By Dr. Mercola
As you may have noticed, there's an ongoing campaign aimed at regulating supplements as drugs.1 This would allow the drug industry to eliminate the competition of the supplement industry, thereby increasing its own profits.
The primary talking point is that supplements are not regulated as drugs, so they are therefore unsafe. Strangely, prescription drugs kill many more people than car accidents — making them one of the most dangerous products on the market.
Yet, the pharmaceutical agents continue lobbying for drug regulations to be enforced upon supplements to ensure our "safety." The obvious motivation here is to give pharmaceutical companies a whole new product line as they have been struggling to innovate new successful drugs.
Can you imagine a day when the vitamins you consume will only be available by prescription? And at drug prices? In the U.S., sales of dietary supplements totaled nearly $37 billion in 2014, while the number of supplement users in the U.S. has reached 68 percent of the population.2
In February, I exposed how the Canadian Broadcast (CBC) News, The New York Times and PBS/Frontline all appeared to be part of this coordinated campaign against supplements.3
In November 2015, CBC News published a report in which they accused a number of supplement makers of failing to live up to label claims. By the end of January, the news agency was forced to retract its report as their lab tests were proven inaccurate.
Following on the heels of this debacle, Frontline aired a program focused on concerns that consumers may endanger their health by taking vitamins and supplements.
Our initial story outing the glaring bias and the subsequent public outcry led to PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler doing a detailed review of the program.
In conclusion, Getler admitted that vitamin supplements do not pose "a public health calamity" as the show had unfairly insinuated. I published a follow-up on Frontline's hit piece on February 22, in which I further clarified the issue of how supplements are regulated.
Consumer Reports Joins Organized Campaign Against Supplements
Now Consumer Reports has issued a very similar report,4 again raising the nonsensical and inaccurate claim that supplements put your health at risk simply because they're not regulated as drugs.
Buried in this 15-page report, they do admit that any adverse reactions are likely "miniscule." That slight admission is easily missed among the massive fear-mongering promoted throughout this propaganda piece.
• Anyone familiar with the statistics knows how stupendously ignorant it is to say that drugs are safer than supplements because their regulations are stricter.
• At least 106,000 Americans die each year from the negative side effects of drugs taken as prescribed, and that's using decades-old data. People take more drugs these days, so the death toll is likely to be far higher5
• Prescription drugs kill more Americans each year than traffic accidents
• One drug, Vioxx, killed 60,000 people before finally being withdrawn
• Beta-blockers alone killed 800,000 in five years
• Since 1999, more than 190,000 Americans have died from overdosing on opioid painkillers6
Data also shows that adverse reactions to pharmaceutical drugs are 62,000 times more likely to kill you than food supplements and 7,750 times more likely to kill you than herbal remedies.7
Considering the fact that Consumer Reports' article contains the exact same talking points, and is supported by the same people as so many other hit pieces against supplements, it's quite obvious that this piece is part and parcel of the pro-pharma "astroturf" campaign.
For those unfamiliar with the term "astroturf," it refers to effort on the part of special interests to surreptitiously sway public opinion by making it appear as though it's a grassroots effort for or against a particular agenda or, as in this case, warnings issued by a "panel of experts."
Supplements Have an Enviable Safety Record
Since 2008, the supplement industry has been required to report adverse events to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) adverse effects reports (AER) system, pursuant to the 2006 Act.
Data from this reporting system shows there were 488 times as many adverse events reported from prescription drugs as from dietary supplements between 2008 and 2011.8 Adverse effects from drugs are also far more likely to be lethal. In 2014, there was not one single death from a vitamin supplement.9
Adverse events from supplements are also most commonly associated with sexual enhancers, energy-boosters and weight loss formulas, not vitamins and minerals that have well-established benefits for health.
Frankly, these are the types of products you can find at many gas stations. If you are buying your supplements at the same place you find powdered doughnuts and potato chips, you are likely not a very educated consumer and should reconsider your choices.
Unfortunately, many of these types of products are illegally spiked with pharmaceutical drugs! If drugs are so well-regulated, how do they end up on the shelves illegally disguised as supplements?
And why are we constantly spammed with emails linking to websites where you can buy all these pharmaceuticals online without a prescription?
If pharmaceutical regulations were so great, you would think they would have better control of their supply chain and stop the illegal sales of their products. But, as we have found out with the tragic opioid epidemic — drug companies are more than happy to sell as many drugs as possible.
After all, they are the federally approved drug dealers that leave tax-payers and family members to clean up after the wave of deaths and addictions they have caused.
