The Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health

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The Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) was authorized at the NIH as part of the DSHEA legislation. This office was formally started in late 1995 with the mandate to serve as a source of research support, inter-government advice, and science-based information on dietary supplements. The ODS has worked extensively with the other NIH institutes, centres and offices to partner in identifying the most fruitful areas for research in dietary supplements and to serve as a source of information for scientists, industry and the public.

While the Congressional mandate for the ODS was specified broadly, the office staff needed to take this mandate and transform it into specific achievable goals and objectives. In order to do this, the office assembled over 125 scientists and professionals from academia, government, industry and public-interest groups and held a series of seven strategic planning meetings in autumn and winter 1996—1997. Different individuals were involved in each of the seven meetings. The initial three meetings worked with the definition of dietary supplements included in the DSHEA and further identified the scope and terminology of different working subsets of this diverse set of ingredients. The participants in the three meetings recommended an operating definition, developed the three categories of supplement ingredients, and recommended that research priorities be focused on the broad categories: vitamin and mineral ingredients, botanical ingredients and all other ingredients. The next three meetings each involved a mixture of experts from within these three supplement ingredient categories. These individuals independently used the priorities identified by the first groups to develop mission statements, goals and objectives for the ODS. Subsequent to these meetings, the ODS staff combined the recommendations and developed a draft plan that was reviewed at the seventh and final meeting by representatives of the institutes, centres and divisions of NIH and from various federal agencies. The revised draft plan was sent to all participants for their comments. The final ODS strategic plan reflects over 700 comments, concerns and suggestions that were sent to the ODS from the meeting participants and is thus representative of the breadth of expertise represented by the strategic planning participants.

The resulting ODS strategic plan, Merging Quality Science with Supplement Research: A Strategic Plan for the Office of Dietary Supplements, was released in September 1998 and includes the ODS mission1 and five goals with six to nine objectives that address each goal. In addition, the plan identifies operating principles that underlie all of the activities of the office and defines the types of activities that will be undertaken by the office as well as how the progress towards the goals will be evaluated (ODS, 1998).

In addressing the goals and objectives of the strategic plan the ODS has sponsored or co-sponsored research studies, workshops and related scientific support activities on the efficacy, safety and basic science of supplement ingredients of plant origin. These studies are listed in periodic reports, such as the Status Report: The First Years of the Office of Dietary Supplements 1995-1998 (ODS, 1999) and on the ODS website at http://ods.od.nih.gov/accomplish/accomplish.html. Publications or links to publications that have resulted from many of these activities can also be found on the website.

'To greatly advance the scientific base of knowledge about botanicals, including issues of their safety, effectiveness, and biological action' (ODS press release 6 October 1999; see also http://ods.od.nih.gov/news/releases/funding_rel99.html) the ODS in collaboration with the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), has provided five-year grants to establish four Centers for Dietary Supplement Research. These centres are targeted towards research on different supplement ingredients of plant origin to support interdisciplinary research on the health benefits of the supplement ingredients.

To address the Congressional mandate of providing science-based information on dietary supplements, the ODS has developed a number of products that are widely accessible to scientists and the public. The general ODS website (http://ods.od.nih.gov/index.asp) is the gateway to two databases: CARDS (Computer Access to Research on Dietary Supplements) and IBIDS (International Bibliographic Information on Dietary Supplements).

CARDS contains an easily searchable database of research projects on dietary supplements that have been funded by the National Institutes of Health, beginning in 1999. As the data become available, information from projects on dietary supplements that are funded by other US federal agencies will be incorporated into CARDS.

IBIDS is a database that pulls together in one place the scientific literature that has been published in US-based and international scientific journals on dietary supplements, including botanicals. IBIDS is easy to search and the user can access three databases from one web portal: the full database, a subset of the database that is limited to peer-reviewed scientific journals, or a consumer-oriented database. IBIDS is updated quarterly through incorporation of citations and abstracts from over 2,000 journals. IBIDS represents a partnership between two federal agencies the NIH and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) with direct staff partnerships between the ODS and the Food and Nutrition Information Center, National Agricultural Library, USDA.

The ODS continues to involve scientific experts in dietary supplements as ad hoc advisers and peer reviewers in all aspects of its activities. Two projects that utilize this expertise are the Annual Bibliographies of Significant Advances in Dietary Supplement Research and a series of consumer-oriented fact sheets on individual dietary supplements. Both of these activities also represent partnerships of the ODS with the Consumer Products Health Care Association and Warren Grant Magnuson Clinical Center, NIH, respectively.

In addition to the activities mentioned, the ODS staff interact widely within the NIH, across the federal agencies, and with national professional societies and industry groups to foster science-based activities that support understanding of dietary supplement ingredients. In the complexity of dietary supplements, the ODS plays an important role in the United States in promoting and supporting hypothesis-driven research and then disseminating and interpreting the results of that research to the public.

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