American Roulette — Contaminated Dietary Supplements, New England Journal of Medicine, Oct. 2009
One: There really is a problem with contamination and unsafe ingredients in dietary supplements. The FDA only looks at their safety post-market.
Two: The pharmaceutical industry indirectly pays for publication of articles such as this (via ghostwriters and other avenues1,2) that instill fear about supplements or target them for removal from the market. Dietary supplements directly compete with synthetic drugs. As the article above says:
"According to a recent National Health Interview Survey, about 114 million people — more than half the adult population of the United States — consume dietary supplements."In the eyes of drug companies, those are 114 million people who could be filling prescriptions instead.
The answer is not to reduce access to supplements, which, as we know, are cheap and effective alternatives to pharmaceuticals.3 The answer is increased testing for safety and efficacy.
"Six of the top medical journals published a significant number of articles in 2008 that were written by ghostwriters financed by drug companies."2 Prevalence of Honorary and Ghost Authorship in 6 General Medical Journals, Wislar et al., 2009.
3 There are a number of herbal remedies that rise to the level of effectiveness, for example, Saw Palmetto for urination difficulties related to enlarged prostate, and St. John's Wort for mild-to-moderate depression. Both of these are science-backed and endorsed by the government's National Institutes of Health (given a Grade of A = "Strong scientific evidence for this use").
One way for a consumer to obtain information about supplement potency and safety is through consumerlabs.com.
It's sort of like consumer reports, but with competence in the area of supplements.
It seems like a useful, reputable service, but of course, the consumer must pay for it.
(I'm just a customer, and I do not get paid or compensated in any wary for saying this here.)
I think a quick rule of thumb here is that certain companies tend to be better than others, though the vast majority of supplements I've seen tested on consumerlabs.com actually do contain what they advertise.
To oversimplify here, companies like Drweil.com, Natural Factors, and Twinlabs all appear to produce good products. For instance, Drweil.com products are manufactured under GMP (good manufacturing practices), which is a reasonably reliable indicator that the company is creating a supplement of the specified potency, and without dangerous additives. I *think* Natural Factors products are too.
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