Health column by Dr. Greg Feinsinger. Champion of Whole Food Plant Based Living and righteous person.
The pharmaceutical industry has its problems, including many prescription drugs being overpriced and over 100,000 Americans dying annually from complications of prescription drugs. However, pharmaceuticals are closely regulated by the FDA: they have to prove effectiveness and safety before being released; possible side effects must be made clear to patients and prescribing doctors; and manufacturing has to meet standards that guarantee purity and reliable absorption.
The supplement industry is a thirty-billion-dollar industry that unfortunately has minimal regulation, which encourages unscrupulous manufacturers to get away with as what they can to lower overhead and increase profits. According to Dr. Greger on nutritionfacts.org, 50,000 Americans are harmed by supplements annually. Prior to 1994, dietary supplements were treated like food additives, and safety and effectiveness had to be proven. Following supplement industry lobbying, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act was passed in 1994, which removed any real control other than the honor system (would you trust the pharmaceutical industry to adhere to the honor system?). The number of supplements went from 4,000 before the Act to over 90,000 now. Testing and approval are not required nor is vetting of ads.
Following are some of Dr. Greger’s examples of problems caused by lack of regulation of the supplement industry:
- Seventy percent of supplements fail to meet minimum quality standards, resulting in problems such as selenium toxicity due to “employee error.”
- Many supplements contain traces of prescription pharmaceuticals such as Viagra, Prozac, and the tranquilizer Valium (the latter is added to counteract the unpleasant side effects of caffeine which is often put in supplements to create a “buzz”).
- Half of all drug recalls involve supplements. The fines that result are small compared to profits made, so two-thirds of these recalled products remain on store shelves.
- In one study, ninety percent of supplements tested were contaminated by heavy metals and pesticides.
- Milk thistle is touted for liver health, yet the majority of milk thistle supplements are contaminated by a fungus that causes liver toxicity.
- The multilevel marketing company Metabolife had over 14,000 customer complaints, but covered them up.
- Four-fifths of herbal supplements in a large study didn’t contain the herbs that were on the labels.
- A study done on weight-loss supplements sold in the Denver area found that a third contained substances that have been banned due to safety concerns.
- Seventy-eight dietary supplements from well-known outlets such as Walmart, Walgreens, and GNC were studied and four-fifths didn’t contain the labeled ingredients, but instead contained fillers such as powdered rice and house plants.
- No weight loss supplements have ever been shown to be superior to a placebo.
Take-home messages: 1) Humans did not evolve to need supplements, but rather they evolved to get all their macro and micronutrients, including vitamins and minerals, through the food they eat. (Vitamin B12 and D3 are exceptions, and were covered in recent columns, or you can search on nutritionfacts.org). 2) The supplement industry needs to be regulated the same way prescription pharmaceuticals are, or at the very least the same way food additives are.