Dietary Supplements + Research

Center for Nutraceutical and Dietary Supplement Research facilitates important research, despite the lack of requirements by the government.

Dietary supplements are big business, with the global market valued at $152 billion in 2021, and an expected compound annual growth rate of 8.9% from 2022 to 2030. Increasing healthcare costs, a focus on preventive healthcare, and growing interest in attaining wellness through nutrition all contribute to this increase. While supplement use among adults has been consistently high over the past few decades, American have turned to dietary supplements in record numbers over the past two years. This appears to be fueled by increased confidence in both the safety and effectiveness of the products sold, as has been noted in a recent survey conducted by the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN). In addition, consumers have ongoing interest in supporting health to combat viruses and disease—as many individuals have learned through the COVID pandemic the importance of bolstering the immune system and tend to pair select dietary supplements with other lifestyle factors known to strengthen immunity (e.g., exercise and whole food nutrition).

Considering the above, the CRN noted recently that a staggering 80% of Americans are now using dietary supplements. These include items such as vitamins and minerals, energy “shots” and capsules, protein powders, weight loss aids, probiotics, performance boosters, memory enhancers, and more. There is certainly no shortage of products on the market, and despite what some well-meaning health professionals might say, for many products, there are efficacy data to support the claims being made. So where are such studies being conducted and why is this work important?

Like pharmaceutical companies, supplement companies typically work directly with Contract Research Organizations (CROs) to have their products evaluated. Most CROs employ staff scientists who help design projects, engage in data collection and analysis, and provide a written report of results to the study sponsor (i.e., the supplement company). The sponsor then shares the results with their marketing team, claims are generated, and products are marketed and sold.

Dr. Richard Bloomer, Dean of the College of Health Sciences, understands this process well. He started using dietary supplements in high school to aid athletic performance and muscle growth, and in a way, turned his personal interest into a career. In 2016, after spending close to 15 years researching dietary supplements, he believed that he and his team could provide a service that rivalled that of most CROs, and in the process allow for graduate and undergraduate student training in this novel area of research.

In response, he founded the Center for Nutraceutical and Dietary Supplement Research. Since opening the Center with just one research assistant, the operation has grown to include several full-time employees, including a PhD-level Center manager, two research associates, a post-doctoral fellow, and several student assistants. He and his team have performed over 30 externally funded projects, evaluating both ingredients/raw materials, as well as finished products that are currently sold within the dietary supplement marketplace. This work has included 20 different industry partners from across the United States and around the world. Although most studies involve human subjects, the talented faculty, staff, and students working within the Center are equipped to perform cell culture and pre-clinical animal studies, as well. While some research is exploratory in nature and results simply in a final report delivered to the sponsor, other work yields a peer-reviewed manuscript—close to 20 ingredient/product-specific manuscripts in the past seven years. The publishing of this work has greatly increased the visibility of the Center, as many companies each year seek guidance on study design and implementation.

Bloomer and his colleagues believe the research they do with dietary supplements is important and necessary, despite not being required by the government. That is, while the FDA and FTC certainly do provide oversight of dietary supplements, the oversight is done once a product is actually on the market—unlike pharmaceutical companies which are required to provide safety and efficacy data before a product is sold. Due to the lack of requirement for studies to be done, most products sold on the dietary supplement market have never been tested on human subjects, at least not in their final form. Hence, having peer-reviewed studies to support both product safety and efficacy is valuable to a company and sets them apart in the very crowded dietary supplement market. It also provides consumers with some assurance as to what they are putting into their body each day. Those working within the Center understand this value and know the service they provide is meaningful.

If you would like to know how the Center can provide service to your company, would like to volunteer as a participant in a research study, or would simply like to discuss dietary supplements in general, please contact Bloomer at rbloomer@memphis.edu.