New Study Sheds Light on Supplements

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • We’re all looking for that magic pill. You know, the one that will help you lose weight or become smarter. You’ve seen those enticing words on the labels of supplements found at the grocery store, pharmacy and nutritional store. However, if you’re a wise consumer, you’ll be skeptical of the marketing on these labels.

    That’s because a new report by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that many of these claims are problematic. In its study, the OIG reviewed the claims concerning the role of a dietary supplement in the human body for 127 dietary supplements that were marketed as supporting weight loss or the immune system. This review was designed to determine whether the manufacturers complied with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations regarding labeling and to evaluate the evidence that manufacturers provided.

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    So what can supplements say?  “For example, a supplement may claim that it ‘curbs appetite to help with weight loss,’ but it may not claim to ‘aid weight loss to treat obesity’ because obesity is a disease,” the OIG report states. “Similarly, a supplement may claim to ‘support immunity,’ but may not claim to ‘boost the immune system against colds and flus’ because the latter references specific diseases.” In its study, the OIG found that 20 percent exhibited claims about diseases on the label, which is prohibited. Seven percent of the supplements lacked the disclaimer that is required stating that the FDA had not evaluated the purported health benefits of the product.

    Furthermore, the OIG reviewed substantiation documents for 72 of the supplements being studied.  Interestingly, most of these documents did not include studies of the supplement on humans. Of the 34 percent of these documents that did involve human subject research, the analysis found that none met all of the FDA’s recommendations for competent and reliable evidence.  
    Interestingly, while some have encouraged the FDA to investigate these claims about supplements since they potentially can be misleading and may not be backed up with research, the FDA actually doesn’t have the authority to review or approve these claims. However, a manufacturer does have to notify the FDA when it makes these claims and the supplement’s label has to include a disclaimer about the lack of FDA review and that the product was not created to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent a disease.

    So what supplements should you take? I’d strongly recommend that you talk to your doctor about the specific ones that benefit you.

    However you also need to know that some supplements can have health risks. Dr. Andrew Weil, a clinical professor and founder and director for the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center, points to six supplements that can be problematic:

    • Colloidal silver, which some people use as a cancer preventative, a treatment for a variety of maladies, and as an alternative to antibiotics.. “The human body has absolutely no need for silver, and when taken, it can accumulate in the body and lead to a disfiguring skin condition called argyria, which causes bluish-gray skin pigmentation that cannot be reversed,” Dr. Weil stated. Longer-term issues that result from using this supplement can include kidney damage and neurological issues.
    • Yohimbe, which has been used at times to treat erectile dysfunction.  Dr. Weil warns that this particular herbal remedy, which can vary in intensity, can lead to paralysis, fatigue and death.
    • Asconite, which has been used to relieve the pain of a variety of conditions, including cancer, migraine headaches and arthritis. This herb can cause heart arrhythmia, heart failure and death.
    • Country mallow, which has been used as a stimulant to help with weight loss. Dr. Weil points out that the risk includes high blood pressure and stress on the heart.
    • Greater celandine, which is used on intestinal and digestive problems, liver disease, eye irritation and cancer treatment. This particular supplement has been found to cause hepatitis as well as rashes, itching and serious allergic reactions.
    • Germanium, which has been used to treat a variety of conditions including leukemia and other types of cancer, asthma, diabetes, hypertension, Parkinson’s disease, chronic fatigue, hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver. Dr. Weil, however, warns that he hasn’t seen scientific evidence that supports the use of geraminium and also notes that this supplement has been linked to kidney and liver damage.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

  • Office of Inspector General. (2012). Dietary supplements: structure/function claims fail to meet federal requirements. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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    Weil, A. (2012). Dangerous supplements.

Published On: October 04, 2012