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Dietary Supplement Snake Oil

Supplement industry representative attempts to rebut a mea culpa editorial in an alternative medicine journal decrying the predatory nature of dietary supplement marketing.

June 6, 2012 |
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Acknowledgements

Images thanks to Jeremy Weate

Transcript

An editorial was recently published decrying much of the $18 billion marketing of dietary supplements in north America as misleading, deceptive—even predatory. After examining hundreds of sales claims made when supplements are being marketed over the years the author concluded “ Dishonesty or wild exaggerations are frequent occurrences in the marketing of supplements.”
My favorite quote was “The marketers of supplements like to use scientific evidence the way a drunk uses a lamp-post: more for support than illumination.”
This is nothing new. Similar editorials have been published in the journal of the AMA and the New England Journal of Medicine. What made this special was that is was, to their credit, published in the journal of alternative and complementary medicine.
 In response the “Head of Global Supplement Initiatives at Novis, which actually started out as the livestock feed additives division of Monsanto before branching off into human feed additives—dietary supplements, starts his rebuttal with this counterpoint: “In his review entitled ‘‘The Marketing of Dietary Supplements in North America: The Emperor is (Almost) Naked,’’ the author may be mortified to know the emperor is still dancing in the street, dressed or not, to the tune of $68 billion. This figure is much higher and is a more relevant number than cited, indicating a very strong and respectable commerce.” That’s his first argument? That it’s highly lucrative?
He goes onto say that hey, they’re safer than some pharmaceuticals, but how much is that saying, given that prescription drugs kill an estimated 106,000 Americans every year. And that’s not errors, not abuse, not overdose that’s just deaths from side-effects, ADRs, adverse drug reactions, which would make doctors—me and my fellow colleagues—the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. So for the supplement industry to say, "hey, at least we're not the fourth leading cause of death," isn't saying much.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Serena

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

The best way to avoid adverse drug reactions is to stay healthy enough to avoid drugs altogether. See Ornish's editorial Convergence of Evidence and Say No to Drugs by Saying Yes to More Plants. There are also a number of natural remedies that may work as well but have fewer side-effects such as Saffron for Alzheimer's, Flax Seeds for Prostate Enlargement, and Amla for Diabetes. Plants are powerful--check out Power Plants and videos on all the other 1,000+ topics!

For more context, check out my associated blog posts: Health Food Store Advice: Often Worthless or Worst Plant-Based Workplace InterventionThe Science of Acai Berries, and  Probiotics and Diarrhea

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    The best way to avoid adverse drug reactions is to stay healthy enough to avoid drugs altogether. See Ornish’s editorial Convergence of Evidence and Say No to Drugs by Saying Yes to More Plants. There are also a number of natural remedies that may work as well but have fewer side-effects such as Saffron for Alzheimer’s, Flax Seeds for Prostate Enlargement, and Amla for Diabetes. Plants are powerful–check out Power Plants and videos on all the other 1,000+ topics!

    • HemoDynamic, M.D.

      Wow!  It’s always amazing to me how financial interests corrupt and supersede good, solid scientific evidence.
      Everyday I get someone in the office asking if they should take some supplement they saw advertized online or in a magazine.  It’s abhorent what the industry has become.
      And recently I have been getting more and more people coming in taking all kinds of porcine and bovine glandular supplements.  I worry that like other animal proteins these will get into the blood and cause an immune response eventually leading to an autoimmune disease.  I even have a problem with Armour thyroid for the same reason.  Not to mention from where they get the pig parts.  I would love to see a review on that issue.

  • Stefan Juhl M.D.

    Bottom line: Ask your vegan/plant strong doctor.

    Next bottom line: Prevent disease (eat plants, avoid animals – except if your want a pet).

    Next, next bottom line: A better term for “health care system” is “disease care system”.

    • HemoDynamic, M.D.

      Correct on all 3 counts Dr. Juhl !!!

      Bottom’s Up!

      • Stefan Juhl M.D.

        Thanks Dr Dynamic !

        And keep up your good work with plantstrong advice to your patients.

        I will now go eat my carrot ! :-)

    • WholeFoodChomper

      If only it were easier to find reputable plant-strong doctors (covered by health insurance). 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=670735069 Tan Truong

    Wow, three doctors on the same page, promoting a plant-based diet. Today, the sun shines at night.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=580124234 Elizabeth Nedic Hawkes

    Are E cigarettes safe?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=580124234 Elizabeth Nedic Hawkes

    Is Raw Protein (sprouted brown rice protein) safe?

  • PeacefulVegan

    I would say that supplements have the same dubiety as many pharmaceuticals and personally, I would rather take something my herbalist has recommended than something that is made, funded and marketed by billion dollar corporations that have a very poor track record. I worked at a health food store and witnessed many people have wonderful recoveries or an improvement in their health from utilizing alternative plant-based medicines. Of course, there was a lot of poor marketing and false claims, but I still wouldn’t discount all supplements as they can have a place in our well being.

  • http://www.facebook.com/couliseaux Brian Sigler

    Could you be more specific about the hypertensive supplements? Which ones are good? I take hawthorn and fish peptides.

  • Tobias Brown

    Is Dr Greger pulling his recommendation to take algae-based omega-3? I’m confused.