Efficacy & Ethics
It’s no secret that the pharmaceutical industry, in tandem with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has tried for decades to limit access to, discredit or outright ban nutritional supplements of every kind. The last big attempt was made in the 1990s with an aggressive push to put all nutritional and herbal supplements on a prescription basis. Can you imagine not being able to walk into a health food store and buy a bottle of vitamin C? It seems downright Orwellian, but it was very close to becoming reality.
Fortunately, over one million people flooded Congress with phone calls, and the scheme was shut down. In response, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) was passed in 1994. This new legislation protected consumer access to dietary supplements by classifying them as foods and not food additives or drugs, putting them far out of the regulatory reach of the FDA.
In the years since DSHEA, the FDA hasn’t given up but only taken a more subtle approach to banning supplements. One method has been to continually burden manufacturers with new requirements on quality and production. The goal is to heap so many rules on manufacturers over time that they eventually give up and there are no supplements for us to purchase.
This method tends to be too slow, so they often enlist “experts” to publish junk science “research” trying to convince consumers that supplements are either useless or dangerous. Fear is a powerful control mechanism, and if they can use it to convince people to stop taking their supplements, all the better for them. One attempt that got a lot of press was a study titled, Enough is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements.
The study said its goal was to examine the efficacy of vitamin and mineral supplements in preventing or slowing the progression of chronic disease. The first trial involved 400,000 people with no nutritional deficiencies and focused on heart disease and cancer. The second study looked at the effect a daily multivitamin had on the cognitive decline in 5,947 men aged 65 and older. The third study evaluated the benefit of a 28-component multivitamin on 1,708 men and women who’d had a previous myocardial infarction. With classic predictability, the researchers conclude in each study that:
“The message is simple. Most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death. Their use is not justified and they should be avoided. This is especially true for the general population with no clear evidence of micronutrient deficiencies, who represent most supplement users in the United States and other countries.”
The report goes on to cite other dubious claims calling antioxidants, B vitamins, and folic acid “harmful” and insisting that this conclusion is so definitive that “further long prevention trials are no longer justified.” Case closed.
If antioxidants are so harmful, why does the human body produce them? The nervous system would collapse without B vitamins and folic acid. If the darker motives behind these ludicrous claims weren’t so obvious, such statements would be laughable.
For additional humor, let’s take a closer look at these “research” studies that have more sound bites than science in them.
In all three trials, the only thing the participants did was take a multivitamin. I don’t know any physician who would tell a cancer or cardiac patient to, “take a multivitamin and call me in the morning” expecting the disease process to halt or cure itself. The primary purpose of vitamin and mineral supplements is to help prevent disease by supporting gaps in nutrient intake or poor digestion that would otherwise lead to nutritional deficiencies, which are a leading cause of illness. With their primary function being prevention, it seems illogical and naive to give someone who already has a major disease an over-the-counter multivitamin and expect any major improvement. To do so is to set supplements up for failure, but perhaps that was the point of the study. Some supplements such as vitamin C do have impressive healing power for certain conditions, but only when administered in mega-doses and by a physician.
As both a physician and a 24-year cancer survivor, I can tell you that there is no magic bullet for healing. Nutrition is an important part of the equation, but it also includes making serious lifestyle changes, eliminating stress, healing unresolved emotional issues, positive relationships, exercise, good sleep, and other factors.
Healing is a synergistic process and yet, the study gives no information about the lifestyle choices, diets, digestive capacity, stress levels or even comorbidities like diabetes of any of the 406,000 participants.
With a sample size so large, it’s virtually impossible to create an effective control group because scientists can’t realistically track every factor that goes into building good health. Instead, they applied the review process that’s used to evaluate drug therapy that only looks at one factor at a time, but health isn’t reductionist; it’s synergistic.
That’s why isolated vitamin therapy rarely works. One vitamin may require the presence of another for absorption into the cell or to activate it, and so on. Unfortunately, most physicians have no idea how nutrition heals or how nutrients work inside the body because they only get about eight hours of education on nutrition during an eight to ten-year education. I speak from experience. All my nutritional education is self-acquired. So even though 99% of practicing physicians have no idea how nutrition heals, that won’t stop some of them releasing research declaring supplementation with vitamin “x” is useless, especially if it will get them published.
Overfed & Undernourished
While nutritional supplements aren’t a magic bullet, they are an essential part of rebuilding or maintaining good health. The researchers of this study would have you believe that nutritional supplements are completely unnecessary for those who show “no clear evidence of micronutrient deficiencies. Unfortunately, they fail to define what “evidence” is. In my experience, the vast majority of the population is nutritionally deficient, largely because of denatured and processed food, and genetically modified organisms (GMO) that flood the American diet. Industrial mono-crops also strip the soil of essential nutrients, and if the nutrients aren’t in the soil, they’re not in the foods we eat. Nutritional supplements are essential to fill in the gaps of a food system that’s struggling to stay biologically viable. By the time someone is actually exhibiting a physical problem due to a nutritional deficiency, it’s been going on for a long time. So, the “evidence” of a micronutrient deficiency isn’t physical symptoms, but the proper diagnostic data before a physical problem even appears.
If there is any good news to glean from this misinformation, it’s contained in the report itself and is probably the only true and accurate statement. In spite of these corporately-funded, supplement-bashing studies and the media coverage that follows — nobody is listening.
The report itself states:
“In contrast, the sale of multivitamins and other supplements have not been affected by major studies with null results, and the U.S. supplement industry continues to grow, reaching $28 billion in annual sales…”
Even though Americans have been able to see through these misinformation attempts, the DSHEA remains under assault by agencies that want nothing more than to take over a $28 billion a year industry, leaving us with only drugs and few natural options. We need look no further than Europe to see how that’s happening.
Dark Days for Europe
In 2011, the European Union (EU) placed the most severe restrictions on access to nutritional supplements anywhere in the free world. Known as the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (THMPD), the legislation requires that all herbs be “licensed” before they can be sold. The licensing requirements are virtually impossible to meet and when they are, the price per license easily runs over $100,000 for a single herb. Imagine the cost to an Ayurveda or Traditional Chinese Medicine clinic that uses hundreds of different herbs and supplements. Many of them have gone out of business.
Through the THMPD, the EU government has placed itself in charge of determining “safe upper limits” for all vitamin and mineral supplements. The dosages of any active ingredient in supplements are determined by the government for “safety” reasons and whittled down to ineffective levels…and a prescription is required to obtain them. Can you imagine not being able to walk into a store and buy a bottle of vitamin D off the shelf or bilberry extract? What doesn’t require a prescription or carry a licensing fee has simply been banned. Many herbal supplements for which research studies did not exist to prove “safety or efficacy” were simply made illegal. Some of these include cat’s claw, pau d’arco, ashwagandha, skull cap, hawthorn, and more.
Protection & Pretense
The massive reduction in freedom Europeans now suffer in regard to losing access to vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements in effective dosages means Americans cannot be complacent thinking DSHEA provides total protection for us and that something similar couldn’t happen here. It almost did 20 years ago, and it won’t be the last attempt. If nutritional supplements and herbal remedies aren’t available at viable dosages, nothing will be left to choose from except drugs. “Studies” denigrating natural alternatives will continue to be publicized like the one mentioned here, trying to use propaganda where policy has failed, in an attempt to sway public opinion. Don’t be fooled. Remain educated and vigilant because this ongoing struggle is about health choices or money, and only one will win in the end.
For more health insights from Dr. Sadeghi, please visit beingclarity.com or check out his annual health and well-being journal, MegaZEN here. For daily messages of encouragement and humor, follow him on Instagram at @drhabibsadeghi.