Consumer Reports Slams Dietary Supplements

Consumer Reports (CR) has just pulled an arrow out of its quiver and fired it at the dietary supplement industry.  For the neophyte reader, CR makes it sound like dietary supplements are unsafe until proven otherwise and duplicitous for the most part because the American diet provides most nutrients to maintain health. [Consumer Reports]

I’ve addressed the issue of dietary nutrient adequacy a number of times.  The US Department of Agriculture publishes an online estimated of the percent of US population with inadequate intake of essential nutrients.  [Knowledge of Health]

Such as:

  •          54% not enough vitamin A
  •          42% not enough vitamin C
  •          40% not enough folic acid
  •          20% not enough vitamin B12
  •          57% not enough magnesium

If the American diet is adequate, why did the 5-A-Day campaign (five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables) fail to reduce mortality for cancer and heart disease?

Yes, dietary supplements causes ~23,000 Americans to visit the emergency room each year, but that doesn’t mean dietary supplement caused any harm.  In many instances, the supplements were used improperly or overdosed.  Yes, take too much magnesium and you will have loose stool.  Yes, if you consume dietary supplements on an empty stomach it is common to experience nausea.  Yes, some dietary supplements conflict with certain drugs.  But dietary supplements are safer than aspirin, tap water, food and table salt.

No, dietary supplements don’t need to be proven safe as they are considered concentrated sources of food.  Dietary supplements don’t need to be proven safe any more than celery does.

No, more rules and regulations and required safety studies will not reduce the number of subjects who report side effects from dietary supplements nor are they likely to save any lives.

Consumer Reports singles out a lone report of a newborn death from parents who gave their prematurely-born infant a probiotic supplement.  [Consumer Reports]  But a review of the Poison Control Centers of America annual report has shown no deaths from common lettered vitamins and mineral supplements for many years running now.  There were 92 deaths reported for the years 2008-2011 associated with dietary supplement use, but this is not proof supplements caused these deaths, only that some people were using them when they died.

Consumer Reports list 15 dietary supplements to avoid (red yeast rice, kava, green tea powder, and twelve others) but these don’t represent even 1% of supplement sales.

Yes, dietary supplements can kill, particularly those consumers who overdose on them.  Young people who are crash dieters and must fit into a bathing suit for summer or a dress for a wedding party are the most likely to overdose on weight loss supplements and suffer adverse consequences.

Among the estimated 150 million of Americans taking dietary supplements, there were a total of 8 adverse events that required hospitalization after taking dietary supplements in 2006.  That is 0.000005% chance of being hospitalized from an adverse reaction emanating from a dietary supplement.

For comparison, about 50, million Americans take a daily aspirin tablet, another 29 million take ibuprofen, and 50 million take acetaminophen.  That is close to 130 million Americans and by conservative estimates, 107,000 are hospitalized annually and at least 16,500 deaths occur, usually from gastrointestinal bleeding. [Nutrition Digest] That is 0.0082 chance of being hospitalized from taking anti-inflammatory drugs.  That is over 10,000 times greater than taking dietary supplements.

As one dietary supplement advocate once said: “Show us the dead bodies!  They must be hiding them under the floorboards of dietary supplement shops.

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