Just like with pharmaceutical drugs, supplements are a multibillion dollar industry, growing exponentially every decade, since the 1980s. The business has gotten so big that most of the commercial supplements are now produced by big pharma. One of the problems though is that while pharmaceutical drugs are regulated by the FDA, since the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, or DSHEA, in 1994, there has been very little regulation of the supplement industry.
“Increasingly, Big Pharma and Big Nutrition are indistinguishable,” claims Lynn Stuart Parramore ( writer for Salon online magazine). “The very same mega-companies with gigantic chemical labs that make drugs are cooking up vitamin and herbal supplements labeled with sunny terms like ‘natural’ and ‘wholesome.’ Pfizer, Unilever, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline and other big pharmaceutical firms make or sell supplements.” While she does acknowledge there are a few small companies still in the mix, Parramore says they represent a tiny amount of the total sales in the $23 billion-a-year supplement business. Many of these pharma companies have made the foray into supplements because it plays to their strengths while being far, far cheaper than drug development.
So how safe are supplements?
In February of 2015, the attorney general of the State of New York investigated and found that top brands of herbal supplements at GNC, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart were fraudulently labelled: the FDA found many pills that did not contain the main active ingredients they claimed on the label. How did this happen? The short answer is that no one checked; and many people were successfully scammed. The unfortunate fact is that supplements (vitamins, minerals, protein powders and herbal extracts) lack the regulation that is provided to both food and medicine.
Before 1994 there were more standards that the supplement companies had to meet. However, the Industry´s lobbying and advertising was very successful. People petitioned the Congress and the industry lobbied until the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, or DSHEA, was passed. This act prevents the FDA from regulating supplements or their labels. It actually weakened previous regulatory ability and now the FDA can’t act unless they can show a supplement is unsafe; and the burden of proof is on the FDA!
So, if you’re thinking about or currently using a dietary supplement, here are some points to keep in mind.
Be aware that an herbal supplement may contain dozens of compounds and that all of its ingredients may not be known. Researchers are studying many of these products in an effort to identify what ingredients may be active and understand their effects in the body. Also consider the possibility that what’s on the label may not be what’s in the bottle. Analyses of dietary supplements sometimes find differences between labeled and actual ingredients.
• An herbal supplement may not contain the correct plant species.
• The amounts of the ingredients may be lower or higher than the label states. That means you may be taking less—or more—of the dietary supplement than you realize.
• The dietary supplement may be contaminated with other herbs, pesticides, or metals, or even adulterated with unlabeled, illegal ingredients such as prescription drugs.
One of the reasons why we take vitamins and minerals is because we believe that foods of today are not as nutrient rich as they were decades ago and that the poor condition of soil these days means that what we eat today is drained of nutrients from years of over farming. Along comes the supplement company to convince us that “no problem”…my supplement will provide you with the missing nutrients.
Is that true?
According to Dr. John McDougall, it´s not.
In his acclaimed book, The Starch Solution, he states that “Plants synthesize vitamins; they are not in the soil. If a plant is going to bear roots, seeds, flowers and/or fruits fit for sale in your market, then it´s going to have to produce all of the organic chemicals that is necessary for it´s own survival. We call the plant-derived organic chemicals vital for human nutrition vitamins.” And with regards to mineral deficiency, he goes on to say, “Your risk of suffering from mineral deficiency caused by deleted soil is so incredibly small that a single case would make national headlines. That´s because you eat foods grown in a wide variety of soil: corn grown in Nebraska, grapes from Chile, bananas from Panama, and so forth. People take supplements to protect against unfounded fears of developing deficiencies, and false hopes of preventing and curing illnesses that those deficiencies have never been known to cause (for example, heart disease and cancer).”
To sum up I highly recommend the following short video from Dr. Michael Greger: SHOULD WE TAKE A MULTIVITAMIN?