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Dietary supplements are the Wild West of self-medication

October 29, 2010

I am always surprised that ,when people ask for regulation of an industry or a group, the people who speak out the loudest against it are so often the people who are getting hurt the worst.  I know this sounds contradictory, but if you read on, you will see how this plays out over and over again.

It is quite a simple  process.  In an unregulated industry there is a lot of money to be made cutting corners, fabricating efficacy, and out and out lying and cheating.  The people who are doing this certainly don’t want the business to change, after all, they would have a hard time competing with legitimate businesses and certainly would have reduced margins and reduced profits.  So, when attempts are made to institute regulation, theses people start the fear mongering.  They warn everyone that big government is going to take away some rights that you have.  They will create bizarre scenarios and try to get normal people to buy into this fear, along with throwing money at the campaign, generating news reports all the while hiding behind shills and organizations with innocuous names.

In essence they get the general public whipped into a fervour to fight for their right to rip them off.  It seems surreal and unlikely, but it happens all the time.  In the supplement industry, this has happened recently in Canada (here, here and here) and is currently going on in the US (here, here and here).

The Canada case I am more familiar with, but the US one seems very interesting, mostly because I wasn’t aware of what McCain was trying to do, but it follows the exact same path as the Canadian one.  One group of people were behind the stop Bill C51 campaign.  They were using vitamins to cure mental illness (and although this sounds intensely suspect, this group is doing scientific studies and trying to prove their claims and getting screwed over by the Canadian government).  In any case, they lashed out against this bill, created a bunch of arms reach organizations and ended up getting over 24,000 signatures, all with incredibly incendiary and entirely false claims.  They got at least 23,000 people who they had never met to believe that the government wanted to take away their vegetables and break down their doors to seize their vitamins.  They got all of these people to support their reactionary claims, not because they thought any of this was going to happen, but because they want to treat mental illness with vitamins (again, when you read the case, you will sympathize with the way government treated them, but it doesn’t make this tactic any good).

The biggest claim from the US reactionaries is that the pharmaceutical companies are trying to take away vitamins so everyone will have to take their expensive medicines.  In fact, many people are going to be claiming that I must be supporting big pharma if I support regulation.  That is one of these peoples most common tactics.  It is called a false dilemma.  Creating an us or them attitude.  You have to pick sides.  But you don’t.  You can support regulation without supporting the pharmaceutical manufacturers.  The reality is, we are all just asking for proof that what they claim to put in their supplements are in their supplements.  We are just asking for studies that support the efficacy of the statements that manufacturers are making (as most of you know this is my biggest pet peeve)!  That really isn’t much to ask and it is regulated in nearly every other business on earth.

So, why am I claiming that the people who are supporting these reactionary groups are the ones actually being hurt?

The people who are concerned about the government taking away their supplements, the people who are whipped into a frenzy by these dubious organizations, well they are the ones who actually take and love their vitamins.  The problem is, because they aren’t regulated, they are not often what they claim to be.

Yep, I said it.  In most supplements, the claimed ingredients are not in the products that claim them, and when they are, they are quite often not in the doses required.  Worse, as I have reported before, many things that can make you very ill are in some of these supplements instead, not just limited to wrong herbs, but include lead and arsenic.   Think about this.  Most of what is for sale is not what people think they are spending good money for, and moreover in many cases have caused illness and even death.

So, while these con artists and scammers are whipping these people into a furor over the government taking away their vitamins, the fact is many of these companies have already taken from you those vitamins you thought you were getting (and have substituted whatever they had at hand).

So, how do I know this.  PBS has recently run a documentary showing how a new technology that identifies genetic sequences to determine presence of specific species of plants are present in samples is used to see if Black Cohosh is actually present in the Black Cohosh supplement.  Black Cohosh has been clinically shown in some studies to be effective for relieving menopausal symptoms, but strangely other studies failed to back up this claim.  The test was performed to see if other species of Cohosh, which are hard to distinguish from Black Cohosh were being used in the supplements by accident.  The findings were quite surprising.

There is a link to the video below:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/health/july-dec10/herbal_10-21.html

Unbelievable:

The four supposed samples of the ubiquitous, unmistakable ginkgo tree? One was legit, another an exact DNA match for common rice, the third a complex mixture of DNA, none of which, the lab report said, resembled ginkgo biloba DNA, and the fourth contained no plant DNA at all.

So, all of you people out there who believe that eastern medicine and supplements are effective for common maladies, don’t try to test your theories using actual supplements from the store.  Who knows what you are getting.  Do you see how the lack of regulation is actually harming supplements and eastern medicine as a whole?  Please everyone stand up for regulation and put the people who sell you rice instead of Ginko out of business!!

By the way, the Stop Bill-51 group put together  a rally and you can look at the videos from their rally on youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-oA-5xG3N1I) You get a good idea of how they whip up your fear in these videos (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIM6FKMHlpY&feature=related).  These are normal citizens worried about the government taking away their rights to eat  herbs on their food!??!  Even the news report points out that the law is intended to ‘make sure supplements are safe before they are put on the market’.  This video takes it to a new level of fear mongering: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLUFyadHnqs&feature=watch_response), still it was probably done by someone who was told that the government wanted to make vitamins illegal.

A big thanks to John for sending me the video clip from PBS!

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