Here is one of those concepts that, if more people understood what it meant, the world would noticeably change.
GRAS, the acronym for “Generally Recognized As Safe,” is the designation under which virtually all “health food” products and vitamin supplements sit on the shelves of pharmacies, grocery stores and “health food” stores.
In short, GRAS means, “There are no replicated, double-blind studies that demonstrate that this product is more effective than a placebo, but we don’t think it will kill you.”
Or, shorter: None of this stuff works better than a sugar pill.
While the Food and Drug Administration has made some attempts in recent years to moderate some of the blatant fraud that dominates the “health supplement” industry, Iowa’s Democratic Senator Tom Harkin and Utah’s Republican Senator Orrin Hatch have risen to the industry’s defense (to their glee). Thus, the FDA has been largely powerless in this arena.
The problem here is the mixed message of the venue. You go to a pharmacy to find something to help with your health, and they sell you very expensive sugar pills.
And sometimes the products, though labelled as GRAS, are NOT even safe.
Since the FDA is powerless, it has fallen back to the Federal Trade Commission to prosecute the most blatant fraud, as in the current “POM Wonderful” pomegranate case.
So the reality is that, the better and more extensive the studies, the larger the sample sizes, and the better the placebo control, the smaller the effect of virtually every health supplement tested. One of the hardest issues to tackle in the rise of health care costs is why we allow people to throw away so much money on ineffective treatments.