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Posted August 4, 2012: by Bill Sardi
The news media is operating in lock step with the FDA to create a factitious groundswell of public opinion that dietary supplements are deadly and must be regulated beyond existing law. The end-game is to demonize dietary supplements to the point where they become over-priced drugs that are captured by pharmaceutical companies to profiteer from. It’s all part of the modern American marketplace that is being bought off and manipulated in the new un-free enterprise system (aka fascism) where industry buys off government to do its bidding. The impetus for guillotining dietary supplements is that patents on blockbuster prescription drugs are expiring and the supplement industry is a growing market in a dying economy. A ginormous takeover of the supplement industry by pharmaceutical companies is underway.
The latest attempt to slander the dietary supplement industry is the September 2012 issue of Consumer Reports entitled “10 Surprising Dangers Of Vitamins & Supplements.”
This journalist favors dietary supplements over the really deadly FDA-approved prescription drugs, but I’m not a bought-off announcer for the home team. Some criticism of the dietary supplement industry is justified on scientific grounds, but no new legislation is going to make food supplements much safer than they already are (safer than table salt, aspirin and even tap water). What criticism is justified will be described below.
No one has yet explained why less regulated dietary supplements are safer than FDA-approved drugs. One has to be careful in blaming supplements or drugs on deaths or serious side effects based solely upon associations. That is, for example, it might be found that most of the consumers who experienced side effects from dietary supplements were wearing tennis shoes at the time of consumption. But tennis shoes are only associated with the side effects, they obviously didn’t cause adverse reactions. And that is a major criticism of the evidence Consumer Reports (CR) props up to contend that supplements are unsafe. Some 6,300 reports of serious adverse events reported by the FDA over the past 5 years are “associated” with dietary supplements says CR. That amounts to less than 1 adverse reaction per year for the thousands of manufacturers of supplements.
Even then, these raw numbers don’t explain if consumers overdosed on these products and failed to take the recommended dose or just happened to choke on them as they swallowed them down, a problem Consumer Reports says is surprisingly common. Obviously, horse-sized pills could pose problems, but the most likely cause of choking is dry mouth induced by commonly used drugs such as antihistamines, antidepressants, sedatives and decongestants. CR is pinning the tale on the wrong donkey here.
For comparison, some years ago a study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showing that properly prescribed drugs, ordered by a physician and administered by a nurse in hospitals result in over 100,000 needless deaths per year. That kind of data suggests drug are causal, not just associated with mortality.
Of course, there are bad players in every industry. There seem to be many pretenders on the internet who violate every regulation the Food & Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission have outlined for Good Manufacturing Practices and advertising guidelines. You can find them easily by browsing the internet. Some of these renegade outfits are brazenly advertising their products online that brandish home-made labels, no supplement facts panel, and ship them from a home-based garage. Various phony dietary supplement rating websites can be found on the internet – Google allows them to flourish.
CR says the Federal Trade Commission has taken action in more than 100 instances against false advertising claims made by supplement makers over the past decade. Hey, that amounts to only 10 a year. This certainly sounds like regulatory agencies are dragging their feet, allowing outlaw supplement companies to exist so as to perpetuate the myth that the dietary supplement industry cannot be trusted. Like the banking industry whose regulators have overlooked the wrongdoing of lenders, the FDA and FTC are intentionally allowing renegade supplement makes to exist to perpetuate the idea that the supplement industry needs to be cleaned up.
CR fingers the bad supplement makers by name — Indo Pharma of the Dominican Republic which produced a supplement that contained over-doses of vitamins A &D. But that supplier isn’t even in the U.S. Is that all the FDA and CR could come up with? Did major name brands like Twinlab, Nature’s Way, Purity Products, Nordic Naturals, Source Naturals, get ticketed by the FDA or FTC? No. The regulatory agencies that are doing all the finger pointing aren’t doing their job.
Self-serving critics of dietary supplements, particularly dieticians who typically promote foods over supplements and doctors who prescribe drugs, not supplements, launch into their tired claim that a varied diet provides all the nutrients needed to maintain health. However, the only Americans who are year-round sufficient in vitamin C, omega-3 oils, vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin B1, are those who take supplements. The best diet couldn’t possibly meet the need for essential nutrients, particularly among the elderly who have absorption problems, and smokers, alcohol imbibers and prescription drug users who typically suffer from substance-related nutrient depletion.
But CR said “many people can get enough omega-3s by eating fatty fish (salmon, cod, tuna) at least twice a week.” CR must be ignorant of the fact most fresh fish sold in grocery stores today is farm raised and provides very little omega-3 oil. Fish from cold northern waters eat phytoplankton that results in their rich omega-3 content. The simple fact is, until fish oil supplements became popular in the U.S., most Americans were deficient in this essential nutrient.
Readers of the CR report on supplements are shown a photo of a doctor talking to a patient with the caption below: “Doctor with a patient who had a heart attack while on supplements.” Here again, about 65% of Americans take supplements. This is guilt by association. It would never be admissible evidence in a court of law.
