Thursday, August 10, 2017

The troubling truth about vitamins and herbal supplements

From Popular Science:  http://www.popsci.com/dangerous-supplement-exposures

There’s shockingly little oversight of the companies who sell herbs and vitamins.

By Sara Chodosh July 25, 2017

Alice arrived in Wonderland and promptly downed a vial that said “drink me,” and we can probably all agree she was being a bit of an idiot. Magical land or not, she’s a child, she has no idea where that conveniently placed tube came from, and come on—“drink me”? That’s in the textbook definition of “gullible.”

But if we’re being honest, is taking a supplement you bought at the drug store any smarter?
The bottles don’t say “swallow me,” but they might as well. Instead they’re emblazoned with promises. The yellow ones will make you stronger. Red will increase your energy levels. Purple will heal your scars. It’s a veritable rainbow of cures. They offer quick and easy solutions in a way that medicine can’t—because medicine is bound by evidence. Supplements aren’t.

Which is why every 24 minutes the U.S. Poison Control Centers get a call about bad reactions to supplements. That’s 274,998 exposures from 2000-2012. Those numbers come from a recent study in the Journal of Medical Toxicology, but the idea isn’t new: Supplements aren’t likely to kill you, but they’ve never been particularly safe either. And the companies producing them have shockingly little oversight.

From 2005 to 2012, the rate of reported dietary supplement exposures increased 49.3 percent. Homeopathic cures and ma huang-containing pills were responsible for most of that uptick. Homeopathy is the line of thinking that says if you take a solution of water and an active ingredient, then dilute it many times over until the active ingredient is no longer detectable, the water somehow retains the memory of the active ingredient and will have some medicinal effect on your body. There is absolutely no evidence to support it. Ma huang is a plant extract that contains ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, which stimulate your nervous system and can be deadly.

Between the two of them, homeopathy and ma huang account for a large chunk of the total adverse outcomes related to dietary supplements. The problem is that we’re only finding this out years after they’ve happened.

The FDA is literally not authorized to evaluate a supplement’s efficacy or safety. It’s up to the manufacturer to make sure their product is safe and as effective as they claim. They’re also tasked with policing themselves to ensure the supplements aren’t contaminanted. This near total lack of oversight means that a huge fraction of botanical supplements either contain an entirely different active ingredient from what they claim or contain a filler like rice powder.

Continue reading at:  http://www.popsci.com/dangerous-supplement-exposures

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