Part 2 of “Media May Kill Vitamins” – Submitted as a guest editorial by Suzanne Jenkins, November 29, 2011
Over-the-counter dietary supplements are endangered as evidenced by ongoing attacks reported in the media. Currently Senator Dick Durbin and Congressman Henry Waxman are trying a new tactic to discredit dietary supplements after previous legislative failures by asking the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review adverse event report data for dietary supplements only, excluding the far more dangerous and numerous adverse event reports for drugs and vaccines. Since the media shapes public opinion, individuals and special interest groups that are hostile to dietary supplements will continue to use the media to discredit them and ultimately make them ineffective or unavailable to the public in the over-the-counter manner we enjoy now.
Two thirds of Americans take dietary supplements every day. A significant number of physicians take supplements and recommend at least a multi- vitamin/mineral combination to their patients. Most supplement takers are well educated and have studied how to use good nutrition and dietary supplements to stay well or improve their health. The skilled choose a healthy lifestyle including a good diet, exercise, stress-reduction and targeted dietary supplements as their first line of defense to maintain and regain health, looking to drugs and the rest of the conventional medical model only when necessary.
Many retiring baby boomers are especially interested in longevity medicine — living healthier and longer by nourishing their brains and bodies in well thought out plans using foods and supplements to prevent or postpone dementia, osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc. It is the do-it-yourselfers that bypass conventional medicine’s “standard of care” as much as possible that are a threat to drug companies and government control.
The not-so-well-informed are easily frightened by the attacks on supplements. Many people are unaware of the behind-the-scene shenanigans by politicians and their alphabet agencies such as the FDA — entities that are supposed to protect the public. Adding to the confusion is media failure to provide the public with balanced information. What we have is mainstream corporate journalism devoted to official positions that encourage public fear and corporate greed to dominate the health care landscape.
When one sees an assault on dietary supplements it comes from the conventional arm of medicine – the arm that has established itself as the “standard of care” and the only care that is reimbursed by insurance. Of course, education and discretion in the arena of dietary supplements is necessary. One wouldn’t go into a pharmacy and start taking every drug in sight. The same applies to dietary supplements. A good multi-vitamin/mineral preparation without iron (look for the GMP seal or its equivalent) is a good place to start while one is learning about the benefits and risks of more sophisticated applications.
When it comes to dietary supplements, a quick way for the public to determine which conflicting medical faction is vying for their allegiance is to look at the rhetoric and source of information. This is important because the media takes all of the health-related information it reports to the public from conventional sources, sources which officially promote that Americans get all of the nutrients they need from a good diet.
The ongoing attack on supplements boils down to money and control issues involving a multifaceted mix of players. In the U.S., the powerful pharmaceutical industry uses its money to influence policy. Politicians need money to fund campaigns for public office. News media, both printed and electronic, accepts advertising dollars from pharmaceutical interests, which makes it easier for media to look the other way instead of reporting on the influence of pharmaceutical dollars as a major source of problems in U.S. health care.
The scenario looks like this:
- Over-the-counter dietary supplements are the primary source of competition for the pharmaceutical industry.
- Americans spend $27 billion on dietary supplements; pharmaceutical interests want to re-route the money to their bottom line.
- In order for the federal government and the medical industry to control health care completely, over-the-counter supplements must be banned or reduced to an ineffective dosage.
- With Medicare spending projected to increase to $900 billion by 2018, the Feds are looking for ways to trim cost and dietary supplements are on the Feds’ radar screen as a cost-cutting measure, thus providing more incentive for pharmaceutical interests to gain control of supplements.
- DSHEA (Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994) presents a problem for conventional medicine. DSHEA gives Americans the right to purchase safe, over-the-counter supplements in useful dosages.
- The FDA is currently attempting to undermine and re-write DSHEA by re-defining the terms regulating dietary supplements in its new Draft Guidance. NDI (new dietary ingredients) is a side door which provides an indirect way to decimate the dietary supplement industry by increasing the cost to manufacturers in the name of providing a higher degree of “safety” for products appearing on the market after 1994, resulting in increased seizure of products and driving smaller companies out of business. The newer products which could disappear include supplements such as the Ubiquinol form of CoQ10, Resveratrol, Grape Seed Extract, Pycnogenol, Alpha Lipoic Acid, N-Acetyl-Cysteine, Green Tea Extract, etc. Details may be found in the FDA’s “Draft Guidance for Industry: Dietary Supplements: New Dietary Ingredients: Notifications and Related Issues.”
- On the international front, the U.S. signed the World Health Organization’s trade agreement, Codex Alimentarius, which may supersede the laws of the countries signing it. Countries not in compliance are considered holdouts and may not be allowed to trade. Codex has the potential to override our DSHEA if the FDA doesn’t undercut it first.
- When pharmaceutical interests control the supplement industry, conventional medicine will control health care options.
A take-over of dietary supplements by conventional medicine will destroy the self-care/wellness care industry, reduce the quality of life for many, and result in premature death for people who depend on supplements to survive. This is especially true where conventional treatments have failed but individuals have found a restorative combination of options beyond standard of care.
