Advice from BuRO on the safety of food supplements

Introduce a notification system for dietary supplements in the Netherlands. This should reduce the risks associated with the use of food supplements. The Office for Risk Assessment & Research (BuRO) gives this advice to the Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS).

Reason for study and advice

In the Netherlands and the rest of the European Union (EU), many food supplements are for sale, such as vitamins and minerals and herbal preparations. The market is growing. In 2022, 41% of adult Dutch people used food supplements, according to the Healthy Lifestyle Monitor by market research company Multiscope. This group of users spent a total of EUR 1.6 billion on food supplements.

BuRO assessed the risks of various food supplements during the past years. This included cases where the use of a dietary supplement led to very serious health effects.

There is cause for concern about the safety of food supplements. The composition of food supplements is often unknown. There is also limited legislation on food supplements. As a result, the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) has few options for enforcement.

Research questions and approach

BuRO's questions in this study are:

  • What are the health risks of food supplements?
  • How can we (better) ensure the safety of food supplements in the Netherlands?

In this advisory report, BuRO summarises previous risk assessments and describes the legislation on food supplements.

BuRO took the initiative for this study itself. However, it does follow questions from the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. These questions concerned certain food supplements or substances in food supplements.

Results and advice

The use of all types of food supplements is increasing. The use of food supplements can lead to serious health effects. This is evident from the many reported cases.

There are many different types of food supplements on the market. They can vary widely in composition but also in how they are used. Therefore, it is not possible to identify or assess the risks for the whole group of food supplements.

BuRO recommends introducing a notification system for food supplements. Such a system can be set up in various ways. Providers will have to notify their food supplements before they can be marketed in the Netherlands. And then it can be decided whether a safety assessment is needed.

What are the benefits of a notification system? It provides insight into food supplements for sale in the Netherlands. Such a system can help preventing potentially harmful food supplements from entering the market. And consumers are then better protected against adverse health effects of food supplements.

Consumers should have access to the information from the notification system. This will allow them to make a more informed choice to use food supplements.