Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

Is it unethical for dietitians to sell supplements?

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Eggcup of Pills photo by John Twohig on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Something happened recently that kind of blew my mind. I was always under the impression that it was a conflict of interest for a dietitian to sell supplements. Short of causing someone harm, in my mind, it was pretty much one of the most blatantly wrong things that a dietitian could do. In my mind, it still is, but according to at least one College of Dietitians, it’s not.

I happened to be exploring a fellow dietitian’s website, as I’d seen them make some questionable assertions in blog posts. You know, the sort of sensational “sexy” hype that I’m always saying we RDs don’t make. I happened to notice that they had a “shop” in which you could purchase several supplements. I shared this information with a friend, another dietitian, who passed it along to a contact at the College in their region. The response indicated that this might be a concern; however, if there is scientific backing for the supplements, as long as clients don’t feel pressured into purchasing supplements, while not ideal, it’s kind of okay. What??

One of the main reasons that many mainstream healthcare professionals take an exception to some alternative healthcare professionals is that they peddle supplements to their clients. It shouldn’t matter how much science there is supporting the use of a supplement. For any healthcare professional to receive direct compensation for the sale of a supplement or drug is a clear conflict of interest. No matter how amazing the supplement may be, no matter how questionable the supplement may be, the potential to profit from its sale to a client can cloud the judgement of even the most upstanding healthcare provider.

I can understand the desire to make money by selling things. It can be tough to make a living as a dietitian. A supplement may seem like a fitting choice. However, it undermines our credibility. For one thing, there is little evidence to support the use of most nutritional supplements. Imagine the more extreme scenario: You go to see your doctor who diagnoses you with disease X. Fortunately, there is cure Y which she can sell you. Can you not see the potential for corruption? misdiagnosis? Unnecessary treatment? Incorrect treatment? Despite the best of intentions, this can happen when the person who is assessing your condition is also selling you the cure. It’s unethical for healthcare providers to profit from a direct sale of a treatment.

If you ever visit a healthcare professional who offers to sell you a treatment or cure, please report them to their governing body. Get a second opinion. Do some research. We need you to ensure that all healthcare professionals are doing their utmost to ethically optimize your health.

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Author: Diana

I'm a registered dietitian from Nova Scotia, living and working in Ontario, Canada. My goal is to help people relearn how to have a healthy relationship with food.

11 thoughts on “Is it unethical for dietitians to sell supplements?

  1. Wonderful and timely article (in light of the recent supplement scandal). As a fellow RD, I feel the same way. However, in the US, state licensure laws vary and in MN it is not allowed to sell any kind of nutritional product for profit. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this too! Curious what college you may be referring to that says it is “ok?”

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  2. I feel the same way (I’m an RD in Germany). I barely find an RD around here who doesn’t sell supplements or works with a diet such as paleo… a great deal of my fellow classmates have started working with a certain supplement brand (they also make money through convincing other non-qualified people to sell those supplements and give nutrition counselling). It is so hard to make people believe in what we do and things like that just make it so much harder…

    By the way, I love your blog so much!

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    • Thank you so much Teresa! It’s such a battle, isn’t it. It’s difficult to convince people that we’re credible when other RDs are peddling supplements and diets and difficult to compete when we’re not doing these things. Thanks for the support! Love germany, by the way!

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  3. Reblogged this on dietitianeats and commented:
    Great post by a fellow dietitian in Nova Scotia!!

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  4. It is not much different from pharmacies selling homeopathic remedies that they know do nothing except empty your wallet

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  5. A very timely topic to discuss. Completely agree it is unethical. In MN it is my understanding that a dietitian can sell supplements as long as he/she discloses that they are receiving a profit from the sales of the supplements.

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  6. I’m a RD in MN as well. If the RD sells a product and that sale resulted in financial benefit to the RD, then it is grounds for disciplinary action with the board. I also agree that selling supplements as a dietitian is unethical. This is a great article. Thank you for posting. I will paste the wording from our MN licensure law here:

    148.629 DENIAL, SUSPENSION, OR REVOCATION
    Subdivision 1. Grounds. The board may refuse to renew or grant a license to, or may suspend, revoke, or restrict the license
    of an individual whom the board, after a hearing under the contested case provisions of chapter 14, determines:
    (1) is incompetent to engage in dietetic or nutrition practice, or is found to be engaged in dietetic or nutrition practice in a
    manner harmful or dangerous to a client or to the public;
    (2) has violated the rules of the board or the statutes the board is empowered to enforce;
    (3) has obtained or attempted to obtain a license or license renewal by bribery or fraudulent representation;
    (4) has knowingly made a false statement on a form required by the board for licensing or license renewal; or
    (5) has sold any dietary supplement product if the sale of that product resulted in financial benefit to the individual.

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  7. Pingback: Should Dietitians be allowed to Sell Supplements? – A Look Into the Field of Dietetics

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