Nutraceutical Knowledge

FDA Silences Drugs vs Supplements Debate

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What is the difference between drugs and supplements? Well, first the word drug has many meanings, but a supplement is not meant to treat a medical illness, but to supplement one's diet with nutrients. 

For a doctor, the difference between a drug and a supplement might be marginal as a doctor uses both to help treat a condition, even if that condition is poor health rather than a specific disease. Doctors might also use supplements as a preventative such as advising pregnant women to take prenatal vitamins or to suggest choline for hair loss. Still, there is a difference between a drug - antibiotic or chemo therapy - and a supplement - choline or probiotics. 

Drugs Vs Supplements Described by the FDA

A drug is a medicine when prescribed by your doctor. A supplement is a dietary aid that is not intended to treat an illness. That is how the FDA defines the difference between prescription drugs and supplements. [1]

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Another difference between drugs and supplements is that drugs are regulated whereas most supplements are not. In fact, the FDA relies on consumer complaints to weed out potentially hazardous supplements. 

How do Supplements Differ from Food

Supplements are not meant to be food, but rather to supplement the diet. Food is meant to be the primary consumption for nutrient intake, and supplements are meant to fill in the gaps so that people obtain a balanced intake of nutrients - vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. [2]

Use of Supplements

The role of a supplement is really defined by its intended use. That means the use outlined by the manufacturer and not the use of the supplement by the end consumer. 

A good example of how supplements can be both legal and illegal occurs in the bodybuilding industry. 

Many bodybuilders use steroids to help them attain their muscle building goals. Sometimes they obtain steroids through a prescription from their doctor, but for the most part steroid use by bodybuilders stems from the illegal possession and use of steroids via a non-medical source. However, bodybuilding also uses legitimate supplements such as protein powders, branched chain amino acids, and weight loss products, etc. 

Private Label Brands & the FDA

As a private label brand manufacturer, your job is to make sure that the intent of your product is non-medicinal, and that they instructions for intended use are clear. 

The FDA is very strict about what you can claim a supplement does and what its recommended usage is. For example, you cannot claim that zinc products cure a cold or that vitamin B-12 will drop cholesterol levels. The reason for these rules is so that people do not mistake a supplement for a drug and then replace the supplement rather than taking their prescription. For example, it could be potentially life threatening if someone suddenly went off their cardiac medications because they thought that fish oil supplements were the equivalent. 

The Good News for Supplements

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People want supplements and the potential for private label brands are growing as is the number of different supplements available. People are also willing to do their own research and determine their own use for supplements. That is good news because that means that supplements remain a dietary aid so long as the instructions on the label indicate their use as such. 

That also means that the demand for supplements will continue to rise and the opportunities for private label brands will grow. It also means that now is the perfect time to start or grow a private label brand.

Marketing private label supplements involve two camps. The first is to address potential consumer's need for information, and that is achieved through SEO and content marketing - start a blog, write a few articles.

The other camp is all about PPC or Pay per click, which is the paid placement of ads in front of interested consumers. One focuses on educating the prospect while the other focuses on selling. Both methods help private label brands grow by attracting consumers to their products. 

Are you interested in starting or expanding a private label brand for supplements? The process is easy and fairly affordable. Now that you know the difference between a drug, a supplement, and a medication, you can move forward in a market that is rapidly expanding.

Further Reading:

[1] Is a dietary supplement a food or a drug? - FDA

[2] What is the difference between a dietary supplement and a conventional food? - FDA