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About the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health

Introduction

Echinacea flower A bottle with supplements

The mission of the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health is to strengthen knowledge and understanding of dietary supplements by evaluating scientific information, stimulating and supporting research, disseminating research results, and educating the public to foster an enhanced quality of life and health for the U.S. population.

Dietary supplements are widely used in the United States by people who want to maintain or improve their health or reduce their risk of illness. Americans spend over $25 billion per year on more than 50,000 products containing vitamins and minerals, herbs and botanicals, and other ingredients such as glucosamine, fish oils, and probiotics.

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994 defined dietary supplements as products intended to supplement the diet. DSHEA also established the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which began operations in November 1995. Its director is Paul M. Coates, Ph.D.

Scientists are studying dietary supplements to determine their value in maintaining good health. ODS supports this research to assess the benefits and risks of dietary supplements and communicates the results of this research to scientists, health professionals, and consumers.

Examples of ODS Activities

Research Support

The majority of the ODS budget supports research on dietary supplements in collaboration with many NIH institutes and centers. Since its inception, ODS has provided more than $150 million in co-funding more than 900 extramural research project grants. ODS has also funded hundreds of conferences, workshops, symposia, and meetings on dietary supplements that help inform and direct research efforts for ODS and NIH.

Botanical Research Centers

Since 1999, ODS has funded multidisciplinary centers to study the health effects of botanical (plant-based) dietary supplements. These centers, at research institutions across the United States, identify and characterize botanical ingredients and assess their biological activities, including bioavailability (how the body uses them) and effects in cells, animal models, and people. The centers will provide a rich environment for training and career development, and produce results that will help prioritize and design clinical trials of botanicals.

Analytical Methods and Reference Materials

More than 50,000 dietary supplement products are estimated to be available in the U.S. marketplace, but in many cases, reliable analytical methods are not available to assess the quality of their composition. This ODS initiative enhances collaborative efforts to develop, validate, and disseminate analytical methods and reference materials for commonly used dietary supplements. The program also provides tools and programs that can be used by stakeholders to evaluate method performance.

Evidence-Based Reviews

ODS sponsors systematic reviews of the scientific literature on efficacy and safety of dietary supplements and identification of research needs. Reviewed topics have included ephedra, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, soy, berries and B vitamins, and multivitamin/mineral supplements.

Training and Career Development

ODS provides support for postdoctoral students and scientists at universities across the United States, and in government agencies. This program's goal is to expand the number of well-qualified researchers who investigate dietary supplements, with an emphasis on training young investigators, minorities, and women. Each year since 2007, ODS has offered a one-week Dietary Supplement Research Practicumexternal link icon for academic faculty and students that emphasizes the importance of scientific investigations to evaluate the efficacy and safety of these products as well as how to carry out this type of research

Population Studies

The goals of this program are to (1) evaluate dietary supplement use in nationally representative health surveys (particularly the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey known as NHANES) and conduct research on supplement use and its associated health effects; (2) provide epidemiological and statistical expertise; and (3) develop a postdoctoral research training program in nutritional epidemiology. The Population Studies program has estimated total nutrient intakes from both diet and dietary supplements in various population groups, developed methods to characterize vitamin B12 deficiency in health surveys, and studied the correlation of vitamin D status with death from any cause.

Vitamin D Initiative

ODS leads several efforts to advance scientific understanding of the importance of vitamin D to health, measure vitamin D levels in foods, and accurately assess the vitamin D status in the U.S. population. ODS funded the development of a reference measurement procedure and standard reference materialsexternal link icon to precisely measure this nutrient. It sponsored systematic reviews of the scientific literature that were used to update the recommended dietary allowances for vitamin D and safe levels of intake. ODS also sponsors conferencesexternal link icon and workshops on vitamin D and leads a federal working group on this nutrient to identify and help meet research needs. In collaboration with other U.S. government agencies, ODS leads the Vitamin D Standardization Program (VDSP), an international effort to standardize the measurement of vitamin D levels in blood from populations around the world.

Dietary Supplement Ingredient and Label Databases

With its federal partners, ODS is supporting the analysis of dietary supplements to determine the actual amount of nutrients they contain. ODS also is beginning to populate a database of the labels of all dietary supplements sold in the United States.

Communications

ODS develops and disseminates information about the latest science on dietary supplements. This information is provided through the ODS Web site, fact sheets, a free mobile app called MyDS, e-newsletters, exhibits, and staff presentations at professional and consumer-focused meetings.

Information Resources on Dietary Supplements

ODS makes accurate and up-to-date scientific information about dietary supplements available to researchers, health care providers, and the public.