Beware the Propaganda Against Dietary Supplements

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Beware of the Unfolding Anti-Dietary Supplement Propaganda Campaign

by Bill Sardi by Bill Sardi


Witch hunt (definition): An investigation carried out ostensibly to uncover subversive activities but actually used to harass and undermine.

Even after passage of the Dietary Supplement Health & Education Act of 1994, and greater public scrutiny of dietary supplements, do dietary supplement companies still continue to hide a growing number of adverse reactions that are related to their products? What do you think?

Careful now, how you answer that question. It’s the same as asking, "Do you still beat your wife?" A yes or no answer incriminates you.

So along comes author Dan Hurley with his new book Natural Causes: Death, Lies and Politics in America’s Vitamin and Herbal Supplement Industry (Broadway Books), that asks the same kind of question.

The more the dietary supplement industry responds to Hurley’s seemingly accurate claims, the more supplement makers sound guilty and have something to hide.

Trumping up a case

Various parties have attempted to trump up a case against dietary supplements for some time now. But when Senator Orrin Hatch said in 1993, in defense of these products, that they have "been on the market for centuries, and there is not much risk in any of these products," the anti-supplement forces didn’t have enough data in hand to refute his claim.

Since then Big Pharma has donated money to Senator Hatch and bought his support for legislation that requires adverse events associated with dietary supplements to be reported. The top two industries supporting Hatch since 1989 are lawyers/law Firms ($1,139,713) and pharmaceuticals/health products ($1,062,593) [Source:]

The vitamin supplement antagonists collected data over a 23-year period that looks like the supplement industry is derelict and in need of more regulation. (Don’t mention that the regulated pharmaceutical industry kills off far more Americans due to side effects from properly-used drugs, administered by a nurse, in hospitals — estimated at 106,000 — which is akin to wiping out the entire population of Ann Arbor, Michigan in a year.)

Making small numbers look big

So with 23 years of data in hand, the anti-supplement forces finally mustered up 1.6 million adverse reactions and 230 deaths (20-year period). That’s about a dozen deaths a year, and lots of reports of trivial diarrhea, nausea and drug/supplement interactions (the drugs are mostly to blame, not the essential nutrients in vitamin pills).

So in the past 23 years the reports of adverse reactions associated with dietary supplements has grown to the "alarming" number of 125,595! Whoa baby!

But the US population grew from 233 million to over 300 million during that time. According to a series of surveys among older age groups, the prevalence of dietary supplement use increased from 44% in 1980 to 55% by 1994, and 63% by 2000.

At the time the Dietary Supplement & Health Act was enacted, an estimated 600 U.S. dietary supplement manufacturers produced about 4,000 products (Commission on Dietary Supplement Labels, 1997). The Food and Drug Administration now estimates that more than 29,000 different dietary supplements are now available to consumers and an average of 1,000 new products are developed annually.

Furthermore, it is consistently shown that supplement use is higher among older age groups than younger age groups. Older adults may suffer with mental confusion or poor eyesight, and may easily misuse dietary supplements.

So it’s not surprising that there has been a rise in side effects reported among users of dietary supplements over the past decade.

The problem with herbal supplements

Oh my, over 23,000 side effects reported for herbal products and 13 deaths! These are not to be trivialized, but with six out of ten Americans taking dietary supplements, the likelihood that any American who experiences a heart attack (over 1 million a year), or liver problem (35% have fatty liver), and also happen to be taking supplements is very high. This is guilt by association.

Take for example a survey of children involved in pedestrian accidents. A survey might find that 9 out of 10 kids were wearing tennis shoes at the time of their accident. Does this mean the tennis shoes caused the accidents? No, the tennis shoes were just by-standers, like the vitamin pills.

Guilt by association reigns in the witch hunt to condemn dietary supplements, which are far safer on a relative basis than table salt (causes hypertension), aspirin (causes gastric bleeding ulcers and adult onset asthma) and chlorinated tap water (long term, causes kidney cancer).

And the 13 deaths from herbal supplements — that figure would approach zero if the deaths associated with ephedra weight-loss pills were deducted from the total. Even then, courts could not find a cause-and-effect relationship between ephedra and many of these deaths may have been caused by dieters on a crash weight-loss program, trying to fit into a summer swim suit, by over-dosing on ephedra pills.

Furthermore, the rationale for the reason why so many prescription drug-related deaths and side effects are tolerated is because the benefits of the drugs are alleged to outweigh the risks. Didn’t ephedra, the most profound lean body mass agent ever, save the lives of far more obese Americans than it is alleged to have killed?

Nutriphobia spawned by doctors

According to American Association of Poison Control Centers statistics, there were 813 side effects reported for glucosamine and chondroitin supplements. These reports often emanate from "nutriphobic" physicians, based upon pseudo-scientific reports published in medical journals.

For example, when glucosamine, given intravenously, was reported to have raised blood sugar, doctors began asking their patients with first-time elevated blood sugar if they take glucosamine supplements. The patients typically respond by saying they didn’t know glucosamine could cause elevated blood sugar. But did the glucosamine actually raise blood sugar? When doctors tested whether glucosamine triggers a rise in blood sugar among healthy adults in two separate studies, they couldn’t reproduce the problem. (Osteoarthritis Cartilage 12: 506—11, 2004; Archives Internal Medicine163:1587—90, 2003).