And while it has recently been disclosed that a baby aspirin does not prevent mortal heart attacks as first believed, leaving no proven medicine to prevent sudden-death heart attacks, the FDA says nothing about the red wine molecule resveratrol which has been shown to prevent mortal heart attacks in laboratory animals. The FDA rules says resveratrol pills can’t be advertised they prevent mortal heart attacks until they undergo human trials, trials the National Institutes of Health is remiss in conducting, but also would be unethical. Such a study would require half the patients at high-risk for a mortal heart attack to take an inactive placebo tablet, which would be unethical. You can’t let half the patients die to prove resveratrol pills are effective. Aspirin was approved retrospectively, by putting it into use and examining the death rate afterwards. So much for savings lives. A glass of wine will have to suffice.
Yet another unfair criticism of dietary supplements launched by CR and others is that “none are proven to cure major diseases.” Nothing like trying to make supplements into something they are not allowed to be. If a dietary supplement is proven to cure a disease then it is declared a drug. So by definition, supplements can never cure a disease, when in fact they cure many diseases such as scurvy, rickets, pellagra, beri-beri and anemia. Furthermore, the biological action of most prescription drugs can be duplicated with dietary supplements at far less cost and side effects, a fact the FDA doesn’t want the public to know. CR goes on to say: “When healthy consumers use supplements, there’s rarely, if ever, a powerful life- saving effect.” But the FDA approved cholesterol-lowering statin drugs which are pandered as a life saver but have never been shown to reduce mortality rates from coronary artery disease. There’s nothing like the pot trying to call the kettle black.
So what does the dietary supplement industry do wrong? Come on, there has to be some dirt I can dig up in order to maintain my integrity.
OK, CR correctly offers criticism of iron and calcium supplements. Ironically, these are the very supplements that doctors prescribe most. And CR asks its readers to consult with your “health care provider” when they have questions about supplements as if they are knowledgeable and unbiased. Everyone knows doctors know very little about dietary supplements. It is not surprising to find many patients know more than their doctors about vitamin, mineral and herbal supplements.
The problem with iron supplements is that toddlers, or others who might unintentionally or intentionally overdose, might suffer mortal consequences from taking iron pills. Iron pills are like swallowing rust. They often cause constipation and nausea and more seriously are a reason to pump stomachs in emergency rooms. The safest form of iron is carbonyl (Ferronyl) iron, which has never been reported to cause a death even after overdose. But the supplement industry acts oblivious to this fact and sells more problematic forms of iron pills. Forget CRs criticism that warning labels are adequate for iron tablets. Just take the toxic forms of iron off the store shelves. This is an example of supplement companies not following the best science.
Another topic CR got right was that calcium pills are over-dosing women with this artery-stiffening mineral. While over $1 billion of calcium pills are sold annually, the supplement industry has blindly come to their defense in light of multiple studies showing they increase the risk for heart attacks among postmenopausal women who commonly take them.
The confusion over calcium lies in the false assumption that postmenopausal women losing bone are deficient in calcium. Actually, they are deficient in estrogen which sends the signal to hold calcium in bone. Taking high-dose calcium pills is like pouring calcium into a bucket with a hole in the bottom. More calcium will just end up being deposited in arteries, resulting in heart and circulatory problems.
Another problem for supplement companies is simply keeping up with ongoing science. Many products on store shelves are simply outdated scientifically. Take for example recent studies which showed that as the dose of vitamin E rose in supplements, the health benefits seemed to decline. Researchers have sorted that problem out and found that the common form of vitamin E in dietary supplements (mostly multivitamins) is alpha tocopherol, which blocks the biological action of the other more potent family of vitamin E molecules – tocotrienols. Tocotrienols have hundreds of times better antioxidant power compared to tocotrienols and work more effectively in laboratory studies. Researchers now suggest a ratio of tocotrienols over tocopherols in supplements, something the industry has ignored so far.
As for dietary supplements that exceed the recommended daily intake levels and even the so-called safe upper limit, thank God the supplement makes ignore covert efforts by the Food & Nutrition Board to “game-in” certain levels of disease in the population at large by limiting nutrients in fortified foods and supplements. For example, the recommended daily intake level of vitamin C is 75-90 milligrams for females and males respectively with the safe upper limit at 2000 mg per day. But 75-90 mg wouldn’t even raise a person’s blood level of vitamin C, a water-soluble vitamin that is rapidly excreted. Fortunately, it is difficult to find a vitamin C supplement today that doesn’t provide 500 mg per pill.
As for the 2000 mg safe-upper limit, that has been confabulated into the “toxic upper limit.” Actually, 2000 mg is perfectly safe and vitamin C expert Steve Hickey says taking 500 mg of vitamin C five times a day at equal intervals would produce optimal blood levels of this essential vitamin.
The safe upper limit for vitamin D is 4000 international units (IU, or just 100 micrograms), which is the amount required to even measure a rise in blood concentration.
Hey Consumer Reports, do your homework! You are supposed to be on the side of the consumer, not government agencies that feed you their propaganda on behalf of the drug companies. – © 2012 Bill Sardi, Knowledge of Health, Inc. Not for posting on other websites.
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