In the USA, more than two-thirds of the population consume dietary supplements. These supplements may contain toxic metals which can be both harmful and beneficial for the human body and their dosages have to be carefully monitored as too much heavy metal exposure can create health problems. The presence and levels of these heavy metals depend on several factors, such as:
1- Growing conditions
2- Agricultural process
3- The manufacturing process of supplements
4- Industrial processes
5- Environmental contaminants
Some metals are required for the human body like iron, hence they are intentionally added as an ingredient in supplements such as iron supplements. Other metals such as arsenic in excess capacity are harmful to the human body and their consumption should stay within the daily consumption limit. However, several studies that have been conducted in the past have found that many dietary supplements contain harmful heavy metals that exceed the daily consumption limit which is highly alarming.
As specified by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, manufacturers are required to produce supplements free of all food contamination. However, whether a product contains any banned or illegal contaminants can only be found after the product reaches the market. This is because, as per the DSHEA, manufacturers are not required to provide proof of their quality to the FDA. The Food and Drug Administration is required to take a supplement off the market once they are able to prove that it is unsafe for consumption. Thus, manufacturers are innocent until they are proven guilty which puts people’s lives at risk.
Heavy metals and associated risks
In order to safeguard the health and safety of consumers, the FDA has set standards in order to ensure that while the harmful metals are limited to the greatest possible extent, the levels of beneficial metals should also not exceed the recommended daily usage. These metals affect an individual’s health with respect to the consumer’s age and the amount of intake. The following are some of the known heavy metals that have adverse effects on the human body.
Although iron is required for a well functioning human body, excessive consumption of iron can have severe consequences such as abdominal pain, indigestion, and vomiting.
An excessive amount of this metal can create a number of problems. It is extremely poisonous despite the fact that it is a naturally occurring heavy metal. Lead can pose serious health consequences for people of all ages. Intake of lead beyond the set standard or capacity is likely to harm the nervous system and other organs.
Heavy metals in the case of dietary supplements should not exceed the recommended levels as excessive consumption of heavy metals exposes consumers to long term health risks and may cause dementia, brittle bones, and cognitive limitations. Many dietary supplements contain heavy metals that are known to cause diseases such as dementia and brittle bones. A study that inspected 121 products revealed the following details:
1- 5% of those supplements exceeded the upper limit for the recommended daily consumption of arsenic.
2- 2% of the inspected supplements had excess levels of aluminum, cadmium, and lead.
3- Excess mercury levels were found in 0.8% of the samples
These statistics reflect the risks these harmful metals pose on an average consumer. In 2019 the FDA seized 300,000 dietary supplements because they contained excessive levels of lead.