With the 25th anniversary of the 1994 DSHEA upon us, it only seems fitting that we reflect back on the history of both the legislation and the natural products industry. I started out in the natural products world as a sales rep for Nature’s Way, under the distinguished leadership of Ken Murdock, Loren Israelsen and many more, just as the industry was transitioning into a new reality under DSHEA.
We were so motivated and passionate, running around with our compliance clipboards, feeling as though the U.S. government had legitimized our efforts to support the health of Americans naturally. Getting legislation passed on our behalf was one of the largest grassroots movements in history, and DSHEA offered hope and protection. Big Pharma couldn’t squash us now!
While we continue to feel a measure of security under DSHEA, much has changed since then. The conversation around revisiting and changing the legislation is escalating—and rightly so.
I recently had the privilege of posing some questions to Senator Orrin Hatch about DSHEA, and it helped me come to the realization that we now have a duty as both members of the natural products industry and as American citizens to take DSHEA to the next level.
No matter which side of the debate you find yourself on, I think we can all agree on one basic principle: life does not flourish in a stagnating environment. For our industry to grow and thrive, DSHEA needs to be reformed. The questions then become: what needs to change; and what are we willing to sacrifice in order to gain?
Agreeing to oversight
The majority of us are already operating at the highest levels of Good Manufacturing Practices and sourcing safe, quality ingredients to protect the people who use our products. In fact, our premier retail partners, including Whole Foods Market, Sprouts, Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage and others, demand it of us. They have their own standards and vetting processes to ensure their customers are getting the best of the best.
But we have to acknowledge that there are some bad apples out there. They prey on our customers’ lapses in self-confidence—touting “miracle” weight loss, “extreme” muscle gain, “explosive” stamina in the sack and more. And while many of them fall into the category of nuisance, it’s the evil geniuses using concrete mixers in their garages, loading their formulas with harmful (sometimes banned!) ingredients just to make a buck who tarnish our entire industry. They are the reason we need to support more stringent enforcement of the existing DSHEA regulations.
Easing up on health claims
Those of us who are doing it right—running our businesses with integrity, with the health of our customers ahead of our bottom lines; Gaia, Garden of Life, LifeSeasons and so many more—we should be rewarded.
Give us the freedom to be clear, more direct when we discuss the benefits of our complete formulas, as well as the ingredients within them. And in turn, we should be willing to validate the inherent health benefits of our natural products through scientific means. Doing so would not only create clarity for the consumer but also eliminate the frivolous class action lawsuits we too often find ourselves defending against. Imagine donating the money you would have spent on legal fees to fund more studies and assist the FDA in rooting out the bad apples. That would be money much better spent, in my opinion.
Creating new protocols for natural products testing
I believe we need to do more finished product testing to truly understand the physiological effects of our formulas on the human body. But in doing so, we shouldn’t have to subject our natural substances to the same process used by pharmaceutical companies.
When you’re chemically changing an ingredient, molecularly altering it to create something foreign to nature, you don’t know the impact it will have on the human body. Hence the unquestionable requirement for pharmaceutical drugs to undergo a thorough and rigorous pre-market testing process.
From my perspective, humans are in a symbiotic relationship with nature. As we evolved together, our bodies relied on plants and minerals in their natural states for balance and support. When I champion more validation for our natural products, I’m not suggesting we simply adopt the mandated process for chemical pharmaceuticals, but rather that we develop a customized testing methodology for herbal and natural supplements that takes the discernment of integrative and functional medicine, as well as the inherent concinnity of plants and minerals with our bodies, into account.
Let’s work with the FDA to create a pathway for manufacturers to conduct double-blind, placebo-controlled studies on their natural formulas in at-risk and disease-state populations. It’s currently not regulated by DSHEA, but establishing such a path would further set us apart from the bad apples.
Allowing us to reveal the true potential—the good and the bad—of the high-quality ingredients in our synergistic formulas will enable Americans to have a true choice between tested and validated natural supplements and pharmaceuticals.
Supporting the FDA
You might be thinking: “If our customers were having challenges with nutritional supplements, if they were experiencing negative side effects from our products, there would be a lot more complaining, and the FDA would do more to protect our U.S. citizens.” And I’m with you. The government isn’t directing resources to the FDA to enforce DSHEA because there really isn’t a big problem here. But that doesn’t mean you and I shouldn’t stand up for the handful of customers who are getting swindled and hurt by those bad apples. Which is why we need to not only hold each other accountable to a higher standard of quality control but also to take it upon ourselves to help the FDA enforce the existing regulations.
As a rep for Nature’s Way more than a quarter of a century ago, I was too young to even secure a rental car. A lot has changed for me since then, and it’s safe to say I’m a different man. I still hold on to the principles I had when I started in this industry—and I have faith that the great majority of my colleagues do, too. But I also recognize that it’s time for us to apply the knowledge and experience we’ve gained over the past 25 years to change and improve DSHEA. I believe the American people are demanding it.
We should demand it, too.
This guest piece was published in the Nutrition Business Journal's Market Overview Issue and is featured in the new NBJ Supplement Business Report.