Regulating Supplements Like Drugs Would Not Make Them Safer
Given these kinds of statistics, wouldn't it make more sense to argue that we need much more stringent regulations on drugs? Tylenol alone kills nearly 500 people annually, and ironically the supplement NAC is used to save the lives of those poisoned.
Why focus on dietary supplements when drugs clearly pose a FAR greater health hazard? There's only one reason, and that is because supplements effectively compete with drug sales. Without supplements a lot more people would be sicker, and without alternatives, they'd have no choice besides drugs.
And there can be little doubt that many supplements would vanish from the market should supplements be regulated as drugs, since the drug approval process itself can cost upwards of $2 billion — a fee that cannot be recuperated when you're selling a low-cost nutrient.
The only alternative would be to charge drug prices, which means any given vitamin or mineral supplement could cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars per bottle.
Probiotic Accused of Killing Preemie
The Consumer Reports story opens with a tragic and horrible description of a premature infant given probiotics (based on life-saving evidence such as that published by Cochrane Neonatal Reviews10) that was allegedly contaminated with a fungus that killed the child.
According to Solgar, the maker of the probiotic in question, the company fully cooperated with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to investigate the contamination, and "numerous facility and equipment inspections" failed to reveal any contaminants at any point in its supply chain.
As noted by Consumer Reports, "The company said the only contaminated samples found were those delivered to the FDA by the Yale-New Haven Hospital pharmacy." What the article fails to note is that fungal infections are commonly found in hospital settings in general. Fungal outbreaks have been traced back to contaminated linens, bandages and tongue depressors, for example, and preemies are a high-risk group for fungal infections.11,12
So it seems odd that the fungus could not be found anywhere except in the bottles stored at the hospital itself. While the absolute source may never be known, this is an extremely rare and tragic example that is now being used as a prime example of why supplements like probiotics should be regulated as drugs.
But just how does the FDA regulate drugs when it comes to contamination? They do it through a process called Current Good Manufacturing Practice regulations (CGMPs).13 The FDA also has CGMP regulations for dietary supplements.14 So whether probiotics were regulated as supplements or as drugs, the end result in this case would have been the same, as the FDA cannot guarantee that drugs are free of contaminants either.
A look at the FDA's recall list15 for 2016 is enough to suggest contamination is an issue that affects the food, drug and supplement industries alike. Of these products, supplements are by far the safest to consume.
Consumer Reports Stoops to Shocking Low
"With the help of an expert panel, Consumer Reports identified 15 supplement ingredients to avoid,16 ones that have been linked to serious medical problems including organ damage, cancer and cardiac arrest," Consumer Reports writes. The article itself does not identify the experts on this panel. Nor does it report any conflicts of interest. A separate document17 does list the members of this panel, though.
Lo and behold, Consumer Reports could not have put together a more biased base of "experts" for this anti-supplement hit piece. In fact, they did a poor job of covering their tracks by picking some of the most outspoken supplement-loathing pro-pharma spokespeople out there. As suspected, Dr. Paul Offit was part of this panel. It seems wherever the big pharma campaign against supplements goes, Offit is there — even though his fabrications and lack of disclosure are well-documented.18
And, as usual, Offit did not disclose the extent of his professional and financial relationships with the pharmaceutical industry. Offit has been paid millions of dollars by Merck, a company whose reputation rivals some of the worst on the planet. His research chair at the Children's Hospital is even sponsored by Merck.
Offit has also been on the board of trustees of one of the worst front groups of all times, the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH),19 and he certainly did not raise a ruckus about the contamination issues plaguing his own rotavirus vaccine, which was suspended in 2010 when found to contain DNA from a virus lethal to pigs.20,21,22 Why Consumer Reports would give any credibility to someone so clearly conflicted is difficult to comprehend.
'Expert' Panel Filled With Documented Supplement-Loathers
Another panel member notorious for his staunch views against dietary supplements is Dr. Pieter Cohen. It seems Offit and Cohen are now tag-teaming on their respective life's work to make supplements regulated as drugs, so they can be equally expensive and "safe."
Cohen reportedly became obsessed with identifying supplements illegally laced with drugs back in 2005, when some of his patients were sickened by a Brazilian weight loss supplement containing antidepressants and thyroid hormones. As reported by Jennifer Couzin-Frankel in 2015, after 10 years of sleuthing, "he and his collaborators have identified three hidden stimulant drugs in supplements."23
Three illegal stimulants. In 10 years. Hardly what one would call an epidemic of crime when drug makers are regularly featured on various Top Criminals lists and keep getting fined hundreds of millions of dollars for their illegal activities. For a rundown on some of the worst of the worst, see my previous articles, "The 6 Top Thugs of the Medical World," and "Top 10 Drug Company Settlements."
