Baylor Department Chair Participates in First National Institutes of Health Practicum on Dietary Supplement Research

June 13, 2007
News Photo 4152Dr. Suzy Weems, professor and chair of the department of family and consumer sciences at Baylor University.

Media contact: Lori Fogleman, director of media relations, (254) 710-6275

Dr. Suzy Weems, professor and chair of the department of family and consumer sciences at Baylor University, joined more than 50 other professors and graduate students from university nutrition and food science departments around the country at the inaugural National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) intensive practicum on dietary supplement research.

The course, "Current Issues and Recent Developments in Dietary Supplement Research: An Intensive Practicum," was held May 21-25 on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md.

"Professionally, this was an honor and provided tremendous networking opportunities for me," Weems said. "The fact that Baylor was one of only three universities in Texas that had representation, suggests that it provided a presence at the initial practicum on this topic. The connections and contacts along with the other professional experiences there should prove to be assets in future educational and research endeavors."

ODS offered this course to provide essential knowledge of dietary supplements to professors and their doctoral or post-doctoral students with a serious interest in this subject. Experts from NIH, academic institutions and federal regulatory agencies, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), served as speakers.

The ODS practicum provided a thorough overview of issues, concepts, unknowns and controversies about dietary supplements and supplement ingredients. It also emphasized the importance of scientific investigations to evaluate the efficacy, safety and value of these products for health promotion and disease prevention and treatment, as well as how to carry out this type of research.

Although Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) in 1994 to help ensure the safety of dietary supplements and their dietary ingredients, Weems said there is a great deal of misinformation and spurious products still available under the label of "dietary supplements." Continued research, she said, is essential.

"Many consumers purchase and use dietary supplements (very broadly defined) without competent professional guidance," Weems said. "There are consequences that may occur when the supplements are mixed with prescription drugs or taken in excess. Another concern is that the dietary supplement may be contaminated or may not contain what it purports to contain. There are new rules being developed and followed which will establish guides equivalent to 'best practices' which will help in many instances."

On May 23, Weems was among those participants, who spent the day at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C., meeting with representatives from professional associations, the media, the dietary supplement industry and consumer advocacy groups that study, advocate, regulate or educate about dietary supplements.

"Research opportunities are always on the 'radar,' but in addition, the education of young professionals and students is essential with respect to this particular topic," Weems said, adding that her department currently will focus on incidences of use and abuse of these products among different population groups across the life cycle.

Weems said research and application of new knowledge are key components of the high-quality programs that Baylor offers in the department of family and consumer sciences, such as child/family studies, interior design, fashion design, fashion merchandising, general (with an option to teach in three certification paths) and nutrition sciences.

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