In the U.S., conventional medicine’s “standard of care” for health care is based on detecting disease, NOT on preventing it. Conventional doctors are trained to focus on symptoms, identifying and naming the disease, trying to match the drug to the name, and if drugs alone fail, then combinations of surgery, radiation, and drugs may be employed.
In conventional medicine, if there is no insurance code for a health issue, insurance will not pay. Insurance covers very little, other than prescription drugs, surgery and/or radiation, for a recognized health problem. Conventional medicine is a closed system wherein billions of pharmaceutical dollars influence doctors, osteopaths, pharmacists, hospitals, nurses, dietitians, nursing home facilities, insurance companies, research institutions, med school curriculum, physicians continuing education, Medicare, government regulatory agencies such as the FDA, professional associations such as the AMA, National Cancer Institute, American Heart Association, etc., and politicians who set up the system and allow it to operate in the current manner.
Dietitians also want part of the action. In the state of Texas, registered dietitians (RD’s) petitioned the courts to recognize RD’s as the only legal source for dispensing nutritional information. So far, RD’s have lost their bid for exclusivity but the turf war is also flourishing in the field of nutrition. Fortunately, dietitians are beginning to question the influence of junk food purveyors and the results of overuse and abuse of pharmaceuticals experienced by their clients. You will know dietitians are making progress when foods in hospitals, nursing homes, and public schools are nutritious, delicious, and build health rather than destroy it. Up until recently, dietitians told the public there is no such thing as a bad food, only bad diets.
Quackwatch, an American non-profit organization, has the stated aim of combating health-related frauds, myths, fads, fallacies, and misconduct, according to Wikipedia. Most alternative treatments, including commonly used dietary supplements, are considered quackery on this site. Google “CanLyme, Quackwatch Founder Loses Major Defamation Trial in Hometown” and “Quackwatch Review” by Dr. Ray Sahelian, M.D.
An entrenched medical model built around disease is more profitable for those in control of the system, but it only represents half the deck. Limiting options places a strangle-hold on treatment plans available to the patient, especially in a hospital setting where malnutrition and acquisition of hard-to-treat super bugs like MRSA and C-Diff are common.
Conventional medicine is at its best in acute illness or trauma but doesn’t work well in treating complex, chronic disease because its primary focus is not on understanding the drivers causing the disease and working with reframing how the biology works, using raw materials that build health and removing impediments to good health. However, there are doctors who are becoming more open to modalities outside conventional medicine’s “standard of care” but it may take many years for a discovery to be accepted into clinical practice. People who are seriously ill do not have many years to wait for their physician’s enlightenment or for the system to reinvent itself.
The best health care option is called functional medicine, a patient-centered, science-based health care approach that integrates the best of both traditional Western and alternative or integrative medical practices. Functional and conventional medicine use the same concept of science but the difference is in the details and the application. Functional medicine involves understanding the origins, prevention, and treatment of complex, chronic disease using the continuum concept. There is a continuum from optimal health to hidden imbalance to serious dysfunction to disease. Intervention and reversal of the process can occur anywhere along that continuum, but the sooner it is addressed, the better.
Functional medicine creates a focus on prevention through nutrition, diet, and exercise; use of the latest laboratory testing and other diagnostic techniques; and prescribed combinations of drugs and/or botanical medicines, supplements, therapeutic diets, detoxification programs, or stress-management techniques. In the case of inflammation, conventional medicine would suppress it and functional medicine would focus on finding out why inflammation is happening in the first place and change the trigger causing the problem. For example, if an individual has a problem with gluten, a gluten-free diet would be used.
Practitioners of functional medicine look “upstream” to consider the complex web of interactions in the patient’s history, physiology, and lifestyle that can lead to illness. The unique genetic makeup of each patient is considered, along with both internal and external factors.
Functional medicine is a whole-system medicine; a GPS system that connects the the patient to the whole story of medical science by looking for and addressing upstream causes of downstream disease processes before they become debilitating or life threatening. Combining everything that works increases the likelihood of optimal patient outcomes at a lower cost to the system and the individual.
No American wants to be without conventional medicine’s crisis intervention in acute, life threatening situations but it shouldn’t be the only choice for chronic health problems that are managed best by an integrative approach.
The media needs to question conventional medicine’s obsession with the risk of taking supplements rather than with the value supplements provide to the knowledgeable consumer. Today, 50,000 Americans have no insurance to pay for U.S. health care, which is the most expensive and fragmented health care in the world. People need access to diverse, not restricted, health care options.
High tech medicine is only about 100 years old. Compare that to other cultures which have thousands of years of historical controls involving the use of diet, plants, and herbs to ameliorate health problems. Conventional U.S. “standard of care” health care is not the repository of all wisdom. For the media to allow itself to be used in the scheme to eventually deny the public access to safe and affordable supplements is a blow to wellness care and freedom of choice.