AHPA presents at NIH ODS Dietary Supplement Research Practicum
Dr. Zimmermann highlights industry actions to ensure safe and high-quality herbal supplements to medical professionals and researchers
AHPA Chief Information Analyst Merle Zimmermann, Ph.D. presented last week at the Mary Frances Picciano Dietary Supplement Research Practicum held by the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) campus in Bethesda, MD.

Dr. Zimmermann provided an overview of AHPA’s work, including recent initiatives and resources, supporting the herbal supplement industry. He also participated in Meet the Stakeholders panels of both industry and consumer organizations involved in the dietary supplement marketplace.

The event provided an opportunity for industry stakeholders to address attendees' specific questions and concerns, including inquiries about industry efforts to promote safety, efficacy and industry’s use of scientifically-valid methods for botanical ingredient identification. Attendees also expressed specific interest in how the industry determines the safety of supplements with multiple herbal ingredients and how supplements can interact with prescription and over the counter drug use, a subject Dr. Zimmermann discussed was already part of AHPA’s Botanical Safety Handbook, 2nd ed, an essential collection of summaries of peer reviewed scientific literature on safe herb use.

"The supplement industry has proactively addressed many of the questions and concerns brought up by attendees, but it was clear that many attendees were unaware of these efforts," Dr. Zimmermann said. "There is a real opportunity for our industry to make researchers, doctors and other medical staff more clearly cognizant of its extensive efforts to ensure safety and efficacy."

Dr. Zimmermann used attendees' inquiries as an opportunity to demonstrate how the industry has been proactive in addressing safety issues and to highlight several AHPA initiatives and resources, including the Botanical Safety Handbook and the Botanical Identity References Compendium. Dr. Zimmermann and staff from the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) discussed association requirements for members and recent self-regulatory efforts to illustrate how the industry goes beyond rigorous federal regulatory requirements to meet consumer demand.

"This invaluable event gathers people who are integral to future dietary supplement research and education to create a shared and accurate understanding about the health supplement industry, regulations, science and emerging challenges and opportunities," Dr. Zimmermann said. "There are many different perspectives, and we can see that all are equally committed to maximizing the safety and efficacy of consumers' dietary supplement use."

Approximately 80 full-time health care providers as well as academic faculty, research practitioners, doctoral students, postdocs, and fellows involved in dietary supplement research and students in allied health schools are participated in the two-and-a-half-day practicum. Attendees were provided with a thorough overview and grounding on the issues, concepts, unknowns, and controversies about dietary supplements and supplement ingredients. Presenters emphasized the importance of scientific investigation to evaluate the efficacy, safety, and value of these products for health promotion and disease prevention as well as how to carry out this type of research.

The event also included a celebration of the contributions of retiring ODS Director Paul Coates, Ph.D.