Buyer beware.

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There are many current fads and trends about foods, toxins, cleanses, supplements, and vitamins which are confusing at best. Additionally, some doctors are not as knowledge about these topics as might be helpful. That being said, supplements and vitamins can be very dangerous at times. Most popular nutritional gurus (even some physician tv personalities) routinely are not only mistaken but flat out deliberately sell unproven products. A simple way of checking for the validity of their claims, is to read the disclaimers. Hint, there are no disclaimers on FDA approved medications. Rather, there are lists of potential side-effects but the medications have demonstrated some efficacy in treating the subject medical condition. Such is NOT the case with supplements and vitamins. This is not to say that taking a daily multi-vitamin isn't helpful or even reasonable.

Another point of confusion is the use of USP certification. What that means is that the product has been manufactured properly and contains a reliable bio-available quantity and quality of the substance being sold - nothing more.

Anectdotal testimonials are no more scientifically reliable or believable than 100 year-old Aunt Sophie's statement that her longevity is a result of her having smoked a Tiparillo and drunk 3 fingers of Tennessee mash whiskey after dinner each night since she had her first child. By the way, beautiful actresses' or virile appearing actors' and athletes' opinions rate no better than Aunt Sophie's. It is important to remember that all (with the possible exception of Aunt Sophie) are being paid generously for their testimonials and allegations. The same might be said for commercials by large pharmaceuticals on public media. That practice should be stopped as well.

Snake oil sales has become increasingly sophisticated in our hi-tech world. The recent spread of advocacies for "cleanses" is based on myth and has NO SCIENTIFIC BASIS. There are no reliable before and after lab tests that demonstrate the presence and subsequent absence of "toxins" connected with proposed cleanses. Instead, people regularly hide behind "the wisdom and enlightened awareness" of indigenous people across the world stemming from millennia of experience - in other words, non Western Medicine. Need I remind you that thanks to modern Western medicine, our life expectancy has increased by many decades in the past 50 years?

This afternoon, National Public Radio aired an edition of "On The Media" that covered this topic. I encourage one and all to listen to a pod cast of the program.

I wish all a new year of health and peace.


"Rather, there are lists of potential side-effects but the medications have demonstrated some efficacy in treating the subject medical condition. Such is NOT the case with supplements and vitamins."

You're wrong. I've read studies addressing the efficacy of some nonmedical treatments, including herbs.

You are right that life expectancy has increased, but with what quality of life? That's not an automatic guarantee, and some quality of life becomes worse, much worse, as people age.

Becoming confused, incontinent, living in a world of hired caregivers in a facility, or at home completely dependent on family - that's not what I call quality of life.

Don't forget about the side effects of modern medicines, as well as the abuses.

The wisest physicians I know espouse a blend of both - Western medicine as well as natural supplements.
Part of the problem is that people wait until they are well advanced in dementia or disease when they reach for natural cures. They have spent years ignoring the primary MD who tried to get them to eat right, sleep right, get fresh air and plenty of exercise. I don't know how many times I saw mom lie to her physician and insist everything was just FINE.
Thanks for the comments. I encourage you to carefully review the citations at the bottom of the "studies" which you have referred. It is appalling how confusing and unscientific the bases of the studies usually are. Frequently, they refer secondarily to established medical journals while the product itself was not described in a professional scientific journal.
The quality of life is much improved vs even 50 years ago. Everything has potential side effects including vitamins and supplements. Be careful.
As to side effects, so do meds, especially statins and cox -2 inhibitors, Fosamax

I'm curious why you're so opposed to vitamins and supplements?

And I do review citations; I didn't just fall off the latest turnip truck. One doesn't need a medical degree to discern scholarly articles from propaganda.

I would also suggest that the commercials run by pharmaceuticals are grossly misleading, featuring lovely smiling beauties and handsome men frolicking in the surf, walking hand in hand on the if taking medicines leads to those kinds of lives. That kind of deception is insulting to anyone considering using medication.
I understand what DoctorJC is talking about. A lot of times people take vitamins or minerals without knowing if they need them. If they have the normal level of something alreay, they can end up with too much. If a vitamin is fat-soluble, it can build up in the body to harmful levels. Bad thing about the body is that too much of a good thing is toxic. This even includes water. If it is a mineral, it is something else that has to be excreted and may interfere with the normal ion exchange to rid the body of the excess. Very high amounts of some minerals can be very toxic -- for example, K+. I wouldn't want to dose myself on minerals if I didn't think I needed them.

Some people are sold on homeopathy. There is absolutely no scientific evidence for homeopathy. The concept here is that some substance is diluted and diluted until there are very few molecules left in a drop of the substance. Might as well take a drop of water and save yourself some money. Any effect would be a placebo effect. Still, people spend millions, probably billions on homeopathic remedies and will swear that they work.

I do think that drinking the right amount of water each day has amazing properties. And I see no harm in taking a one-a-day vitamin supplement with minerals. But taking the megadoses of vitamins or minerals needs a reason, IMO.

I do think it is okay to experiment safely with healing herbs, e.g. echinacea, St. John's wort (careful here), garlic, and others. Many plants have been shown scientifically to have good biological properties. And fish oils can be good if you can find the kind that won't make you burp fish all day. (Same with garlic)

I really hate the advertising of serious drugs that have become so common on TV. The advertising makes the drug cost much money, only part which is covered by insurance. The consumer ends up paying for the air time and actors, instead of just the drug. Besides, I wonder how many consumers would know if the drug was right for them, and if they should push their doctor to prescribe it.
Dr. Jessie Belle, what YOU wrote actually makes good sense. Although I don't necessarily agree with your opinion on homeopathy, I think you present a well balanced and well reasoned position, not just a blanket "buyer beware" attitude.

I considered how people chewing willow bark for pain led us to the discovery of aspirin. Maybe we could chew willow to prevent blood clots. I wonder how that would compare to Pradaxa and if it would cause stomach bleeds. :-O There are a lot of good things out there, but we have to sort through the hype to know if there is some benefit to us. Wouldn't it be great if we could find enough medicinal herbs about that we wouldn't have to deal with the pharmaceuticals? It would be more fun, too... until someone figured out that they needed to be branded controlled substances.
Dear Garden Artist,
Luckily, we live in a land of abundance and good food is widely available. Hence, anyone who eats a reasonable diet will be relatively well-balanced in terms of vitamins, minerals, etc. As I mentioned before, a daily multi-vitamin is reasonable just in case of a problem. In cases of severe deficiencies, as with vitamin D, there are prescriptive treatments available.

I have already expressed my agreement that pharmaceutical ads should be stopped. An advertisement never convinced me to prescribe a medication unless I had already done my own research. Most physicians do the same.

My only interest in writing this post was to be helpful, I hate to see people sold a bill of goods. The supplement, vitamin, and food fad industries cost innocent people BILLIONS of dollars in this country. Everyone would be healthier if they simply got up and moved, ate reasonably, and got enough rest. Doing so is more difficult than it sounds for many. Too many folks think that a pill is a short cut to good health. Needless to say, it isn't.

For those who are put off by the Buyer Beware title of this post, allow me to alter it to Buyer Be Aware of Medical Science. A reliable source of information on the status of drugs, treatments, etc is There you will have access to the latest scientifically based news.

As scientists we do our best to "get it right." Sometimes we don't but we keep getting closer and closer by sticking to the scientific method and subjecting our data to the scrutiny of other researchers.

Keep the conversation going (or start a new one)

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