More about nutritional supplements

I previously posted about the worthless and deceptive nutritional products hyped to the elderly (and anyone who will cheerfully send in their money); today comes an article announcing

Inspector general: Some supplements for weight loss, immune system make illegal health claims.

Well, .

The article goes on to say that “20 percent of the 127 weight loss and immune-boosting supplements investigators purchased online and in retail stores across the country carried labels that made illegal claims to cure or treat disease.” The DHHS concern is not only with the deceptive marketing, but also that people taking supplements and other natural remedies to treat diseases instead of seeking medical assistance.

Personally, I think the 20 percent figure is a gross underestimate, based on everything I’ve seen in the industry, which remains largely unregulated.

Now getting into a discussion of this nature raises the question: Is the DHHS in the pockets of the pharmaceutical industry and the insurance companies, both of which have a vested interest in keeping people sick? Today’s answers are, “I don’t know,” and “It’s not that simple.” Let me state that I’m pretty convinced that Big Pharma is more interested in making money than in getting people well – otherwise they’d be driving themselves out of the market, which makes good moral sense but poor business sense, and in today’s world money always trumps morals. That said, there are countless drugs which people use on a daily basis which keep them healthy and hearty – if I cut my finger, you’d better believe that I’m going to wash it well with soap and water, and apply Neosporin™ or something like to ward off infection; I suffer from a mild form of Menière’s disease which causes violent vertigo (fortunately for me, only rarely) and if it weren’t for Meclizine™ I might spend a week with my head in the crapper. Not all drugs are bad – but the industry is motivated by the wrong reasons, and one of the greatest mistakes our government ever made was allowing pharmaceutical companies to advertise.


Then there’s the “natural remedy” market. Let’s take homeopathy as the teacher in the moment. I personally put no stock in what from a scientific viewpoint seems like total mumbo-jumbo [1], but it’s multi-billion dollar mumbo-jumbo, and that kind of money will bring all sorts of gnurrs out of the voodvork. [2] Then there’s the fact that many people whom I love and respect do put stock in it, and claim to have experienced benefits from the use of homeopathic remedies, as well as herbs, oils, alternative health treatment, and so much more.

Science is both blessed and burdened by its reliance on empirical evidence. That means in the long run, if the evidence supports a theory, science is required to change its point of view no matter how vehemently one’s gut opposes the discovery. If, continuing in the same vein, a sufficient body of gold-standard trials (randomized, double-blind, placebo-based, with a statistically significant sample) were to show that homeopathic remedies were actually beneficial, the textbooks would have to be rewritten. Thus far that hasn’t happened, and in my book it’s not likely – but one thing I will never do is shut the door on possibility. I’m always open to surprises.

Focusing on prevention

Where I do put stock is in what science has said about degenerative diseases. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, infectious diseases such as diphtheria, pneumonia, tuberculosis, cholera, and influenza were the largest killers of populations. Modern vaccines, antibiotics and anti-virals have drastically reduced the toll; today, we see a different enemy – people by the millions are dying from diabetes, strokes, cardiovascular diseasese, cancer, respiratory diseases, and a host of other degenerative disorders.

The standard unit of nutritional need, the RDA (recommended daily allowance) was developed during World War II by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences to investigate issues of nutrition that might “affect national defense”. In short, these amounts were established as the minimum requirements needed to prevent deficiency diseases such as rickets and scurvy, among others. Even today, RDI (recommended daily intake) and DV (Daily Value) of vitamins, minerals and co-factors are far below what modern science has determined are required for maximum health. Most vitamins supplements on the market today will do just what they were designed to do during WWII – keep you from getting deficiency diseases – but they won’t provide the optimal nutrition the body needs to fight off the ravages of oxidative stress.

In 2002, the Journal of the AMA stated that “most people do not consume an optimal amount of all vitamins by diet alone. Pending strong evidence of effectiveness from randomized trials, it appears prudent for all adults to take vitamin supplements.” [3] Both before and since that time, thousands and thousands of randomized clinical trials have shown that free radical damage (or oxidative stress) is the cause of the vast majority of degenerative diseases, and that providing the body’s cells with the defenses needed can drastically reduce the incidence of these maladies, cutting off the need for curative drugs and treatments at the source.


It should be said in passing that despite all we can do, sometimes people just get sick; like they say in the Japanese massage parlor, “shiatsu happens;” but it’s up to each person who is concerned about their health to do their research and find the solution that works best for them. There are a  handful of companies out there who produce nutritional supplements that will give your body the nutrition it needs (combined with and on the foundation of a healthy diet and exercise, of course) to fight off degenerative diseases and maximize your odds for a long and healthy life, and none of them are found on supermarket shelves. Find one of them that works for you and treat yourself well; your body will thank you for it.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

1 You can watch a great explanation of homeopathic dilution by Richard Dawkins, or the classic presentation by James Randi.

2 Thanks to Reginald Bretnor.

3 JAMA, 6-19-2002; 287 (23): 3127–3129.

2 responses to “More about nutritional supplements

  1. I don’t mind doing my own research but if you could specify which “handful of companies” produce those beneficial supplements, that would be very helpful. The interent is too full of bad leads to rely on blind research. The specifics about those companies would be greatly appreciated.

    • Joe, thanks for your question. Companies that seem to really have their act together include:

      Douglas Laboratories
      Usana Health Sciences
      TrueStar Health
      Creating Wellness Alliance
      NSI (Neutraceutical Sciences Institute)

      I am partial to Usana, but if they were not around I’d probably chase down Douglas Labs’ products.

      Good luck.

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