Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration issued for comment new guidance that aims to control customer access to dietary supplements on safety grounds. It's framed as guidance for now, but history shows that guidance all too often transmogrifies into mandatory regulations.

Currently, half of all Americans spend about $20 billion on various supplements in the hope of protecting and improving their health. Certainly there is a lot of snake oil out there, but do the safety risks justify FDA intervention?

The answer is no, if the latest Annual Report [PDF] of the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poison Data System is to be believed. That report finds that using dietary supplements/herbals/homeopathic remedies resulted in one reported death in 2009. The report notes that there were 24 instances in which using supplements was associated with "major" outcomes and 492 cases where supplement use resulted in "moderate" outcomes. According the same report, aspirin alone was associated with 18 deaths, and 122 and 949 major and moderate outcomes respectively. The 2008 report noted no deaths associated with supplement use that year. 

Disclosure: As far as I know, I own no stocks in any companies that sell supplements. On the other hand, I do take a variety of supplements at breakfast every morning.