The consumption of supplements is more and more common. In fact, four in ten people take it in Portugal – but do the supplements still comply with what the label says?
Food supplements are subject to different regulations from medicines. Although drugs are regulated by Infarmed, supplements do not need to be approved and tested by this Portuguese government agency which assesses, authorizes, regulates and monitors drugs for human use.
And this is where the controversy begins. This lack of regulation has already prompted the medical association to take a stand against these alternative products, arguing that there is no evidence to indicate the safety of these supplements, as they are not tested before they enter the market by Infarmed.
However, this does not prevent people from consuming it in the hopes of improving their health. According to a recent study by Deco Protest, in Portugal, around four in ten Portuguese have taken supplements in the past 12 months – most take supplements to strengthen the immune system.
The findings of this online survey, conducted in May 2021 among samples aged 18 to 74, showed that after strengthening the immune system, the main reasons consumers buy these products are to increase their energy levels and increase the levels of vitamins and minerals in the body.
Additionally, the majority of survey respondents (71%) believe the supplements will strengthen their immune systems and prevent infections like those caused by Covid-19. Indeed, “three in ten people who were already taking supplements before the pandemic increased their consumption when the SARS-CoV-2 virus emerged,” Deco Protest said in a note, adding that “however, so far, there is no scientific evidence to support this, which means it is just a myth.
The survey was answered by 1001 Portuguese citizens. Of these, 59 percent were women, with an average age of 39 years.
Who regulates food supplements in Portugal?
Although there is no mandatory inspection before marketing by Infarmed, according to the ASAE (Economic and Food Safety Authority) the DGAV (Food and Veterinary Authority) can at any time ask the producer to send scientific articles and data proving the conformity of the products on the market.
In addition, “economic operators must ensure that the content of food supplements conforms to what is written on the label and it is up to the DGAV to control compliance with the legal requirements of food supplements in physical stores and in line”.
Regarding e-commerce, this is one of the new priorities of ASAE since many purchases are made online. For this reason, ASAE carries out inspections of economic activities in a “digital environment”, with the aim of verifying compliance with the law.
According to ASAE, in an interview with News from Portugal, there are five mandatory requirements that these labels must contain: “The designation of the categories of nutrients or substances that characterize the product or a specific reference to its nature; a recommended daily dose of the product; a note indicating that the prescribed daily dose should not be exceeded; the indication that food supplements should not replace a varied diet; and a warning that it should be kept out of the reach of children ”.
Whenever products do not comply with legal requirements, they are taken off the market and if they pose a risk to public health, this entity will make statements to consumers regarding the risk, ASAE explained.
According to this entity, in the first half of 2021, a total of 4,320,000 products were seized, mainly due to false declarations and false advertising.
A case of misrepresentation occurs when a supplement that claims to be 100 percent natural ends up containing medicinal substances to enhance the intended effect. This is a cause for concern, first in terms of disloyalty because the client was looking for something natural, otherwise he would have taken a drug. In addition, if the product contains medicinal substances, it must have been tested by Infarmed before being placed on the market.
If you find that a dietary supplement does not comply with what is stated on the label, you can file a complaint using the form on the ASAE website at https://www.asae.gov.pt/denuncias1.aspx.