Monday, May 14, 2007

The Truth About Supplements

Buyer beware.

In the site T-from-F sent (the one that culminated in a letter you could add your signature to and forward to the FDA), the Natural Solutions Foundation, via Mr. Stubblebine, "urges the FDA to reduce regulation [of dietary supplements]" ... since ... "we are dealing with foods which, as foods, are presumed to be safe."

Safe? Are foods that contain E. coli O157:H7, salmonella, melamine, mercury, and PCBs safe?

For all a consumer knows, their unregulated dietary supplements may be contaminated with pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, bacteria, insect parts ... and their potency may be squat.

I invite you to pick up a bottle of any vitamin or supplement you have lying around and find a guarantee on the label that what the manufacturer claims is inside the bottle is indeed inside the bottle ... and that chemicals you may not wish to be inside the bottle, especially hazardous ones, are indeed not inside the bottle.Here's one analysis I found from 20011:

Click for larger.

Why is there DDT in St. John's wort?

Speaking of St. John's wort, an independent lab (, tested 16 products containing the herb:2
  • "Three failed to pass independent testing due to cadmium contamination."
  • "One of the three also had lead contamination above the limit established by the State of California."
  • "Two products were dropped from testing because they did not identify the part of the herb used, as required by the FDA."
  • "A sixth product failed for suggesting a dose that was likely to be too low to be effective - less than one quarter of the standard dose."
That same lab tested 23 fatty acid supplements (black currant oil, borage oil, evening primrose oil, flaxseed oil - for omega-3 and omega-6 content) and found:3
  • "Four products to contain less fatty acids than claimed."
  • "One almost completely lacked the ALA (omega-3) stated on its label."
  • "Three others had only 57% to 79% of the expected fatty acids, including one that provided a "Guaranteed Analysis" of its contents."
There goes any trust I've placed in that claim ("Guaranteed Analysis").

In the last few years, The FDA encountered:4
  • "Five of 18 soy and/or red clover-containing products were found to contain only 50% to 80% of the declared amounts of isoflavones." 5
  • "Of 25 probiotic products tested, 8 contained less than 1% of the claimed number of live bacteria or the number of bacteria that would be expected to be found in such a product."
  • "One firm recalled its dietary supplements that were contaminated with excessive amounts of lead, which may have posed a health risk to many consumers, especially children and women of childbearing age."
Dietary supplements in this country are woefully under-regulated, and supplement manufacturers like it that way.

It's my opinion that we'd benefit from more regulation, not less, as "health freedom" groups such as the one above advise. I don't believe that regulating supplements would reduce access to them. I didn't always feel this way, but my experience with the quality of supplements being sold in this country has taught me otherwise.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) is a large and rapidly growing business in this country. Sales of dietary supplements alone reached $22 billion in 2006. I would not be surprised if Mr. Stubblebine and his "health freedom" associates who advocate minimal regulation profit from the sale of it.
1 Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, 2001, Organochlorine Pesticides and Metals in Select Botanical Dietary Supplements
2 St. John's Wort Fails to Meet Quality Standards
3 Some Supplements Lower In Omega-3 And Omega-6 Fatty Acids Than Claimed
4 FDA Proposes Labeling and Manufacturing Standards For All Dietary Supplements
5 The sale of these products suggests that isoflavones are healthful. In fact, the American Heart Association wrote, "The use of isoflavone supplements in food or pills is not recommended.", a topic I discussed here.

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