Another noteworthy irony is that it is supplements containing DRUGS that are causing problems, not vitamin and mineral supplements most commonly used for and associated with health.
Consumer Reports' Chief Medical Adviser: an Outspoken Pro-Drug, Anti-Supplement Crusader
Consumer Reports' own chief medical adviser Dr. Marvin Lipman was also part of this expert panel. He too has "authored articles on the dangers of dietary supplements," according to Consumer Reports, and has a history of speaking out against the use of supplements. Indeed, entering "Marvin M. Lipman dangers of dietary supplements" into Google yields no less than 8,080 results.
To his credit, Lipman did disclose the fact that he's a board member of U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP, a compendium of drug information), which is repeatedly promoted as "what to look for in a trusted supplement brand." Overall, Lipman, just as Offit and Cohen, has made his stance on supplements quite clear and is by no possible means an unbiased objective panel member. One 2015 Sam's Watch article quotes Lipman as saying:24
"The idea that dietary supplements cure the common cold, restore prostate health, sharpen your mind, or have any other health benefit is dubious at best."
To say that supplements have no health benefits whatsoever, despite the enormous amount of scientific research done on a wide array of vitamins, minerals and other common nutritional supplements such as antioxidants, is tantamount to saying there's no evidence that food supports or restores health, either.
I encourage everyone to contact Consumer Reports to let them know that you will not stand for them intentionally selecting such a biased group of panel members that falsely dramatize the dangers of supplements. Click on the button below to contact them now.
I think it's really important to note that just as you have junk food with questionable and downright hazardous ingredients on the market, there are certain types of supplements that should be viewed with suspicion as they're more prone to cause adverse effects. Top offenders as I've previously described are weight loss supplements, energy-boosting preparations and muscle or sexual enhancement products.25
These types of products have little to do with nutrition and health, even though they're lumped together with nutritional supplements such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Drs. Marcus and Grollman, Raising Awareness Against Herbal Use
Then there's Drs. Arthur Grollman and Donald Marcus, who have campaigned against the use of herbs. In a recent paper26,27,28 the pair warn against the use of traditional herbal remedies, saying long-term historical use is no guarantee of safety. They also disagree with the World Health Organization's (WHO) endorsement of the use of traditional herbal remedies on the premise that traditional medicine is of unproven quality.
In 2012, Marcus and Grollman also published a paper in the Archives of Internal Medicine, discussing "The Consequences of Ineffective Regulation of Dietary Supplements."29 A Google search for "Marcus Grollman Supplements" yields a whopping 48,500 results, and a quick browse through the headlines confirms initial suspicions that these two are clearly biased against nutritional supplements and traditional herbal remedies.
Some Supplements Are Best Avoided
There's only one person left on Consumer Reports' expert panel and that's Philip Gregory, director of the Center for Drug Information and Evidence-Based Practice and an associate professor of pharmacy practice at Creighton University. Gregory is also an associate editor of the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Last year, Gregory published a study showing that of the 1,560 dietary supplement-related regulatory alerts identified through Health Canada (1,287 alerts) and FDA MedWatch (273 alerts), sexual enhancement products accounted for 33 percent of all regulatory alerts.
Overall, and conforming to what I said earlier, "supplements intended for sexual enhancement, weight loss and bodybuilding or athletic performance appeared to pose the greatest risk for patient harm due to product contamination with a pharmaceutical such as a phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitor or sibutramine."
Again, pharmaceutical contaminants were the most common hazard, which is ironic when you consider that supplement critics all claim supplements would be much safer if only they were regulated as drugs. Maybe Consumer Reports could trace down where these illegal pharma products are coming from rather than trying to turn all dietary supplements into drugs, seeing how drugs kill well over 100,000 people each year and are the problem ingredients in hazardous supplement products.
I agree that sexual enhancers, weight loss and performance enhancers are not product categories that most reasonably health conscious people understand, and I believe you should stay away from them as you do junk food or factory-farmed meat products.
Dangerous pharmaceutical products are likely to be found in those illegally disguised supplement products. To include ALL nutritional supplements into this class of "gas station supplements" is beyond irrational, especially when you consider the enormous dangers posed by so-called "well-regulated" drugs, which are one of the leading causes of death.