DEAR DR. BLONZ: What is your advice regarding spray dietary supplements? I am also interested in dietary supplement foot pads, which are promoted for detox and weight loss. Are these safe and effective, as the ads promise? I would appreciate your opinion. -- M.C., San Jose, California
DEAR M.C.: Dietary supplements are substances taken orally; in other words, there is a swallow involved. The substances are regulated as foods, not drugs. Read the “FDA 101: Dietary Supplements” at tinyurl.com/yaaugh5f for a larger perspective.
Dietary supplements, by definition, are a category of food intended for ingestion as a tablet, capsule, powder, softgel or liquid. The “spray vitamins” I am aware of involve spraying a mist into your mouth, followed by a pause -- ostensibly for the active ingredients to be passively absorbed (in theory) through the highly vascular tissues in your cheeks, under the tongue and elsewhere in the mouth.
If we stopped there, this would not fit the regulatory definition of a dietary supplement. Simply put, there has to be a swallow somewhere in the process. To skirt this issue, spray products often include instructions to swallow after use. Absent this inclusion, there is a risk of a regulatory “knock on the door” at some point. Irrespective of regulations, it cannot be assumed that any spray product’s active ingredients will make it into the body when the product is used as directed.
The topic of drug delivery through the tissues in the mouth has been discussed in scientific literature. There have been studies showing that small amounts of vitamin B-12 can be absorbed through the vascular membranes in the mouth and nose, which would have some application for individuals who have problems with B-12 absorption, but any advantage for others is questionable. Only certain types of compounds can pass through oral membranes. The science here is rather heady, but there is an application with certain types of pharmaceuticals: Oral absorption can be facilitated by additives designed to assist with the process, but these artificial, nonfood compounds are not allowed in dietary supplements.
The bottom line is that mouth and cheek tissue can serve as a portal for certain substances, but it is far from an open-door policy.
As for foot pads, there is obviously no “swallow” involved, so these are not even dietary supplements. They are a drug or a medical device, and unapproved at that. Such products cannot legally bear a “Supplement Facts” label. I could find no evidence that these types of products are effective with “detox,” weight loss or any medical condition.
Consumer protection organizations, including the Federal Trade Commission and attorneys general of the states, have acted to stop the marketing and sale of such products. The fact that you might see them for sale should not be taken as an indication of their efficacy or legality.
Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to email@example.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.