An overview of herb and dietary supplement efficacy, safety and government regulations in the United States with suggested improvements. Part 1 of 5 series

Food Chem Toxicol. 2017 Sep;107(Pt A):449-471. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2016.11.001. Epub 2016 Nov 3.


This is the first of five review articles investigating dietary supplements (DS; includes herbs) that now exceed over 50,000 in the Office of Dietary Supplement's "Dietary Supplement Label Database." Four review articles follow summarizing published medical case reports of DS related to liver toxicity, kidney toxicity, heart toxicity, and cancer. The most popular DS were vitamin or mineral supplements (43%) followed by specialty supplements (20%), botanicals (20%; herbs), and sports supplements (16%). The 2013 Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers revealed 1692 fatalities due to drugs, and zero deaths due to DS. Less than 1 percent of Americans experience adverse events related to DS, and the majority was classified as minor, with many of these related to caffeine, yohimbe, or other stimulant ingredients. The number one adulterant in DS is drugs, followed by New Dietary Ingredients (NDI) not submitted to the FDA - both are illegal and not DS, but rather "tainted products marketed as dietary supplements." The three main categories of DS prone to medical problems are those for sexual enhancement, weight loss, and sports performance/body building. DS are regulated in the U.S. by several federal agencies with overlapping jurisdiction - the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC); enforced by the State Attorneys General Offices (AGO) and Department of Justice (DOJ); and monitored (not regulated) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The FDA can remove a DS from the market for phase IV post-marketing surveillance adverse event reports, adulteration (drugs, NDI, synthetic substances), contamination, misidentification, mislabeling or false claims, and not meeting good manufacturing practices (GMP). The FTC and state AGO can also enforce laws against deceptive marketing practices. Suggested improvements to current regulatory requirements are included along with online DS Toxic Tables in the series to forewarn consumers, clinicians, corporations, and governments of possible serious adverse events. They may also quicken the response rate during Phase IV post-marketing surveillance, in which governments could then exercise their regulatory powers.

Keywords: Dietary supplement; Government; Herbs; Plant extract; Toxicity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Dietary Supplements / analysis
  • Dietary Supplements / standards*
  • Drug and Narcotic Control / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Drug and Narcotic Control / organization & administration
  • Government Regulation
  • Herbal Medicine / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Herbal Medicine / organization & administration
  • Humans
  • Plant Preparations / analysis
  • Plant Preparations / standards*
  • United States
  • United States Food and Drug Administration


  • Plant Preparations