by Joseph M. Betz, Leila G. Saldanha, Johanna T. Dwyer and Richard A. Bailen
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Dietary Supplement Label Database (DSLD) is a public database funded, developed, and maintained by the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS). The DSLD resulted from a 2004 congressional directive to develop, create, regularly update, and maintain a collection of all dietary supplement labels sold in the United States. Today, the DSLD contains the labels of over 136,000 dietary supplement products currently or previously sold. in the United States DSLD, which captures the image of each label and all textual information printed on it, is available free of charge at https://dsld.od.nih.gov.
A prototype of the database was presented to federal officials in 2008, and the first public version of the database was rolled out in 2013 with 17,000 tags. Encouragement from Congress prompted the development of a mobile version of the DSLD, which was launched in 2017. The database software source code and graphical user interface were updated and modernized from 2020 to 2021, which resulted in a redesigned DSLD being rolled out in August 2021.
The DSLD has a comprehensive set of search functions, allowing users to search for a specific food ingredient or any word or phrase printed on a supplement label. The home page provides a prominent search bar and a counter that displays the number of searchable tags in the database. Users can filter tags and search results with increasing granularity. For example, one can select and refine the years when labels were added to the database, and search by criteria such as product status as on or off the market, ingredient category, type of product, product form, intended target group and health -related claims. For specific ingredients, the DSLD refers to sources such as ODS Dietary Supplement Fact Sheets and targeted PubMed searches. Users can also download search results for further analysis and citation of publications. An option is also available to download the entire database.
ODS retains two vendors to manage, maintain and power the DSLD. Abt Associates, the original developer of the database, provides technical support for its programming and design. The Therapeutic Research Center provides the labels. Tags are obtained and submitted for entry into the DSLD primarily by product manufacturers and marketers at no cost to them through a voluntary submission program called Manufacturers connect. Instructions for submitting labels are provided on the DSLD website. DSLD labels are updated regularly.
The DSLD captures the images and all the information on the labels of dietary supplements. Because the manufacturer or distributor is responsible for this information, labels may be incomplete, inaccurate, or contain ingredients of concern to the FDA. The DSLD website provides links to dietary supplement information from ODS and other government sources, for example, to the FDA’s Health Fraud Products Database. Inclusion of a product and its label in the DSLD is not an endorsement of that product by ODS.
How DSLD is used
ODS has learned from Google Analytics reports that half of DSLD users return to it repeatedly. Over 200 scientific papers have been published that use or cite DSLD, including a study by researchers at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences who used DSLD to identify labels listing ingredients of concern in 49 marketed products for brain health and 18 for the body. building.1
One of the most common uses of the DSLD is by scientists to find the number of products containing a specific ingredient or to research an ingredient for the development of their analytical methods or toxicological studies. The computer science, medical and pharmacology departments of various colleges and universities are trying to link the DSLD to their medical and pharmaceutical databases. The FDA also uses DSLD for the development of analytical methods and the identification of products containing ingredients that may pose safety concerns.
Because the DSLD is used by researchers who wish to study supplement use in a selected population group, labels are not removed from the database when a product is discontinued or reformulated by the maker. The old labels are kept but marked with an off-market category code. The availability of off-market labels allows researchers to correlate data collected in previous research (for example, information on supplement use collected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey [NHANES]) with the labels of the products actually available at the time of the study. Off-market data also allows researchers to track changes in product formulations over time. Additionally, having historical tags in the database has been helpful for users to research when a product was added to the DSLD.
ODS has also published several articles using DSLD information. One study looked at prenatal dietary supplement formulations and found that they often contain forms of iron not clinically studied to support iron nutrition during pregnancy (such as ferrous fumarate instead of ferrous sulfate).2 Data from the labels also indicate that these products often contain too much folic acid. or contain a form of folic acid, L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate, which has not been shown to prevent the development of neural tube defects in a developing embryo.3 Another study evaluated 288 products multivitamin-mineral in DSLD for children 1-4 years of age and found that while they provided an average of 10 vitamins and five minerals, only half of them contained calcium and only 60 contained potassium, two nutrients of public health concern.4
ODS routinely assists researchers and others seeking assistance with DSLD use by responding to requests it receives through the Contact us link in the database. Many of these requests come from professionals in the dietary supplement industry. Application developers also contact ODS to get the full DSLD dataset, so a webpage on the site provides the API (application programming interface) download guide.
DSLD remains a work in progress. In addition to regularly adding new labels to the database, ODS works to improve the user experience. Database updates can be tracked under the Version history tongue. Newer versions of DSLD will be more visually appealing, easier to navigate, and will provide improved search and download functions. Over time, we also hope to integrate the DSLD with other government food, nutrition, health and drug databases. Please contact us if you have any ideas for making DSLD a more useful tool for you.
Joseph M. Betz, Ph.D., is acting director of the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Leila G. Saldanha, Ph.D., RD, is Scientific Consultant (Entrepreneur), ODS; Johanna T. Dwyer, D.Sc., RD, is Senior Nutrition Scientist (Sub-Associate), ODS; and Richard A. Bailen, MBA, MHA, is Senior Program Analyst, ODS.
1 Scott JM et al. “Using the Dietary Supplement Label Database to Identify Potentially Harmful Dietary Supplement Ingredients.” Nutrition today. 2018;53:229-233.
2 Saldanha LG et al. “The chemical forms of iron in commercial prenatal supplements are not always the same as those tested in clinical trials.” J Nutr. 2019;149:890-893.
3 Saldanha LG et al. “Perspective: It’s time to resolve the confusion over amounts, units, and forms of folate in prenatal supplements.” Adv Nutr. 2020;11(4):753-759.
4 Dwyer JT et al. “Do multivitamin/mineral food supplements for young children fill critical nutritional gaps?” Diet J Acad Nutr. 2022;122:525-532.