Monday, October 24, 2016

One More Time: Dietary Supplements (2)

This is another in my “one more time” series.  See also: One More Time Gluten-free, GMOs, Social Security, and Dietary Supplements – this is the second one-more-time for supplements.  But I can‘t drop some of these subjects because erroneous information I have pointed out before and supporting information for what I have already posted keeps coming up in the news and on ads, even some political ads.

These all fall into the same category – hype and bold promises.  The purpose of these news flashes and promotions is not to make you smarter, but to get you to buy, vote or keep tuning in.  They generally have no scruples about fooling you, as long as they can do it legally.  They rely on trigger words that often can get you acting without thinking or investigating the validity of their claims – in some cases, keeping you coasting along on planted beliefs instead of facts for a very long time. The government usually steps in with consumer protection programs for the blatant lies, but against the subtler forms of misinformation there is no protection except your own critical thinking.

My previous posts on supplements warned about several aspects of using them:  the fact that they are not tested in the same way as prescription drugs either for effectiveness or side effects;  that there is no guarantee of purity – because many come from big companies that have a reputation to preserve, they are probably better than drugs bought on the street corner, but some independent lab tests have found instances of foreign matter, ingredients not listed on the label and an absence of ingredients that are listed on the label; and the makers are not legally allowed to say they cure or improve any condition without solid experimental evidence.  Some claim to have such evidence, but it is not replicated by independent tests.  Most rely on endorsements from “satisfied customers,” celebrities or TV doctors.

A couple of recent news items brought up the issue again.  This headline, “Herbal and dietary supplements tied to liver damage”, got my attention.  Today, twenty percent of chemical-induced liver damage cases come from herbal and dietary supplements, double the number from 10 years ago.  If supplements are “overused, or used in combination with other supplements, or used for very prolonged periods or in combination with conventional medications, they may become harmful."  These problems arise because packages usually give no guidance and people don’t often tell their doctors what they are taking.  Although steroids are a bulk of the problem, other supplements can cause liver damage as well.

The study concludes with a couple of warnings. 
  • First, of course there is also a risk with prescription drugs; but when they are detected, the pills are pulled from the market.  As long as you are getting what you think you are getting and are careful about possible interactions, supplements are generally safe.  But “many supplements have no proven benefit, only a potential risk.”  
  • Second, they remind us, “There is no miracle in a bottle that will build muscle, detoxify your system, cure cancer, or cause rapid, long lasting weight loss. At best it is a waste of money. At worst you could die." 
On a related note, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning that homeopathic teething tablets and gels may pose a risk to infants and children.  They have been associated with “seizures, difficulty breathing, lethargy, excessive sleepiness, muscle weakness, skin flushing, constipation, difficulty urinating, or agitation” in babies.  Parents should stop using them and dispose of the products immediately.

The similarity between these stories is that homeopathic products are available without a prescription, are only tested after someone reports a problem, and in the case of the teething gel, the FDA “is not aware of any proven health benefit.”

All this is important information, available with very little research.  Unfortunately, Americans tend to skip the research, instead taking the word of relatives and friends or reacting to those trigger words based on fads and myths.  Lack of critical thinking in this and many other areas often leads to the outcome described above:  At best a waste of money, at worst you could get sick or die.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Click again on the title to add a comment