Bias Against Natural Products
By Neil E. Levin, CCN, DANLA via www.honestnutrition.com
Once again, a widely distributed article has savagely attacked the safety and efficacy of natural products; including vitamins, minerals, and herbs. That this article may be more commentary than journalism is immediately revealed by the author inexplicably linking energy medicine (with admitted health benefits for patients) with a concocted image of “shooing evil spirits”, even when performed by technicians in a top trauma hospital. The ignorance of journalists and medical experts is exposed when they claim that natural products are intended as cures and treatments. These products are actually prohibited by law from claiming this; allowed only documented claims to support healthy body structures and functions. Ironically, this is the same law – the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, DSHEA – that is falsely mischaracterized as “deregulation” of the industry. In fact, this law prohibits new ingredients without FDA pre-approval; empowers the agency to regulate manufacturing, advertising, and label claims; prohibits unsafe, adulterated, and mislabeled products; and even allows banning a product based on only theoretical risks. A recent companion law requires all serious adverse events be reported to the FDA; generating far fewer reports than expected.
The erroneous assumption that dietary supplements should be considered as potential treatments or cures has resulted in many negative reports. One problem is that some medical researchers, perhaps too used to drug studies using novel substances, sometimes base reports mainly on supplementation levels but fail to properly understand or explain other relevant variables such as dietary intake and relationships to other nutrients that affect body levels and functions of the targeted nutrient. The synergies of natural substances in the diet are complex and interactive, but many researchers design simplistic studies that generate incomplete or misleading data; often leading to dramatic conclusions that the pharmaceutical advertising-dependent press eats up. A press that fails to investigate and present all of the relevant facts and perspectives in a sensational negative report may be accused of laziness, if not bias. Rigorous studies refuting negative reports about the safety of vitamin E, beta-carotene, herbs, the use of supplements with cancer treatments, and drug-nutrient interactions have been noticeably absent from the same media that eagerly broadcasts reports attacking nature’s own nourishing substances. Sadly, there is no matching eagerness to set the record straight.
Let’s keep this in perspective. We have all seen drugs pulled from the market because of unforeseen safety issues, medical schools and authors of articles published in peer-reviewed journals accused of being on the take from pharmaceutical companies, contaminated drugs as well as hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of hospitalizations caused by pharmaceutical side effects each year. Foods cause hundreds of deaths and millions of illnesses annually. Compare this to dietary supplement safety, where proven deaths are extremely rare. Supplement users believe in the healing power of nature, at odds with the often unproven treatments of conventional medicine. The goal of Integrative Medicine is putting aside traditional institutional medical bias to allow science to dictate the comprehensive treatment of an individual patient, including quality of life issues. Many millions of Americans choose to use natural products in order to protect and improve their own health and vitality. Reasonable people will reject these sensational assaults on natural health (including dietary supplements), recognizing that conventional medicine sometimes fails without a little help from Mother Nature.