No Government Oversight of Dietary Supplements? Enter LabDoor

No Government Oversight of Dietary Supplements? Enter LabDoor

No Government Oversight of Dietary Supplements? Enter LabDoor

With the government abdicating its responsibility to ensure that dietary supplements are all they're cracked up to be, the door is wide open for LabDoor, a service that promises to bring the facts.

   
No Government Oversight of Dietary Supplements? Enter LabDoor
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Blind faith in anything, Bruce Springsteen once said, will get you killed. Whether that is literally true, the Boss was simply pointing out the obvious: being informed is a hell of a lot safer than living in ignorance. It will help you make healthier choices. Clearly, that goes for what you put into your body.

But when it comes to dietary supplements, for the last two decades we've been pretty much on our own. Prior to then dietary supplements were subject to the same regulatory control by the Food & Drug Administration as any other food product. But in 1994 the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) left it up to manufacturers to self-regulate.

"Under DSHEA, a firm is responsible for determining that the dietary supplements it manufactures or distributes are safe and that any representations or claims made about them are substantiated by adequate evidence to show that they are not false or misleading," says the FDA. "This means that dietary supplements do not need approval from FDA before they are marketed. […] That means that these firms are responsible for evaluating the safety and labeling of their products before marketing."

One does have to be especially cynical to feel that capitalism does not necessarily bring out the best in all companies, especially when the government is allowing them to police themselves. So where can the conscientious consumer turn if she wants to know whether her multivitamin or fish-oil supplement is all it ought to be?

Enter LabDoor, "a mission-driven for-profit company […] dedicated to helping consumers better understand the products they entrust with their health."

Founded by 24-year-old Neil Thanedar, whose experience in working in chemistry labs left him (as he relates to Forbes) alarmed by how little information made its way from lab to consumer, LabDoor purchases supplements from stores and Websites (no manufacturer-supplied samples allowed), tests them, collects the results, compares the findings with the product labeling, converts the data into ratings, and creates product reviews and reports.

"In every drugstore aisle in America, shoppers cast the classic pose: two products in hand, confusion on their faces as they attempt to decipher the advertising claims and safety labels. We are decades overdue for a trusted way to choose the best products." LabDoor says on its Website. "LabDoor will change the balance of power in these industries from marketing hype to real facts."

LabDoor puts the power in the hands of the consumer by way of a free app that provides easy-to-grasp evaluations of supplements in four categories: Energy, Fish Oil, Protein, and Vitamin D. Users can search the database for a specific product or choose whether to view rankings in each category of Highest Quality or Best Value. Each product is assigned a letter grade (A to F), with bar graphs reflecting Label Accuracy, Product Purity, Nutritional Value, Ingredient Safety, and Projected Efficacy.

If there's a downside to LabDoor, it's that its database is far from comprehensive. A search for "Trader Joe's," for example, yields no results, despite the fact that the company has its own line of supplements.

In fact, the entire LabDoor database—at least on the free version—contains only 125 product reviews. That means the two-year-old company is well off Thanedar's projected pace (according to Natural Products insider) of reviewing 50 new products per month, shifting into a higher gear of 100 new reviews per month sometime this year.

Why the slow pace? HWN contacted LabDoor for comment but received no reply. Although LabDoor offers a premium service for $50 per year, it appears that it delivers more detailed reports and not a greater number of reviews. A December 2013 link on LabDoor's Facebook page offering access to a sample premium report is dead.

Whether LabDoor lives up to its potential remains to be seen. But the truth is, LabDoor shouldn't exist. When it comes to nutritional supplements, the healthiest alternative would be to turn the clock back to before the 1994 passage of the DSHEA, back to a time when the FDA could keep supplements off of store shelves until the manufacturer had proven its safety.

It's a sentiment The New York Times expressed way back in 1998, when its editorial board called on Congress to "revisit its ill-advised decision," citing "mounting evidence," such as a then-recently-published paper in the New England Journal of Medicine documenting "six reports of people who had become ill after treating their ailments with remedies from health-food stores."

"[T]he Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act [was] approved after an industry-financed scare campaign convinced health-minded Americans that the Food and Drug Administration was about to ban conventional vitamins and other popular products from supermarket shelves," the Times wrote. "The act greatly weakened the F.D.A.'s ability to police the safety of hundreds of new and exotic products advertised as nutritional supplements. […] Many in Congress may be unwilling to challenge the political power of the supplement industry, whose sales have grown from $8 billion to $12 billion in the four years since the law was passed. But surely Congress can find a way to let ordinary, time-tested vitamins remain on the market while reinstating the F.D.A.'s power to require systematic testing of more exotic or risky products."

Sixteen years later, it appears the Times was too optimistic about Congress. With supplement sales reportedly up to $32 billion in 2012, it appears DSHEA isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Therefore, it's up to private-sector industry watchdogs like LabDoor to help consumers know what we're getting.

But with over 7,000 dietary supplements listed on the National Institute of Health's database, it's a huge job. Whether LabDoor is up to the task remains to be seen.

Photo By: USFDA


About the Author:

Except for a four-month sojourn in Comoros (a small island nation near the northwest of Madagascar), Greggory Moore has lived his entire life in Southern California.  Currently he resides in Long Beach, CA, where he engages in a variety of activities, including playing in the band MOVE, performing as a member of RIOTstage, and, of course, writing. 

His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, OC Weekly, Daily Kos, the Long Beach Post, Random Lengths News, The District Weekly, GreaterLongBeach.com, and a variety of academic and literary journals.  HIs first novel, The Use of Regret, was published in 2011, and he is currently at work on his follow-up.  For more information:  greggorymoore.com

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Last Updated : Thursday, December 17, 2020