Contaminated supplements – spiked with potentially dangerous ingredients

contaminated supplements

The supplement industry is huge and unregulated. Americans spend more than $30 billion annually on them, yet contaminated supplements are part of the industry’s method to make their mostly useless products appear to have some clinical effect.

There is growing evidence that these contaminated supplements contain unlabeled ingredients that are found in regulated pharmaceuticals – all without telling the consumer about them. Or testing them. Or listing warnings for their use.

As I’ve written many times, supplements are basically worthless, unless you have specific chronic medical conditions or suffer from chronic malnutrition that prevents you from receiving enough micronutrients, like vitamins and minerals. In addition, those on highly restrictive diets, like vegans or those who have had weight-loss surgery, may require supplementation, although both could be considered “chronic medical conditions.”

For example, in modern prenatal care, the pregnant mother is urged to take folic acid supplements to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in the developing fetus. But after the pregnancy is over, folic acid is no longer needed – in fact, continued use of folic acid may actually increase the risk of some forms of cancer, in individuals who have no medical need for the supplement.

Because a lot of people favor confirmation bias as their go-to argument, I constantly hear, “hey Skeptical Raptor, vitamin C prevents scurvy, ergo all supplements are the greatest thing we can consume.” Scurvy is fairly rare these days in developed countries, but it can happen especially to smokers since cigarette smoke inhibits uptake of vitamin C (and another reason not to smoke).

So unless your diet only includes steak, ice cream, and junk food, an average American or European will get more than adequate amounts of vitamin C from their diet. Anyone deficient in vitamin C could be considered to be malnourished, and, of course, they will benefit from a vitamin C supplement. But vitamin C does not prevent colds, flu, or cancer. It is not a miracle vitamin, despite the oft-debunked claims of the pseudoscience-based supplement proponents.

Despite the utter lack of or weak evidence of the usefulness of supplements, unsurprisingly, over half of all Americans take dietary supplements. I guess chronic malnutrition and medical conditions afflict over half of Americans. The facts are that human needs for nutrients, like vitamins, are more than adequately met by a broad, healthy diet that includes a lot of fruits and vegetables.

But there’s more bad news, and it’s more than just overpriced, mostly useless products. It’s that contaminated supplements are widespread in this industry.  Continue reading “Contaminated supplements – spiked with potentially dangerous ingredients”

Supplements for cardiovascular diseases – more evidence that they don’t work

supplements for cardiovascular diseases

I have been skeptical of supplements for a long time – not because I have some predisposition against them. My skepticism results from the relative lack of any robust evidence that supplements have any positive effect on human health other than in unique situations of chronic diseases or malnutrition. In fact, most of the high-quality evidence about supplements show that it does not work. And a recently published review shows that using supplements for cardiovascular diseases are expensive and useless.

Since many readers fail to read what I wrote above, let me repeat myself for clarity. Supplements are not completely useless – of course, they are important for those who have chronic diseases or conditions may require supplements of some or many micronutrients. Someone who has had bariatric surgery or other types of serious gastrointestinal surgery may not be able to consume enough vitamins and minerals from food, and they will require multivitamins.

Also, some individuals may be malnourished, which doesn’t mean just not eating enough, but not eating some foods that have specific nutrients. For example, avoiding certain foods that contain vitamin C could put you at risk for a disease called scurvy, which can be deadly. There are several other diseases that result from missing key nutrients. However, in the modern developed world, these diseases are extremely rare because of the varied diet we have – and the availability of supplements to treat those diseases.

However, several points have got to be made. Just because vitamin C can treat scurvy doesn’t mean that more vitamin C makes your immune system suddenly powerful enough to destroy the common cold or flu or cure cancer. Vitamin D, although there are many cases of deficiency in many countries, is not a miracle supplement. It cannot cure or prevent cancer. It does not impart superpower abilities to your immune system.

The whole supplement industry has an overreliance on logical fallacies (like appeal to popular belief or appeal antiquity) or anecdotes (which aren’t data) to convince customers to buy their nonsense. They do this because they are not required to undergo gold-standard clinical trials to convince the FDA to approve their claims. Real pharmaceuticals, on the other hand, take 10-20 years of research and clinical trials before they are approved for use.

Big Supplement (yeah, it’s a huge industry, over US$100 billion annually, worldwide) also pushes the trope that if a little helps, a lot is better. This is not good science. The millions of years of human evolution (following up a billion years of immune system evolution) has led to a rather powerful immune system that is exceedingly complex and has always been able to do its job without the addition of supplements (unless early Homo sapiens had access to a GNC someplace).

But let’s take a look at supplements for cardiovascular diseases (stroke, heart attacks, and other cardiovascular conditions) – a new review shows us, once again, that there’s nothing there. Continue reading “Supplements for cardiovascular diseases – more evidence that they don’t work”

Vitamin supplements do not lower risk of cancer and heart disease

pile-of-supplementsVitamin and mineral supplements are important to maintaining proper levels of these nutrients when they aren’t obtained from the diet. Generally, if a human consumes a diet of broad based foods, there is little need for supplementation, unless they are afflicted with a chronic medical disorder which requires additional nutrients.

Vitamins and minerals do not have an impact on the immune system. Numerous articles have been published in peer-reviewed journals that have found very little evidence that supplements can lower risk of heart disease or one of the over 200 forms of cancer. What we need next, in the hierarchy of scientific evidence, is a systematic review published in an important journal.

And we got one. Continue reading “Vitamin supplements do not lower risk of cancer and heart disease”

Multivitamins–big money, no effect on cardiovascular disease

A few months ago, I wrote about the role of supplements, mainly vitamins and other nutrients, in preventing cancer. Conclusion: they didn’t. To quote Martinez et al., who published a review of dietary supplements and vitamins in cancer prevention

Nutritional supplementation is now a multibillion-dollar industry, and about half of all US adults take supplements. Supplement use is fueled in part by the belief that nutritional supplements can ward off chronic disease, including cancer, although several expert committees and organizations have concluded that there is little to no scientific evidence that supplements reduce cancer risk. To the contrary, there is now evidence that high doses of some supplements increase cancer risk. Despite this evidence, marketing claims by the supplement industry continue to imply anticancer benefits. Insufficient government regulation of the marketing of dietary supplement products may continue to result in unsound advice to consumers. Both the scientific community and government regulators need to provide clear guidance to the public about the use of dietary supplements to lower cancer risk. 

All those expensive supplements, most of which have broad and unproven claims made about them, do precious little for cancer. And some actually increase the risk of certain types of cancer. Continue reading “Multivitamins–big money, no effect on cardiovascular disease”