Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA)

DSHEA defines the term dietary supplement as an herb or other botanical or concentrate, constituent, extract, or combination of any botanical that is intended for ingestion as a tablet, capsule, or liquid, is not represented for use as a conventional food or as a sole item of a meal or the diet, and is labeled as a dietary supplement.

This includes new drugs that were marketed as botanicals prior to such approval; it does not include a botanical approved as a new drug, or authorized for investigation as a new drug, and not previously marketed as a dietary supplement. Botanicals are not classified as food additives.

Dietary supplement products are allowed to contain botanicals that have been present in the food supply and in a form in which the food (botanical) has not been chemically altered. Dietary supplement ingredients marketed in the Unites States before October 15, 1994, are regarded as safe because of their long history of use.

Those ingredients not marketed before then are “new” ingredients. At least 75 days before introduction into commerce, manufacturers must provide the FDA with information that shows the new botanical can reasonably be expected to be safe under conditions of use or labeling.

DSHEA states that a botanical is considered unsafe under one of two conditions: (1) it presents a significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury under conditions of use recommended or suggested in labeling, or (2) it is a new botanical for which inadequate information exists to provide reasonable assurance that it does not present a significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury.

In any case, the FDA shall have the burden of proof to show that a botanical is unsafe. A botanical is also considered unsafe if it is prepared, packed, or held under conditions that do not meet current good manufacturing practice regulations (GMPs).

For the moment, the preparation and packaging of dietary supplements is covered by the same GMPs that apply to conventional foods. However, DSHEA authorizes the FDA to establish separate GMPs for dietary supplements, and rule making by the FDA is imminent.

The label must identify the product by the term dietary supplement. Botanical dietary supplement labels must list the name of each ingredient, the quantity of such ingredients, or, if a proprietary blend, the total quantity of all ingredients. The label must also identify any part of the plant from which the ingredient is derived.

Botanical dietary supplements are misbranded if they are represented as conforming to such official compendium as USP and fail to do so, fail to have the identity and strength which they represent to have, or fail to meet the quality, purity, or compositional specifications, based on validated assays or other appropriate methods, which they are represented to meet.

Literature, including an article, a chapter in a book, or an official abstract of a peer-reviewed scientific publication which appears in an article shall not be defined as labeling when used in connection with the sale of botanicals to consumers provided that it is not false or misleading, does not promote a particular manufacturer or brand of botanical, is displayed or presented with other items on the same subject matter so as to present a balanced view of the available scientific information on a botanical, and, if displayed in an establishment, is physically separate from the botanical and does not have appended to it a sticker or other method that associates it with the product.

Under DSHEA, a statement for a botanical dietary supplement may be made if the statement describes how a botanical is intended to affect the structure or function of humans, characterizes the documented mechanism by which a botanical acts to maintain such structure or function, or describes general well-being from consumption of a botanical.

The statement must contain, prominently displayed and in bold-faced type, the following: “This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”

The FDA published a final rule in the Federal Register on February 7, 2000 (docket No. 98N-0044), which describes how the agency will distinguish disease claims from structure/function claims. The rule permits health maintenance claims (“maintains a healthy circulatory system”), other non-disease claims (“for muscle enhancement,” “helps you relax”), and claims for common, minor symptoms associated with life stages (“for common symptoms of PMS,” “for hot flashes”).

It does not allow for claims regarding diseases (“prevents osteoporosis”) or implied disease claims (“prevents bone fragility in postmenopausal women”) (FDA, 2000). As with all food labeling, statements must be truthful and not misleading.

Statements of nutritional support may be made without prior FDA review, but the manufacturer must notify the FDA within 30 days of marketing a product with a new claim and must have substantiation for the claim. Criteria for substantiating a claim are not yet defined by the FDA.

However, advertising guidelines for benefit statements for dietary supplements have been published by the Federal Trade Commission (1998) and can be found on their Web site ( DSHEA establishes that a botanical is not a drug solely because its label or labeling contains a statement of nutritional support. Also, a botanical shall not be deemed misbranded if its label or labeling contains directions or conditions of use or warnings.

DSHEA established a presidential commission to study and provide recommendations for the regulation of label claims and statements for botanicals, including the use of literature in connection with the sale of botanicals, and procedures for evaluation of such claims.

The seven members of the Commission on Dietary Supplement Labels were appointed by the president to evaluate how best to provide truthful and scientifically valid information about dietary supplements to consumers. The commission’s final report, which was submitted to the president and Congress in November 1997, included guidance regarding statements of nutritional support and the substantiation of such claims.

The commission recognized that under DSHEA, botanical products should continue to be marketed as dietary supplements, when properly labeled. However, they recommended that a review panel be established to review claims for OTC drug uses (Commission on Dietary Supplement Labels, 1997).

DSHEA also established an Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The purposes of the office are to explore the potential ability of botanicals to improve health care and to promote scientific study of the benefits of botanicals in maintaining health and preventing chronic disease.

The director of the ODS is to conduct and coordinate scientific research relating to botanicals that can limit or reduce the risk of diseases such as heart disease, cancer, birth defects, osteoporosis, cataracts, or prostatism, collect results of scientific research related to botanicals and compile a database, and serve as a principal advisor to the NIH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), and the commissioner of the FDA on issues relating to botanicals and scientific issues arising in connection with the labeling and composition of botanicals.

Currently the ODS, in collaboration with the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), sponsors six botanical research centers. The ODSWeb site hosts two databases: one containing information regarding federally funded research on dietary supplements (CARDS, “Computer Access to Research on Dietary Supplements”) and the other containing scientific literature regarding dietary supplement ingredients (IBIDS, “International Bibliographic Information on Dietary Supplements”).

The ODS is also conducting systematic reviews of the literature in order to determine areas needing research and to assist in the development of clinical guidelines. Fact sheets with information on the most commonly used botanicals are in preparation.

The ODS, again in conjunction with NCCAM, has sponsored clinical trials on St. John’s wort and ginkgo. Several dozen other trials on botanicals are currently listed on the NCCAM Web site. The ODS is also currently supporting the development of validated analytical methods, standards, and reference materials for the most commonly used botanicals.