the personal side, I’ve grown into my role as a leader for my daughter, stepping out of my comfort zone and figuring out how to live as an example so we can both learn from my mistakes.
One thing I’ve learned through more than 20 years in this industry is that you can’t lead from a position of fear—and the dietary supplement industry shouldn’t have to. As CRN’s 2021 Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements showed, 80% of Americans take dietary supplements—a high-water mark indicative not only of the popularity of our products but also of their safety. With all these people taking supplements, wouldn’t there be far more news circulating about adverse events if these products were as inherently risky as some of our detractors would have people believe?
As CRN responded to reporting on yesterday’s U.S. Preventive Services Task Force guidance on multivitamins, I noted a quote in HealthDay News’ coverage from Dr. Mark Moyad, the Jenkins/Pokempner director of preventive and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor: “It’s not so much of a Wild West out there anymore when it comes to supplements.” What a refreshing contrast to the recent MedPage Today editorial by CSPI that dredged up this admittedly “hoary cliché” and, as a few of us discussing the piece last week noted, sounded utterly unhinged.
Dietary supplements are now mainstream and CRN—which represents more than 200 dietary supplement and functional food manufacturers and ingredient suppliers (along with firms providing services to those manufacturers and suppliers)—leads the way in sustaining and enhancing a climate for our members to responsibly develop, manufacture and market those safe, beneficial products that so many have come to rely upon to support their wellness. In fact, supplements and Americans’ health and wellness are so intertwined that supplement manufacturers were deemed “essential” businesses during the pandemic.
Consumers expect and deserve the transparency that mandatory product listing ensures. MPL is the next step in the longstanding history of responsible evolution, led by CRN and driven by our members. That’s why today, on the 15th anniversary of GMPs, it’s worth remembering the responsible dietary supplement industry’s leadership and maturation over the course of our history.
Take pride in our collective efforts that have resulted in a thriving industry providing essential dietary supplement and functional food products that help people live their best lives, and let’s continue to work together, unencumbered by fear, with the confidence appropriate for an industry like ours.
2023 UPDATE: Dietary supplement listing did not come through in the 117th Congress, but the concept is here to stay. Consumers want—and deserve—transparency.