Executive Summary

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA or the Act) of 1994 was enacted by Congress following public debate concerning the importance of dietary supplements in leading a healthy life, the need for consumers to have current and accurate information about supplements, and controversy over the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) regulatory approach to dietary supplements. President Clinton, in signing the legislation into law on October 25, 1994, said:

After several years of intense efforts, manufacturers, experts in nutrition, and legislators, acting in a conscientious alliance with consumers at the grassroots level, have moved successfully to bring common sense to the treatment of dietary supplements under regulation and law.

This legislation defines dietary supplements, places the responsibility for ensuring their safety on manufacturers, identifies how literature may be used in connection with sales, specifies types of statements of nutritional support that may be made on labels, specifies certain labeling requirements, and provides for the establishment of regulations for good manufacturing practices. The legislation creates an Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) in the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with a mandate to coordinate scientific research relating to dietary supplements within NIH and to advise Federal agencies on issues relating to dietary supplements.

DSHEA also directs the President to appoint a Commission on Dietary Supplement Labels to consider several issues needing clarification when the Act was passed. The Act indicates that the Commission is to:

. . . conduct a study on, and provide recommendations for, the regulation of label claims and statements for dietary supplements, including the use of literature in connection with the sale of dietary supplements and procedures for the evaluation of such claims.

In making its recommendations, the Commission is to:

. . . evaluate how best to provide truthful, scientifically valid, and not misleading information to consumers so that such consumers may make informed and appropriate health care choices for themselves and their families.

A seven-member Commission was appointed by President Clinton in October 1995, and its charter was approved by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on February 13, 1996. The Commission convened its first meeting in February 1996. In the course of its deliberations, the Commission held public meetings at several sites around the United States and received oral and written testimony from interested organizations and individuals who presented views on issues related to the Commission's charge.

Reflecting the charge to the Commission in DSHEA and in the Commission's charter, this report is addressed to the President, Congress, and the Secretary of HHS. The organization of the report is as follows:

The Commission on Dietary Supplement Labels was aware of the public interest in its work and desired to have an additional public comment period. Therefore, a draft report was released for public comment on June 24, 1997.

This executive summary highlights the findings, guidance, and recommendations made by the Commission in the areas of safety, health claims, statements of nutritional support, notification letters, substantiation files, publications used in connection with sales, and some special considerations regarding botanical products. The Commission also addressed consumer and health professional information needs; industry expert advice on safety, label statements, and claims; research issues; and the Office of Dietary Supplements.


The Commission considers it axiomatic that all marketed dietary supplements should be safe. Congress, in reflecting on the issues associated with safety, concludes in DSHEA that dietary supplements "are safe within a broad range of intake, and safety problems with the supplements are relatively rare." Congress emphasizes in the Act that the government should take swift action when safety problems arise but should not impose unreasonable barriers or limit access to safe products.


Manufacturers and the industry as a whole must fully accept the responsibility for assuring the safety of dietary supplements and must take any action necessary to meet the expectation expressed in DSHEA that dietary supplements are and will continue to be safe for use by the consuming public.


In enacting DSHEA, Congress implicitly intended the Commission to determine whether any changes should be made in the requirements for health claims allowed by the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (NLEA) for dietary supplements. Current FDA rules require the same type of scientific evidence and support and the same process for approval of NLEA health claims on dietary supplements as are required for conventional foods.



DSHEA allows dietary supplement labeling to bear statements of nutritional support without preauthorization by FDA. FDA has received notification letters regarding more than 1,000 such statements. Review of the letters and consideration of testimony presented to the Commission indicate that clarification of the scope of a nutritional support statement may be helpful to manufacturers.



DSHEA requires that the manufacturer of a dietary supplement bearing a statement of nutritional support notify the Secretary no later than 30 days after the first marketing of the dietary supplement that such a statement is being made. The law also states that the manufacturer must have substantiation that such a statement is truthful and not misleading. The law does not provide that the evidence supporting a statement be reviewed by a regulatory agency prior to marketing of the product. The Commission agreed that guidelines are needed for standardizing the format and content of the notification letters.



The Commission discussed how a statement of nutritional support can be adequately substantiated when it is based solely on historical use without supporting experimental or clinical data. At a minimum, such a statement of nutritional support would have to be carefully qualified to prevent misleading consumers. Some Commission members believe that, in some circumstances, qualified statements based solely on historical use would be recognized by experts as being adequately substantiated. Other Commissioners believe that experts would want more scientific support for substantiation and especially so in the case of statements that have particular health importance. One Commissioner believes that scientific support for substantiation is needed for all statements with health importance.

DSHEA does not require that substantiation files be made available to FDA, and the majority of the Commission members are not recommending a change in legislation regarding the availability of these files. However, one member believes that FDA needs to be able to obtain access to the relevant files of a manufacturer to enforce effectively the manufacturer's obligation to substantiate statements of nutritional support and the obligation to substantiate safety. That member believes the authority to obtain access to substantiation files should be provided either through a rule similar to that proposed by FDA on nutrient content claims based on new technology for food ingredients or through legislative action.

