My friend Kevin texted me the other day: "Did you see the PBS special on supplements last night?" I hadn't, so he proceeded to tell me all about it. I wasn't surprised. It seems like the media comes out with a hit piece on supplements at least once a year. But it seems like these attacks are increasing. And PBS is no longer above the fray.
Again, that's not really a surprise. If you watch PBS, you've probably noticed a lot of the "underwriters" for its programming are major drug companies, such as Pfizer and Merck. If you ever want to know why a particular news channel takes a side on an issue, follow the money. PBS is no different.
The headline for the PBS Frontline expose was "Supplements and Safety." I thought this was amusing right off the bat. When I finally watched the segment online, the commercial PBS had running before the video was for the cereal Fruit Loops. I wondered if they would ever do an expose on Fruit Loops. The label for which admits it's filled with sugar and processed junk. Somehow, I doubt we'll ever see that on PBS.
The video talked about an old story — that some supplements don't have the ingredients their labels say they do. CBS did a story like this last year, but had to retract it because their information was false. We saw another attack like this last year when the New York attorney general brought a suit against many supplement makers. The suit alleged that supplements didn't have nutrients they said they did. But when nutrients go through processing, it destroys their DNA. So the DNA tests they used can't find any DNA. However, the substance is still in the product — it just doesn't have any DNA. But PBS ran with the story anyway.
The story also questioned the safety of supplements since they aren't regulated by the FDA. Well, that's actually false. There are FDA regulations on supplements, just as there are regulations on all of our food. What's more, FDA regulations don't ensure safety. The drug industry is heavily regulated by the FDA – and drugs kill over 100,000 people every year. But the numbers are much, much worse. The study that estimated 100,000 deaths each year looked only at deaths from known side effects. They didn't want to look at any deaths that happened because the doctor made a mistake and prescribed the wrong drug. They also didn't want to include any deaths that happened because a pharmacist made a mistake in filling the prescription. And they didn't include accidental overdoses. In other words, this study looked only at drugs that were prescribed, filled, and taken correctly. And they killed thousands!
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How many people die from supplements every year? Most years, no one dies from supplements. Think about that! Over half of the population in the U.S. takes these pills and most of the time, there are zero deaths. When there are deaths, even one, we hear about it instantly. Most of the time these deaths come from abused weight loss pills, performance-enhancing pills (such as ephedra), or energy pills. PBS had to go back to the ephedra case 12 years ago to find enough deaths to attack.
That doesn't mean that all supplement companies are ethical. A small few are not. It doesn't mean there aren't problems with some supplements. There are. But, for the most part, supplements are incredibly safe.
PBS also talks about the supplement industry's "powerful lobby" in Washington. Yes, the supplement industry had no choice but to stand up for itself when the attacks started to push Congress into taking action against supplements. They developed a lobby arm, but in the movements of Congress, no one has had more sway than the people who take supplements. You and your family and friends have always had more impact on the laws regarding supplements than any lobby group. When Congress has tried to pass laws increasing regulations against supplements, the people who buy supplements have stopped them. Not the supplement lobby.
The Frontline video spent a lot of time addressing megadoses of supplements, questioning whether these high doses are really safe. This is valid, as we can take too much of anything. But their research was very limited. They didn't give any validation to studies that show how high doses are needed to overcome deficiencies and to fight disease. Their perspective was completely biased against high doses.
Kevin asked me a very good question: "How can consumers get unbiased information about supplements then." Frankly, once someone does the research, they are no longer unbiased. I've done the research, so I'm biased. But isn't that what research should do — help you draw a conclusion? When it comes to supplements, many consumers have done the research too. I get letters and emails all the time from very smart readers. They know the truth.
Ultimately, you have the final say on whether supplements work or not. You have the final say on whether they're safe or not. If they don't work and they're not safe, people won't buy them. Supplement companies don't have the benefit of having doctors tell people to take their product. Some doctors will suggest them, but few actually prescribe them. And they don't have insurance companies paying for their products. And yet, millions of people buy supplements every day. I've seen the benefits in my own life. I hear about the benefits from readers and social media all the time.
Supplements work. Supplements are safe. It's time the media started doing exposes on the real killers in this country — prescription drugs.
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