The Real Truth About Vitamins

Another Hatchet Job from Consumer Reports

August 7, 2012

conrepTheir latest issue,“10 Surprising Dangers of Vitamins & Supplements,” is just more fear-mongering. Action Alert!

Consumer Reports (CR) claims to be a trustworthy, unbiased source of information. But where nutritional supplements are concerned, they either think that scare-mongering sells, or they have a deep bias, or both. The lead article in their September issue identifies ten supposed “hazards” of supplements—among them that “supplements are not risk-free.”

Does Consumer Reports think its readers are clueless? No consumer product is completely risk-free. It is possible to kill yourself by drinking too much water. But there is a great deal of safety data about supplements because so many of us take them. A recent study sponsored by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics found that 165 million Americans, or about 53 percent of the population, take some sort of nutritional supplement on a daily basis, and the safety record is remarkably good.

CR claims that supplements are unsafe—an assumption they base on the supplement Adverse Event Reporting System (AERS). In fact the AERS prove the exact opposite, showing the extremely low number of supplement AERs—especially when compared to AERs from drugs.

Consider an old drug that most people consider innocuous, like aspirin. Did you know that between 2004 and 2012, there were 87,600 adverse events submitted to the FDA for aspirin or products containing aspirin? Everything from gastrointestinal hemorrhages, neurological impairment, respiratory problems, cardiac arrhythmias, and even suicidal behaviors have been reported. The risk of internal bleeding has been particularly well documented.

Aspirin adverse events are just a tiny part of the drug toxicity problem. Between 2000 and 2010, the government received 3,720,946 adverse event reports for drugs and therapeutic biologic products.

CR says one can overdose on vitamins and supplements. Of course. Just as one can overdose on food, and especially on prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications, which are far more dangerous than food or supplements. Every year there are about 56,000 emergency room visits and 26,000 hospitalizations from acetaminophen (Tylenol) overdoses alone, with 458 deaths annually. Yet no national consumer magazine bothers to inform consumers of its dangers.

You may recall our coverage of Consumer Reports Health’s 2010 article on twelve “dangerous supplements.” At that time we discussed their shocking lack of impartiality and fairness. This new article is just “same old, same old,” but we wonder how many people understand their deep bias in this area.

CR starts from the position that any risk at all is too great, because when “healthy consumers use supplements, there’s rarely, if ever, a powerful life-saving effect.” Please note the weasel words: “powerful” and “life-saving.” Does this mean supplements have to stop a heart attack to be worthwhile? Besides, many thousands of integrative physicians strongly disagree, as do the consumers whose stomachs, brains, prostates, and other vital organs now work thanks to supplements.

The CR article says that no supplements have been proven to cure diseases. Since there are tens of thousands of university research articles demonstrating the usefulness of supplements for health, CR must be applying some other litmus test. What they presumably mean is that no supplement has been taken through the FDA approval process at an average cost of $1 billion, which would enable it to make disease claims.

As a general rule, supplement companies cannot afford this process because their products are natural and therefore cannot legally be patented. But contrary to what CR implies, a few have indeed been taken through the FDA process. A synthetic form of fish oil, for example, has been approved. Because it is FDA-approved, it can be used in Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans Administration programs. Not surprisingly, it also costs as much as ten times what natural high quality fish oils cost. Is this what CR wants—to have all supplements be synthetic and cost multiples more?

FDA approval turns a supplement into a drug. What happens if a supplement manufacturer says that their product cures disease without FDA approval? According to the law, making any such a claim would also immediately turn the supplement into a drug! So of course only drugs cure disease. That is how the word “drug” is legally defined.

On the other hand, if it’s true that supplements do not cure diseases, why is the pharmaceutical industry continually conducting clinical trails on natural ingredients like resveratrol, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and pyridoxamine?

Drug companies want to turn these supplements into drugs that will meet FDA’s “one-drug-cures-one-disease” standard. This is not good medicine, and it certainly isn’t the way supplements work. They often require co-factors (for example, calcium must be taken with vitamin K2 as well as vitamin D in order to get into the bones). Nor are they a one-size-fits-all proposition. By the way, neither are drugs. The fact that drugs tested on middle-aged people are given to children and old people is a scandal.

Proper dosage is also vital. Too low a dose may mean no effect at all, a major flaw in many studies. Just look at the US government’s Institute of Medicine’s recommendation for vitamin D dosage—it’s far too low, and completely ignores the available scientific research.

CR cherry-picks flawed and biased studies to support its theory that popular supplements such as calcium, omega-3s, and antioxidants do not prevent cancer and heart problems. The article is also littered with anecdotal, unscientific “evidence,” such as reporters going to an “Hispanic store” to pick “some herbs” or random samples of dietary supplements—without citing which nutritional supplements they were, how they were chosen, and how they were taken.

CR states that some supplements really contain prescription drugs. What they fail to point out is these products are already illegal and FDA has full authority to remove them from the market.

CR even features a whole section warning of the danger of choking when taking dietary supplements. Well, yes. People do choke on food and they do choke on prescription pills and over-the-counter medications. By the way, your risk of choking increases if you are taking drugs, especially if they affect your brain or your swallowing reflex or your saliva, which many do.

Action Alert! Please write to Consumer Reports immediately and address their inaccurate, biased, and unbalanced reporting. Give them the facts—and tell them that what you really need to be protected from are FDA-approved drugs and vaccines!

Take Action!

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