America's Booming Supplement Industry

Dietary supplements have been used in traditional medicine worldwide for thousands of years, but their acceptance in Western cultures as part of a healthy lifestyle is a a relatively recent development. A recent review by the Natural Products Foundation (NPF) found that America's supplement industry contributes more than $60 billion in GDP each year. The data also revealed that dietary supplements may support as many as 450,000 jobs through the manufacturing and sales sectors. Supplement sales are on the rise too, with sales growing over seven percent for the last three years.1

Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine have used herbal blends to treat a variety of maladies for thousands of years, and Native Americans enhanced their diets with a pine needle tea high in vitamin C. But Western cultures were largely oblivious to the benefits of dietary supplementation until 1905, when English scientist William Fletcher determined that when robbed of certain nutritional factors -- what we now call vitamins -- the body became more susceptible to disease. Commercial whole food supplements were first produced in 1929, and marketed as a a way to get the nutrients missing from industrially manufactured foods. 2

Mass-produced synthetic vitamins became increasingly visible in the following decades, but took off as an explosive independent industry in the 1990s. In 1994, Congress passed the the Dietary Supplement Health and Education ACT (DSHEA), and granted the FDA special regulatory powers to oversee the supplement industry. Although, supplements are regulated differently than drugs, they are subject to strict protocols which help ensure that products are manufactured safely and consistently. Supplements must be marketed and labeled in specific ways that encourage consumer education and transparency about the active ingredients.

Over the past decade, retailers have reported an increase in supplement sales across a wide range of demographics. Baby boomers use supplements as a way to maintain health, and younger generations are increasingly drawn toward natural supplements to help support healthy lifestyles. Experts are optimistic that the supplement industry will continue to grow, as industry growth has outpaced consumer spending growth nearly 3-to-1 for the last several years. The encouraging scientific support for natural supplements, coupled with strong economic implications bodes well for an industry whose entry into the US market is relatively recent.3