Editorial: ethics of nutrition and supplement sales


Time to change the supplement rules and enforcement


I am sure you remember the snake oil salesmen from the old westerns.  In a not too distant past, salespeople would go city to city and door to door to sell their wares, and these elixirs and tonics rarely worked, and many contained addictive ingredients such as opiates or cocaine and a large quantity of alcohol.  There is no doubt why these products made people feel better because the secret ingredients induced euphoria.  They did more harm than good, and there was no evidence to support the outlandish claims that the salesmen made.  

In the early 1900s, The Pure Food and Drug Act shut down the sales of these swindlers.  The problem today is the crooks are back at it, and they have the full support of many of our lawmakers.  In fact, they are quite a lobby to advocate against laws limiting their claims or sales.  The vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar business.  They push their products with unrealistic claims in many of the health-related magazines.  The problem is that these products have questionable claims and unproven safety records and are a direct threat to an unsuspecting public that is looking for help with their health concerns.  

Supplements are sold in just about any store you see now.  You cannot escape them in your local drug, department, or grocery store.  You will find their outlandish claims just about everywhere you look.  Manufacturers and their executives claim that their lobbying is promoting your freedom to purchase their products. The fact is that they are actually exploiting your health concerns to sell more of their products.  Their real interest is making a profit, and they have little interest in improving your health.  They are lobbying our congressmen and women to fight off government oversight.  Their biggest fear is that the government regulators will limit their sales or outlandish claims.  

Behaviors like those made by supplement companies border on misconduct, malfeasance, and fraud.  The problem is that many of our government officials seem to support the scam.  Very few of the supplements have been proven to work.  In fact,  

Consumer Reports recently reported that about a third of the supplements in the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database have scientific evidence to support safety and effectiveness.  They also reported significant safety and quality concerns with manyω of their products.   There is absolutely no review process to ensure what you are paying for is actually in the product you bought.  

One representative, Orin Hatch is well known for supporting the industry.  This is not surprising since his home state is the home of many supplement companies.  In the 1990s, he and his colleagues passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act through Congress.  This law allowed supplement manufacturers to test their products voluntarily and blocked the FDA from regulating them unless there was evidence of harm.  I have an issue with this because they should the taxpayers be the testbeds for their dangerous products. 

The bottom line: Supplements consumption is dangerous and the modern-day version of snake oil.  It is completely unethical to sell something you know does not work.  It should be regulated, and harm should not be the requirement for regulation.  If you must partake, choose your product wisely and use examine.com or info.therapeuticresearch.com to research the ingredients before you take them. 

Recommended Supplement Reference Book:

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About the Author

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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