Consumer Reports Got It Half Right

For many years now Rev. Malkmus has given us a subscription to Consumer Reports as a Christmas gift. We have found it invaluable when making purchasing decisions for items ranging from cameras, cars and even televisions. We especially enjoy looking at the inside back cover where we find the advertising bloopers. That is actually the first thing we always read when we receive our new magazine. But an article coming out in the September issue discusses a topic that we think they didn’t study enough about.  Their topic is on Supplements.

With the help of an expert panel of independent doctors and dietary-supplement researchers, Consumer Reports identified 15 supplement ingredients that are potentially harmful. The risks include organ damage, cancer, and cardiac arrest. The severity of these threats often depends on such factors as pre-existing medical conditions, the quantity of the ingredient taken and the length of time a person has consumed the supplement.

Many of the ingredients on this list also have the potential to interact with prescription and over-the-counter medications, such as cholesterol-lowering statins and blood-thinning drugs like aspirin and warfarin (Coumadin and generic).

Moreover, their experts agree that none of these supplement ingredients provide sufficient health benefits to justify the risk. Even so, they found all 15 ingredients in products available online or in major stores such as GNC, Costco, CVS, Walmart, and Whole Foods.

Ingredient Claimed Benefits Risks

Aconite
Also called: Aconiti tuber, aconitum, angustifolium, monkshood, radix aconti, wolfsbane

Reduces inflammation, joint pain, gout

Nausea, vomiting, weakness, paralysis, breathing and heart problems, possibly death

Caffeine Powder
Also called: 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine

Improves attention, enhances athletic performance, weight loss

Seizures, heart arrhythmia, cardiac arrest, possibly death; particularly dangerous when combined with other stimulants

Chaparral
Also called: Creosote bush, greasewood, larrea divaricata, larrea tridentata, larreastat

Weight loss; improves inflammation; treats colds, infections, skin rashes, cancer

Kidney problems, liver damage, possibly death

Coltsfoot
Also called: Coughwort, farfarae folium leaf, foalswort, tussilago farfara

Relieves cough, sore throat, laryngitis, bronchitis, asthma

Liver damage, possible carcinogen

Comfrey
Also called: Blackwort, bruisewort, slippery root, symphytum officinale

Relieves cough, heavy menstrual periods, stomach problems, chest pain; treats cancer

Liver damage, cancer, possibly death

Germander
Also called: Teucrium chamaedrys, viscidum

Weight loss; alleviates fever, arthritis, gout, stomach problems

Liver damage, hepatitis, possibly death

Greater Celandine
Also called: Celandine, chelidonium majus, chelidonii herba

Alleviates stomachache

Liver damage

Green Tea Extract Powder
Also called: Camellia sinensis

Weight loss

Dizziness, ringing in the ears, reduced absorption of iron; exacerbates anemia and glaucoma; elevates blood pressure and heart rate; liver damage; possibly death

Kava
Also called: Ava pepper, kava kava, piper methysticum

Reduces anxiety, improves insomnia

Liver damage,exacerbates Parkinson’s and depression, impairs driving, possibly death

Lobelia
Also called: Asthma weed, lobelia inflata, vomit wort, wild tobacco

Improves respiratory problems, aids smoking cessation

Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, rapid heartbeat, confusion, seizures, hypothermia, coma, possibly death

Methylsynephrine
Also called: Oxilofrine, p-hydroxyephedrine, oxyephedrine, 4-HMP

Weight loss, increases energy, improves athletic performance

Causes heart rate and rhythm abnormalities, cardiac arrest; particularly risky when taken with other stimulants

Pennyroyal Oil
Also called: Hedeoma pulegioides, mentha pulegium

Improves breathing problems, digestive disorders

Liver and kidney failure, nerve damage, convulsions, possibly death

Red Yeast Rice
Also called: Monascus purpureus

Lowers LDL ("bad") cholesterol, prevents heart disease

Kidney and muscle problems, liver problems, hair loss; can magnify effect of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, increasing the risk of side effects

Usnic Acid
Also called: Beard moss, tree moss, usnea

Weight loss, pain relief

Liver injury

Yohimbe
Also called: Johimbi, pausinystalia yohimbe, yohimbine, corynanthe johimbi

Treats low libido and erectile dysfunction, depression, obesity

Raises blood pressure; causes rapid heart rate, headaches, seizures, liver and kidney problems, heart problems, panic attacks, possibly death

Since this story has been picked up by ABC, Fox, NBC and other major news providers, the story has changed and definitely doesn’t provide a balanced perspective on supplements.

