Harvard's Dr. Pieter Cohen isn't any fan of supplements. He's been labeled a critic. Others have said he's an enemy of the industry. While it's true he's leveled some very vocal criticisms in the past, he's now voicing a different criticism. This time, he's taking aim at the test results from the New York attorney general's office.
I told you the story on Saturday — and you've probably heard about it on the news. The state's attorney general used the wrong test when he declared some herbal supplements don't contain any herbs. The test he used was a DNA test. And Dr. Cohen said, "I think that this does not ring true. It's way, way out there. If you'd said 10% of the products couldn't be identified, then I'd have believed that, but 80%? That's unbelievable."
It's completely unbelievable. Remember, many of the supplements the attorney general had tested were extracts, where the DNA is often removed. So of course the DNA test wouldn't find any DNA. The New York Times said, "Dr. Cohen at Harvard said that the attorney general's test results were so extreme that he found them hard to accept. He said it was possible that the tests had failed to detect some plants even when they were present because the manufacturing process had destroyed their DNA." He wasn't sure about the test, but he's smart enough to figure it out.
In an interview with NutraIngredients-USA, Dr. Cohen said, "I believe there are dangerous supplements out there, and I don't think the FDA is doing its job to eliminate these from the market. So I think Attorneys General have an important role to play. But jumping in like this and basing an intervention on data that hasn't been confirmed is likely to backfire and could scare off the other AG offices from moving on cases. This is a big mistake [by the NY AG]."
A big mistake is putting it mildly. I said on Saturday, "What the New York attorney general's office has done is nothing more than a PR stunt and a complete abuse of power. This bogus 'evidence' would never stand up in court."
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But this situation has gotten even worse. The media, in an attempt to trump up the charges against supplements, have given false reports about the safety of supplements. The New York Times said, "In 2013, for example, an outbreak of hepatitis that struck at least 72 people in 16 states was traced to a tainted supplement. Three people required liver transplants, and one woman died." That's not accurate. The people he's referring to were afflicted because of mistakes from a compounding pharmacy. These are not standardized supplements you buy at the store or online. These are specifically mixed ingredients from a pharmacy. They are quite different from regular supplements.
So don't let the media or the NY attorney general fool you into thinking supplements are dangerous. Consider this: According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers' National Poison Data System (NPDS) there were zero deaths in 2008 from any vitamins, minerals, herbs, or amino acids. In 2009, one person died from an "unknown supplement." That means it was a supplement the poison center had never encountered – and you never will either.
These numbers are truly remarkable given that over half of the people in the U.S. take nutritional supplements every day. If each of these people took only one tablet daily, that's over 154,000,000 individual doses every day and over 56 billion doses every year. And most people take far more than one tablet each day. I know I do. Supplements are incredibly safe. Their safety is proven. In fact, according to these statistics, you are far more likely to die from a lightning strike (1-in-83,930) than a supplement (<1-in-112,000,000,000). In 2008, 27 people died from lightning.
I'm glad someone as conventional as Dr. Cohen can see the falsehood in this attorney general's report. And calling the attorneys general in this country to do their job is a good move. But Dr. Cohen needs to realize that if they really did their job, most drug companies would be out of business. That's because conservative statistics say that over 106,000 people die from normal use of prescription drugs every year. Those numbers do not include overdoses or inappropriate use of prescription drugs. And yet they escape without even a glance from any AG. I know supplement companies would be shut down if they caused a tiny fraction of those deaths. In fact, the NY attorney general is trying to shut them down because he doesn't know what a viable test is. He would never do that to a drug company.
It's time the media reported the truth about this attorney general. They need to find out what his agenda is and when he made such a huge "mistake." But we likely won't see it.
Your insider for better health,
Steve Kroening is the editor of Nutrient Insider, a twice-a-week email newsletter that brings you the latest healing breakthroughs from the world of nutrition and dietary supplements. For over 20 years, Steve has worked hand-in-hand with some of the nation's top doctors, including Drs. Robert Rowen, Frank Shallenberger, Nan Fuchs, William Campbell Douglass, and best-selling author James Balch. Steve is the author of the book Practical Guide to Home Remedies. As a health journalist, Steve's articles have appeared in countless magazines, blogs, and websites.