Dietary Supplement Snake Oil

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

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An editorial was recently published decrying much of the multibillion dollar 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 American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine. What made this special was that it was, to their credit, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. It’s like their own journal admitting it!

In response, the Head of Global Supplement Initiatives at Novus, 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 on to 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.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Jeremy Weate / flickr

An editorial was recently published decrying much of the multibillion dollar 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 American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine. What made this special was that it was, to their credit, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. It’s like their own journal admitting it!

In response, the Head of Global Supplement Initiatives at Novus, 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 on to 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.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Jeremy Weate / flickr

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 the Treatment of Alzheimer’sJust the Flax, Ma’am; and Amla Versus Diabetes. Plants are powerful; check out Power Plants!

For further context, check out my associated blog posts: Health Food Store Advice: Often Worthless or WorstPlant-Based Workplace InterventionThe Science on Açaí Berries; and Probiotics and Diarrhea.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

19 responses to “Dietary Supplement Snake Oil

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  1. 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!




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    1. 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.




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  2. 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”.




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      1. Thanks Dr Dynamic !

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

        I will now go eat my carrot ! :-)




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  3. 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.




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  4. Nutritionfacts.org, and Dr. Greger:

    There is popular a dietary supplement being promoted heavily over Facebook called Le-Vel Thrive. I have high concern and skepticism about Le-Vel Thrive. Being a dietary supplement – it is not regulated by any agency such as the FDA – to my knowledge. To my knowledge – there are no scientific reports or studies about its safety and efficacy. Just hundreds (maybe thousands) of personal testimonies. Most (if not all) of the testimonies are provided by people whom are also promoting it – thus making money from it. Users claim that they get a pleasant instant buzz from it – probably due to the synephrine, guarana, green coffee beans, phenethelymine, etc. in its ingredients.

    There are a number of Nutritional Supplements that fly across our personal radar and promise magical effects daily. They pretend to be “magic bullets” that if taken will immediately improve our health. Unfortunately little if anything is known about short term and long term health effects.

    I was wondering if you might be able to conduct some research about this dietary supplement. I have been contacting medical experts and professionals to gather information and impressions.

    Any feedback you might share with me would be appreciated.

    Best
    Wishes,

    Fred L. Peterson




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  5. Well I’ve been offered a free package of “supplements” from the supplement people. I bought some B12 from them. Now they want me to get another supp, on the house. What? I just looked and they don’t have amla, so I don’t think they have anything else to offer me. They have everything else-it’s crazy what all they do have (powdered green coffee beans?!).

    If the B12 wasn’t a 300-year supply, I’d get another package of that. Am I overlooking something? Or am I right in thinking that WFPB eaters in good apparent health only need to supplement with B12.




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  6. oh. wow. what is that for? I take the [url=http://www.best-dietary-supplements.com/]supplement[/url] every week. and it is amazing to see those oils in the container. I guess the oil is more powerful than some medicine.




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  7. I have had high cholesterol for a number of years but recently was told my brain scan showed my frontal lobe wasn’t getting enough blood flow and was told to take a Staten I have not taken it but do take (Red Yeast Rice) (Magnesium) (Niacin) and Maga Red how can I get this in high doses in food I am on a fixed income and the source that I have for food is going down to $16 a month PLEASE HELP




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    1. Hi, Barbara! I am Christine, a NF Volunteer Moderator. Are you saying you will only have $16 per month to spend on food? If so, I think that just one of those supplements could take your entire budget. Oatmeal is inexpensive, especially if you buy the least processed kind, not the instant kind, and it can help to lower cholesterol through dietary fiber that binds with cholesterol in the intestines and carries it out of the body. If you can stir in a tablespoon or two of ground flax seeds, that is even better. Circulation may be improved by eating high-nitrate vegetables such as beets and chard, and fruits high in vitamin C, such as citrus. Definitely avoid oils and fats, except for small amounts of preferably raw, unsalted nuts and seeds.You may want to see this video: http://nutritionfacts.org/video/cholesterol-and-alzheimers-disease/ I hope that helps!




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  8. Are the hair, skin, and nails supplements currently “hot” on the market a waste? They contain a large amount of Biotin which my research indicates has questionable benefits. Do you agree? Would taking Biotin help my finger nails which have become more brittle and have ridges as I have aged (71 now).




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  9. Cheryl,

    Lets start with a quick regarding your ridges on your nails….. This should be a starting point of potentially indicating that your having some issues with digestion or other factors. I know that’s vague however it depends on the ridges and other considerations. For example take a look at this sites pictures: http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/ss/slideshow-nails-and-health. This is a far from comprehensive picture list, but a good start.

    I have clinically seen biotin and silica supplements make a difference on some patients nails and hair. You might consider having your physician check your nutrient health via either the Spectracell or Genova diagnostic tests and get a better read on your nutrient levels.

    Another consideration, having you take some digestive enzymes with each meal and after a period of a month or so check for the differences. I suggest using a camera from your phone to do pre and post pics for comparison. I’m making an assumption that you’re supplementing with b-12. You might find these articles on age and hypochlorhydria of interest…. http://www.eatnakednow.com/13-signs-you-have-hypochlorhydria/ and the book by Dr. Wright “Why Stomach Acid is Good for You” as they could be the underlying cause of the nail issues.

    Dr. Alan Kadish moderator for Dr. Greger




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