The long-awaited revision of FDA guidance rules for new supplements is finally here. It is very bad news. Highest-level Action Alert!
We normally publish our newsletter on Tuesday, but are sending out this issue today because of its urgency.
What we are dealing with here is whether the supplement industry is allowed to innovate and create new supplements. The FDA, working as usual on behalf of the drug industry, says no. We need your help to stop this right now. It will take a huge effort on all of our parts and we need to start immediately.
Over the last few years, one of the biggest issues facing the supplement industry has been the confusion over how to comply with the new dietary ingredient (NDI) provisions contained in the landmark Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), the main law governing supplements. For the layman, “new dietary ingredient” is usually just government jargon for “new supplement.”
Under DSHEA, any dietary supplement introduced to the market in the US after 1994 is considered “new” (an NDI) and the manufacturer must notify the FDA at least seventy-five days in advance of marketing the product.
In 2011, the FDA released a draft guidance setting forth the agency’s thinking on how companies should comply with DSHEA’s NDI requirements: how and when a NDI notification should be submitted, what information should be included, what is or is not considered an NDI, etc.
The 2011 draft guidance was a massive broadside aimed at crippling—if not eliminating—the supplement industry. An economic analysis at the time by an Emory University professor estimated that the FDA’s outrageous interpretation of the DSHEA-mandated NDI notification language would have meant:
- the elimination of tens of thousands of supplements from the market;
- an industry-wide cost of between $2 billion and $165 billion in animal and human product safety studies to comply with the FDA’s NDI notification protocols; and
- the loss of between 55,270 and 104,475 jobs in the supplement industry.
ANH-USA and others submitted detailed comments to the FDA concerning its deeply flawed guidance document, and ANH-USA members flooded the agency with comments. After a major backlash of 146,000 pages of comments, Congressman Peter Roskam (R-IL) stepped in and said the FDA had reversed the intent of DSHEA, which was meant to expand, not restrict, consumer access to supplements.
ANH-USA and our partners were then able to persuade Congress to add language to an appropriations bill urging the FDA to go back to the drawing board, and the agency eventually agreed. We have been waiting for the agency’s updated draft ever since.
We need to keep in mind some history about this and in particular why DSHEA was passed in the first place. In 1992, the FDA published its Task Force Report on Dietary Supplements. It included the statement that dietary supplements represented a “disincentive for patented drug research.”
This report, plus the news that the clinic of Dr. Jonathan Wright had been raided at gunpoint (later referred to as “The Great B Vitamin Bust”), sent shockwaves through every integrative doctor’s office and every health food store in America.
News of this raid turned out to be the shot heard ’round the world for health freedom. Everybody got organized and started to fight back.
By 1994, over two million letters went to Congress, which led to the passage of DSHEA. Congress for the first time began to have an inkling that diet mattered greatly for health and that dietary supplements could make a great deal of difference in our diet. When President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law, he stated that it represented “common sense.”
The draft of regulations governing new dietary supplements under DSHEA, arriving twenty-two years after the passage of the legislation, and further delayed after the disastrous first draft in 2011, was finally published last Friday. It is a little better in some respects, but the biggest problems remain. It represents a dire threat to the supplement industry and, by extension, consumer access to supplements.
First, the improvements. In the original guidance, the FDA had said that all dietary ingredients contained in supplements sold before 1994, but not marketed as a standalone dietary supplement, required a NDI notification. So if a green tea supplement marketed before 1994 also contained other natural dietary ingredients, the green tea would be grandfathered and not require a NDI, but the other ingredients would—an absurd stance that has been corrected in the new guidance. Now, dietary ingredients that were marketed as or were contained in dietary supplements before 1994 are grandfathered.
The FDA’s new guidance also allows the submission of “NDI master files,” which contain specifications and other information needed to completely describe an ingredient. If a company wants to make several products with the same ingredient but at different dosages or concentrations, this could save a lot of time. These master files can also be shared with other companies to avoid excessive duplication.
There is still no authoritative list of “grandfathered” ingredients that do not need to submit NDIs, but FDA has said in the new guidance that it is willing to develop such a list based on independent and verifiable data. This appears to be just another stalling tactic after twenty-two years of stalling. We can be sure that the agency will keep the list as short as possible.
Unfortunately, that is the extent of the improvements in the new guidance versus the first draft. Most of the other problems that were in the original guidance remain in the updated draft.