Consumer Reports Highlights Dietary Supplement Dangers - ABC News

ABC news added the following to their interpretation of the Consumer Reports article:

“Ellen Kunes, the health editor at Consumer Reports, said consumers can’t rely solely on the labels of supplements because they aren’t bound by the same regulations as pharmaceuticals.‘Supplements have labels that don’t necessarily tell you what they are good for, how they are going to work, whether they will work,’ she said. ‘You can’t trust that they’re going to work or that they will be safe just by looking at the label.’
Consumer Reports found that an estimated 23,000 people every year end up in emergency rooms after taking supplements.”

Note: It is illegal for supplement companies to put information described above on the product label and information materials without first conducting double blind studies costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. If a supplement company does, they will often have their inventory confiscated while facing bankrupting penalties and fines by the FDA and FTC.

Dr. Donna Seger, the director of the Tennessee Poison Center, said that “many people do not think about supplements’ potential consequences on their health.” She said “people shouldn’t think of these substances as innocuous and should always check with their doctors before taking them.

People shouldn’t be taking supplements who are on medication unless they checked with their doctor,” she said, adding that ingredient consistency can be an issue too. “If you have 100 pills in a bottle, there might be a different amount in each pill.

The only statement given in the article to refute all of the above:

“The Council for Responsible Nutrition, a leading trade association for the dietary supplement and functional food industry, disagreed with the report, pointing out that 150 million Americans take supplements.”

For those of us who are old enough to remember Paul Harvey – Now… for the rest of the story:

  • Emergency physicians see first-hand the devastating consequences of drug misuse and abuse: every day thousands of people visit emergency departments because of drug overdoses, and every day about 120 of them die.
  • More than two million people abuse drugs in the United States and more than half of them – 1.2 million – end up in the emergency department every year. Poisonings are the leading cause of injury-related death in the United States, and drugs account for 90 percent of those poisonings. Two-thirds of emergency department visits for drug overdoses involve prescription painkillers.
  • Emergency department visits for drug poisonings increased for all age groups from 2004-2007 to 2008-2011. However, the highest rate of visits is for young adults age 20 to 34.
  • Prescription drug abuse has been responsible for a large percentage of drug overdoses and deaths in the United States.

While the 15 ingredients listed in the Consumer Reports research may have severe side effects in some situations, it is rather minimal when compared to the large list of side effects reported from the hundreds of prescription drugs that are doled out daily to unsuspecting people who don’t realize that the next time they visit their doctor, they may have to go on another prescription drug to counteract the side effects of the first one.  Ask any elderly person how many prescription drugs they are on and chances are they don’t even know anymore.  The side effects of these drugs are so devastating that big pharma companies have to spend extra advertising dollars at the end of the commercial just to list them in a voice that speaks quicker than any auctioneer’s voice.

As is evidenced by the numbers above, there are hundreds of thousands of people who enter the ER daily with prescription drug and non-prescription drug issues.  ABC made a very large deal about the 23,000 who enter the ER in one year. In my journalism class, we called that hyperbole—or, stretching the truth.

A major problem with articles like the one from Consumer Reports, is that when other news feeds pick it up, they will embellish it as did ABC.  This will create undo fear and anxiety about an industry that for the most part serves a vital role in helping people maintain their health.

Supplements play a vital role in helping people maintain healthier bodies. Our soils are becoming more and more depleted and our bodies break down faster if they aren’t given the fuel they need to function optimally. Yes, some supplement companies don’t use the best ingredients just like some farmers don’t produce quality crops.

tips to use when making your supplement purchasing decisions
Here are a couple of tips to use when making your supplement purchasing decisions:

  1. Know the company that is selling them.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions about anything in the ingredient list so you can have confidence in them and their products.
  2. Read the labels and choose additive-free supplements. If you don’t know why an ingredient was added, ask the company.
  3. Choose supplements that have been tested for efficacy. See what information the company has to validate that the formula performs as expected.
  4. Look for formulas that target a specific issue – Joint, cardio, eye, hormone… Often these formulas will contain better quality ingredients since they are expected to support a stated area of the body.
  5. Ensure that the company is aware of the source of their ingredients.
  6. Whenever possible, the ingredients should come from whole food sources.
  7. Don’t purchase supplements with ingredients sourced from China unless the source can be verified and the product has been tested for contaminants.
  8. If possible, don’t go cheap – Quality comes at a cost. Typically, the less expensive the product the lower the quality. Not only is the source of raw ingredients important but how it is processed makes a huge difference in how well a supplement works within the body. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for.

We completely understand that there are a few bad apples in the supplement industry.  We highly doubt however, that supplements can ever be as deadly as the pharmaceutical drugs that are being passed out like candy to millions of unsuspecting patients.

Please be critical readers and on the lookout for the sensationalism that creeps into most so called ