Consumer Reports Health just published an exposé of twelve “dangerous supplements.” It’s an example of such skewed information and biased reporting from a once respected organization that we have issued a new Action Alert.
The report, subtitled “What you don’t know about these 12 ingredients could hurt you,” highlights every possible negative event linked to supplements. The list is long; it is as though they went out of their way to find every possible negative angle.
Consumer Reports Health’s position seems to be that supplements generally are unsafe and unregulated. In fact, supplement are arguably the safest part of the food market, as we explained on June 1. And they are highly regulated, as we explained on July 13. The FDA may remove any unsafe, misbranded, or adulterated supplements from the market. It is charged with enforcing the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, which holds supplement manufacturers to “good manufacturing practices” (industry standards for product quality); and it may take any necessary action based on adverse event reports. Both the FDA and the FTC also have to power to stop any fraudulent advertising.
Moreover, nowhere in the main article are the health benefits examined or weighed in a neutral fashion. They cite the Nutrition Business Journal’s figure of $26.7 billion in spending by Americans on supplements, without recognizing that the reason most people continue to take supplement is because they work—usually as supplements to diet, but often to improve health more effectively, more reliably, and more safely than prescription drugs.
Let’s look at some of CRH’s points.
* “What consumers might not realize…is that supplement manufacturers routinely, and legally, sell their products without first having to demonstrate that they are safe and effective.” CRH ignores that supplement companies must comply with current Good Manufacturing Practices, which require companies to evaluate the identity, purity, quality, strength, and composition of dietary supplement ingredients, among hundreds of additional safeguards. The article also ignores the “Catch-22” of current drug regulation. It easily costs on average a billion dollars to demonstrate safety and effectiveness to the FDA. What supplement company can afford this sum for an unpatented product? And natural products are generally barred from being patented.
Does Consumer Reports Health think that natural substances should be barred from healthcare? Does it think that we should only be able to use what Jonathan Wright, MD, calls “space age molecules,” never before experienced by our bodies (and therefore inherently risky), just because they are patentable and, being patentable, can get FDA approval? Keep in mind also that the FDA nails down the drug company monopoly by forbidding supplement manufacturers to cite any health claims despite a stack of scientific studies that might prove their case.
* CRH continues: “Undercover investigators from the Government Accountability Office, posing as elderly consumers, caught salespeople on tape dispensing potentially harmful medical advice. In one case, a salesperson told an investigator that a garlic supplement could be taken in lieu of high blood pressure medicine.” Yet the article also says that “It’s against the law for companies (or their employees) to claim that any supplement can prevent, treat, or cure any disease except some nutrient-deficiency conditions.” Clearly, if reported correctly, this salesperson broke the law—but that has nothing whatsoever to do with the supplement industry in general. And never mind that consumers do need to be told by somebody about the risk of prescription blood pressure medications.
* The article discusses adverse reactions from a couple of products, including an old formulation of Hydroxycut, and colloidal silver (which if taken in large enough doses can turn the skin a bluish gray). Yet the article never mentions adverse reactions from drugs which went through the “safe and effective” certification required for FDA approval yet still killed or harmed people in large numbers. In 2009, the FDA received reports of more than 373,000 serious adverse events and nearly 64,000 deaths associated with pharmaceutical drugs. In contrast, the FDA received only 1275 serious adverse event reports and not a single reported death from the use of vitamins, minerals, amino acids or herbs by the Poison Control Center.
* CRH recommends consulting one’s “doctor or pharmacist” about supplements. But CRH knows perfectly well that most MDs and DOs, and certainly most pharmacists, do not know much or have current information about vitamin therapy or about herbal or nutrient supplements. Consumers should consult a qualified natural health practitioner instead.
* The last section of the report does a sudden 180 degree turn and lists eleven supplements to consider taking. CRH even lists some (but by no means all) of the potential benefits—together with alleged potential dangers. They mention fish oil, but don’t talk about its anti-inflammatory effects; lactobacillus, ignoring its immense benefits to people with yeast overgrowth and celiac disease; and vitamin D, without discussing its effectiveness against colds and flu viruses.
Although it doesn’t say so, we suspect CRH prefers the form of fish oil the government has “approved” for Medicare and Medicaid. It is substantially similar to other forms of fish oil but costs seven or more times as much.
The Consumer Reports Health article was so unbalanced, unfactual, and biased that we feel it too needs to be addressed. To do so, please fill out the following letter to CRH, which we will deliver to them by fax. Please TAKE ACTION today.