The guidance imposes safety requirements on new supplements that are not even expected of drugs! The FDA describes how to determine what kind of safety studies to submit with an NDI notification. Note that safety studies in the past have been required of drugs, not of supplements. In addition the agency states that additional safety studies may be needed if the target population changes. For example, if a history of safe use has been established with adults, but a substance will be used in a dietary supplement marketed for young children, the FDA would require another NDI notification.
Are other drugs—even dangerous antipsychotics, antidepressants, and stimulants—subject to similar requirements when they are used on children? The answer is a resounding No. In the FDA’s own words, “Most drugs prescribed for children have not been tested in children.” The same is true for use with elderly people. The drugs have almost never been tested on elderly people. This makes the FDA’s new position on supplements especially hypocritical.
The section on investigational new drugs (INDs) also remains. These provisions could destroy the future availability of many supplements. The jargon used here in the guidance is confusing, probably intentionally so, but bear with us.
Remember that an IND refers to a new drug, while an NDI refers to a new supplement. Under current law, if an IND application is filed for an ingredient—that is, an ingredient is being studied for use as part of a new drug—that ingredient can no longer be produced or included in a supplement if a NDI has not previously been accepted. This has already happened to pyridoxamine, a form of vitamin B6, even though in the end it resulted in this valuable form of natural B6 being no longer available either as supplement or drug.
Apparently the FDA couldn’t care less that this form of natural B6 is no longer available in any form. Indeed it has been considering a petition to ban the only remaining natural form of B6, the most important form of all, because all B6, synthetic or natural, must be converted to it in order for our bodies to use it.
In this guidance, the FDA explicitly states that even when an IND is rescinded or does not lead to a new drug, the supplement form is still banned. Well, at least they admit what they are doing!
But just imagine the mischief this could cause when some enterprising drug company decides to corner the market on a whole list of ingredients to keep them out of the hands of supplement formulators forever more. This could very easily be done under this guidance. Remember that it is not always clear what counts as a NDI or what has been grandfathered, so drug companies can use this confusion to claim that supplements which have been around for decades have been sufficiently “altered” that they can be claimed as drugs.
The agency has also kept intact its ridiculous position that synthetic botanical ingredients are, for the most part, not dietary ingredients. This would likely remove many products from store shelves, such as vinpocetine, which is needed to keep our brains healthy. There is an exception for synthetic botanicals that are lawfully used as an ingredient in the conventional food supply, such as vanillin. What makes this even more confusing is that the FDA has already accepted NDI notifications for vinpocetine from a number of supplement producers. Note that in most cases, the FDA does not ever have to resolve the status of NDI notifications.
The FDA is also broadening the group of substances that must submit NDIs by adopting a loose definition of what it means for a supplement to be “chemically altered.” If a post-DSHEA ingredient has been present in the food supply and has not been chemically altered, it is exempted from submitting a NDI notification. The problem is that the FDA’s definition of “chemically altered” is so broad that only the most basic manufacturing methods would not “chemically alter” an ingredient. This language will stifle innovations in manufacturing and ignores the fact that new and more effective ways of producing supplements have arisen in the last twenty-two years since DSHEA passed. It appears that this is quite intentional. The aim is to destroy supplement innovation in the hope that this will eventually destroy the supplement industry.
It’s the same old story. The agency, under the guise of protecting us, is really just protecting its funder, the drug industry, and is throttling any chance of innovation and improvement in supplements. This is so corrupt that it is hard to understand how Congress can continue to turn a blind eye to it, but of course Big Pharma funds political campaigns as well.
Probiotics—the “good” bacteria which our bodies, and in particular, our immune systems, absolutely depend on—could also be on the chopping block. The agency cites risks for these supplements which are purely theoretical and have never posed a problem. Is it a coincidence that Big Pharma is now very interested in producing its own versions of this product? Having probiotics subject to prescription—or costing $100 a bottle—will be a disaster for the health of Americans.
This is pure nonsense. Why would the FDA do this? Clearly these are the actions of an agency looking to restrict the supplement market and remove as many products as possible in as many ways as possible—even thought it openly defies the intent of Congress in passing DSHEA, which was meant to expand consumer access to dietary supplements.
Over the coming weeks we will continue to dissect the guidance and strategize about the best way to overturn this guidance in order to protect consumer access to dietary supplements. But right now, we need to send messages to the FDA but especially to Congress. We need to immediately register our opposition and dismay at what the FDA is, once again, trying to do in its relentless war against dietary supplements.
By now, it should be clear that the FDA cannot provide credible oversight of the supplement industry. Another regulator is needed.
Action Alert! Write to Congress and the FDA to protest this revised guidance that threatens our access to supplements. Please send your message immediately.