It was disconcerting, to say the least, to read that Consumer Reports magazine, in its latest issue, labeled a dozen supplements as dangerous — especially because I have taken some of those supplements myself. USA Today agrees with my concern, and wrote about it in an editorial. Here are excerpts:
We Americans do love our dietary supplements,” says the watchdog publication Consumer Reports in its latest issue. And indeed we do: The craving for pills, potions and powders as a quick fix for myriad concerns about health and well-being has created a $27 billion industry. That’s roughly as much as the nation spends each year on shoes.
And, as Consumer Reports points out, while many users believe that sale of unsafe or ineffective supplements must be illegal, it is not. The public has little protection from useless, fraudulent, dangerous or even deadly products, thanks to special protection Congress gave the industry in 1994.
Want to ease your aches and pains? Lose weight? Improve your prowess on the athletic field or in the bedroom? The supplements industry has something for you, even if it has never been subjected to any credible scientific testing, even if tests that have been conducted show it to be useless, even if it has ingredients that might come from tainted sources or uninspected factories in China, even if it’s touted as “natural” but in fact includes undisclosed chemical ingredients, including some that have been banned by law because they are dangerous and others that could mix badly with other medications you’re taking.
The Consumer Reports analysis spotlights a list of 12 widely used supplement ingredients linked to serious health risks, including cardiovascular, liver and kidney problems
Little of this is new. Congress’ Government Accountability Office and studies ordered by congressional committees and various private organizations have shown repeatedly that ingesting supplements can be a game of chance. Though in some cases, a supplement could help, in others its only visible impact will be on your wallet, and in a few instances it might have dire consequences.
Spokesmen for the self-described “responsible” part of the industry claim that the limited powers given the Food and Drug Administration are adequate to protect the public. But the record says otherwise. It’s so hard for FDA to ban a product that only one such case has ever succeeded. That effort, involving ephedrine alkaloids, dragged on for years while weight-loss products that included ephedra were implicated in thousands of illnesses and some deaths.
Unfortunately, in the present anti-government climate, there’s little stomach in Congress for improving consumer protection. Thus Consumer Reports advises the public to be skeptical of claims made for supplements in ads, on TV and by pill-store sales staff. But people will always yearn for a magic elixer, which is why supplements, like drugs, shouldn’t be allowed on store shelves till they’ve been proven safe and effective.