Similarly, there have been sporadic but repeated reports of bleeding and hemorrhage associated with ginkgo biloba, a popular herbal supplement. But researchers could not reproduce these same side effects in animals or humans even at blood concentrations 100 times greater than the recommended dosage for ginkgo. (Phytomedicine 12:10—6 2005; Blood Coagulation Fibrinolysis 15: 303—09, 2004).

These are examples of the many adverse reactions prompted by supplement-phobic physicians that will continue to overwhelm dietary supplement companies now that toll-free numbers will be printed on product labels to invite Adverse Event Reporting.

Attorneys, news reporters ready to pounce

Once dietary supplement companies are forced to keep records of adverse events (defined as any adverse reaction that requires a visit to a health professional), lawyers can start advertising for clients that allege they have been harmed by dietary supplements, file suit, and during legal discovery can acquire all the adverse reaction reports tabulated by a particular company. The lawyers can then begin to mine these records for lawsuits and even hold companies for what amounts to be legal extortion.

News reporters will be given access to these records and will likely, using a guilt-by-association rationale, open their TV news reports reading scripts that say "a dietary supplement, made by ABC Supplement Company, is associated with 184 adverse events, say lawyers who represent consumers who are suing the company." Things are going to get ugly in the supplement industry.

The horrors technique

Author Dan Hurley uses one of the best mechanisms to get supplement users to throw away their vitamin bottles. It’s called the "horrors" technique. Here is how Hurley presents it: "But an analysis of the National Maternal and Infant Health Survey, published in the journal Pediatrics in 1997, found that 54 percent of parents of preschool children gave them a vitamin or mineral supplement at least three days a week!"

Horrors, can you imagine that? This is the kind of sensationalist yellow journalism that is being used to denigrate dietary supplements. Where are the dead infants, Mr. Hurley?


And why is all this happening? Americans need to recognize that drug patents are expiring. Between 2001 and 2005 patents on over 200 drugs expired, representing $30 billion of sales. About $21.4 billion worth of branded drugs came off patent in 2006, and another $17.7 billion will come off patent in 2007. In Europe, supplements like ginkgo biloba, kava kava, bilberry and even a citrus fruit extract for hemorrhoids, are all prescription drugs.

Resveratrol, a red wine molecule, sold as a food supplement, is now being widely hailed for its broad biological action. Resveratrol could virtually wipe out all existing medications for diabetes, cholesterol, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or as Fortune Magazine says in their upcoming report on this miracle molecule — "Hell, pretty much all age-related disease." Why, one sole dietary supplement threatens to bring down the entire pharmaceutical industry.

On a technicality, resveratrol has already been classified as a drug, though resveratrol supplements are widely sold as well. But their notorious poor quality could prompt the FDA to remove resveratrol supplements from the market, or limit their dosage. Korea and Germany have already taken action to block or inhibit resveratrol supplement imports or sales.

Let the propaganda begin

If the public can be frightened into thinking dietary supplements are dangerous, a bought-off Congress, along with popular news anchors and authors like Dan Hurley, could orchestrate a groundswell of public opinion to designate dietary supplements as "drugs."

CBS News has launched the first round with a series of biting reports that are critical of the dietary supplement industry. Referring to exaggerated advertising claims for weight loss supplements, CBS News asks: "So how did they get away with it in the first place?" CBS News says the FDA has their hands tied since the passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act in 1994.

Did any of the CBS reporters look to see how many drug company advertisements have been sanctioned in the past few months? It’s quite a few. And did you notice who the major sponsor of evening TV news is now — American Pharmaceutical Companies. The newsrooms at these TV stations know how to beat the drum for their advertising clients, and make it sound like unbiased news.

Broadway Books, a Division of Random House, and publisher of Hurley’s book, is a subsidiary of the $17-billion dollar Bertelsmann AG media empire, headquartered in Germany. Bertelsmann AG would have no problem orchestrating such a campaign with the experience gained during World War II as part of the Nazi Party publishing propaganda campaign aimed against European Jews. Revelations of this were disclosed during Bertelsmann’s takeover of Random House in 1998. Bertelsmann then used a revised account of their Nazi past to smooth the deal. Germany is the home of drug giants like Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Schering and Merck K GaA.

What to do?

An aroused public wants to know what to do to oppose restrictions against dietary supplements, but there will certainly be opportunistic consumers who will be more than eager to extract a financial settlement out of a supplement company for an alleged bout of unremitting diarrhea. The public may bring the demise of the dietary supplement industry upon themselves.

The fear is that the public will accept restrictions against dietary supplements like they passively accepted the rise in gasoline prices. Congress is too bought off to raise a public protest unless there is an overwhelming outcry.

Health organizations representing the supplement manufacturers (Council for Responsible Nutrition), health food stores (Natural Products Association) and the grass-roots group that captained the passage of the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (Citizens for Health) surprisingly did not oppose, and actively backed, the recent Adverse Events Reporting legislation, even though there had never been a demonstration to prove its effectiveness and the unlikelihood it will ever save one life. There is suspicion that anti-supplement forces are infiltrating health freedom organizations.

The National Health Federation based in Monrovia, California, is the only organization that stood boldly against the Adverse Events legislation and may be a resource to rally the public around. The Health Freedom Foundation based in Washington DC may be another resource.

Dietary supplement users should be aware, a dark cloud is approaching.

Bill Sardi [send him mail] is a consumer advocate and health journalist, writing from San Dimas, California. He offers a free downloadable book, The Collapse of Conventional Medicine, at his website.

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