The Commission provides the following guidance regarding the information a responsible manufacturer should have in a substantiation file for a statement of nutritional support and product safety. While the Commission's guidance on substantiation files is directed to statements of nutritional support and safety, other types of label statements may be made for dietary supplements. The Commission's guidance on substantiation file content may also be helpful in identifying what a responsible manufacturer would do for substantiation of other types of label statements.


1. A copy of the notification letter.
2. The identity and quantity of the dietary ingredient(s) that is (are) the subject of the statement of nutritional support.
3. The key evidence to substantiate statements of nutritional support, including an interpretive summary of the evidence by an individual(s) or group qualified by training and experience.
4. Evidence substantiating the safety of the product.
5. Assurance that good manufacturing practices were followed in the manufacture of the product.
6. The qualifications of the individual(s) or group who reviewed the evidence for safety and efficacy.


DSHEA directs the Commission to study and make recommendations on the regulation and evaluation of the use of literature in connection with the sale of dietary supplements. DSHEA exempts publications used in connection with the sale of dietary supplements from being defined as labeling under certain conditions.

The Commission finds that the requirements of Section 5 of DSHEA may be difficult to apply, especially the requirement that an article provide (or be displayed with other publications that provide) a balanced view of the available information. Although this provision of DSHEA seems to have been written with scientific articles in mind, the term publication has a broader meaning. Also, the Commission recognizes that scientific articles may not be consumer friendly. Therefore, it appears likely that the bulk of the literature used in accordance with this provision may be in the form of publications specifically prepared for this purpose and written for the consumer.



Botanical products represent a major category of dietary supplements. The Commission observes that many botanical products sold as dietary supplements are used for prevention or treatment purposes. The scientists on the Commission noted that, in some cases, there is current scientific evidence to support such use. Most Commissioners believe that, in some cases, the consumer would be better served by clear information regarding preventive and therapeutic uses than by the limited statements of nutritional support permitted by DSHEA.

The Commission believes it would be logical and desirable for the U.S. over-the-counter (OTC) drug system to include preventive or therapeutic claims for botanicals, at least for those having a long history of use and general recognition of safety and efficacy based on adequate studies. The Commission also recognizes that there are botanical products used as remedies by some segments of the U.S. population that may not meet standards of evidence needed for OTC approval. In many other industrialized countries in the world, claims for botanical remedies and medicines are permitted, often with specific disclaimers, as a unique category of nonprescription products within the drug regulatory system. The types of disclaimers that are used and that may be needed are described in this report. The appropriate regulation of these products as remedies was considered to be outside of the Commission's charge and expertise but deserving of further study.




DSHEA charged the Commission to determine how best to provide truthful, scientifically valid, and not misleading information to consumers so that they may make informed and appropriate health care choices for themselves and their families. The Commission believes additional research is needed on the type of label information that would be most useful to consumers. Other avenues of consumer information, including advice from health professionals, could be critical in assisting consumers in making appropriate decisions relative to supplement use.



Dietary supplements are eligible for a variety of label statements and claims, each of which has unique regulatory requirements. Despite the diverse regulatory provisions, in a practical sense, the messages conveyed to consumers by label statements of nutritional support, NLEA health claims, and OTC drug claims may be similar. The Commission believes that the dietary supplement industry and consumers would benefit from an increased level of scientific input into decisions regarding label statements for dietary supplements. An expert advisory panel on dietary supplements could be a valuable source of increased scientific input.



DSHEA recognizes the importance of research in relation to dietary supplements. In establishing ODS within NIH, Congress wished to promote the scientific study of the benefits of dietary supplements. In considering the scientific evidence for the benefits of supplements, the Commission has made a number of observations relative to support of research on dietary supplements, the constraints to such research, and the incentives to the industry to invest in research in this area. The Federal government has been a major supporter of research on the health benefits of dietary supplements in some areas.



ODS is directed by the Act to conduct and coordinate scientific research relating to dietary supplements within NIH, to coordinate funding for such research, to collect and compile the results of scientific research on dietary supplements, and to compile a database of such research. In addition, DSHEA directs ODS to ". . . serve as the principal advisor to the Secretary and to the Assistant Secretary for Health and provide advice to the Director of the National Institutes of Health, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Commissioner of Food and Drugs on issues . . ." relating to safety, benefits, and labeling of dietary supplements.



1.The conclusions reported in the Executive Summary are supported by all members of the Commission, but there is a range of views on many of the issues discussed in the course of developing the findings, guidance, and recommendations. Divergent views of members of the Commission are found on pages 23, 26, 37, 39, 40, 43, 44, 45, 47, 51, 57, 60, 62, and 69 of the full report.

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Commission on Dietary Supplement Labels