Monday, January 10, 2011

Setting the Record Straight About Dietary Supplements

By James J. Gormley

Pick up any newspaper, snap on the radio, glance at the TV --- and you’re sure to be hit by the latest “news” about dietary supplements: how they don’t work, how they’re all tainted with contaminants and laced with pharmaceuticals; and how their manufacturers are out to get us!

The truth, however, is far more reassuring than the headlines make out. google ds search Go ahead, Google “dietary supplements” with the name of any of the big networks or newspapers, anything from ABC News to the Chicago Sun-Times or CNN, you name it.

I did: and in top search listings for seven of the country’s leading newspapers and five of its major networks, nearly 70% of the coverage is skeptical and cautionary about dietary supplements.

In fact, if we were to believe mainstream media, not since 1866, in Liberty, Missouri, when the James-Younger Gang’s Wild West rampage of robberies and mayhem began, did we see such a lawless frontier as we supposedly have today in the dietary supplement marketplace.

We know, though, that the Wild West ended in 1890 and that over-the-counter drugs (not supplements) are actually the successors of the Traveling Medicine Show patent medicine tradition.

Real Dangers, Supplements Benefits Overlooked
In fact, our self-appointed guardians of public health (whether wielding Senatorial powers or using a journalist’s pen) almost always forget to discuss those tablets and capsules that are profoundly dangerous and largely toxic: prescription drugs. Each year, prescription drugs injure approximately 2.2 million and kill at least 100,000 Americans.

With about 33,000 dietary supplements on the U.S. market, it’s no surprise that with today’s nutritionally bankrupt diet there were 192 million Americans using supplements, a number that is expected to keep growing.

According to the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), “These products are intended to be used as supplements to, not substitutes for, a well-balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.” In addition to wanting to provide a basic nutritional “insurance policy” offered by a multivitamin, people take nutritional supplements for a variety of health-promoting reasons.

In a survey conducted by Yankelovich Partners and commissioned by the Natural Products Association, seven out of 10 Americans take supplements because they make them feel better.

So, if supplements are so popular, and good for us, why, we ask, are they getting such a bum rap? Good question.

Feeding the undeservedly bad reputation is a confluence of several factors, including: historically poor government enforcement against a small number of fringe operators; general misunderstanding of how well-regulated the dietary supplement industry actually is; and media feeding frenzies related to high-profile cases that have little, or nothing, to do with the dietary supplement industry, aside from actually showing the regulations effectively working.
Facing Facts
Whenever I hear the term, I invariably think of Warner Oland, in those 1930s-era Charlie Chan movies saying, “You must face facts.”

Sometimes I wish we could bring Oland back (minus the political incorrectness) so Chan could face the bad guys — or in this case the purveyors of untruth — with all of the bald-faced facts that our panel touched on.

But that can’t happen, so it’s up to all of us to be myth-busters on a daily, or weekly or monthly basis — so that one day our guardians of public health will have no choice but to acknowledge what we already know: the power and promise of safe dietary supplements that are produced by a responsible, well-regulated dietary supplement industry: in other words, the facts.

It’s time that conventional researchers begin to design studies that build on vitamin research of the last 50 years rather than attempt to poke holes in what we already all know: vitamins promote health, reduce disease and help people live longer … and better.

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