The US supplements industry is fighting back following the publication of a new book deriding the supplements market for being dangerously unregulated and accusing supplements manufacturers of marketing products based on fraudulent claims.

In Natural Causes, New Jersey-based investigative journalist Dan Hurley blames the controversial Dietary Supplements and Health Education Act, which became law in 1994 and freed dietary supplements from Food and Drug Administration pre-market approval, for what he considers an unacceptable state of affairs.

Political manoeuvring rather than public safety drove the law's enactment, Hurley writes, citing many adverse events—including hundreds of deaths—he believes are a direct result of the climate DSHEA has fostered. Meanwhile, an estimated 150 million Americans use supplements; the US supplements market is estimated to be worth about $20 billion.

"There's no good evidence these products are safe and effective and there's plenty of evidence that many of these products are unsafe, ineffective or both?The safety and effectiveness has not been proved. It's a buyer's beware market," Hurley said. He points to St John's Wort, L-tryptophan, Bloodroot and most vitamins and minerals as examples of supplements that are at best, ineffective, and at worst, dangerous.

Industry hit back at the science and medical writer's assertions. "The book Natural Causes cannot be considered a credible, scientific work," said Steve Mister, president and CEO of the Washington DC-based Council for Responsible Nutrition. "This is an assortment of extreme anecdotes that exploit rare and tragic misfortunes in an agenda-driven attempt to sell books."

Michael D. Shaw, a columnist at HealthNewsDigest.com attacked the book's claim that supplements were a public hazard. "This very premise could also be attached to the conventional allopathic health care system, better than 90 per cent of which is based on expensive proprietary pharmaceuticals that are rife with side-effects, and invasive therapies that are generally not without their problems, either."

Mister added: "Hurley either has an appalling lack of understanding about even the most fundamental aspects of dietary supplements, or purposely chooses to mislead consumers in order to draw his conclusions."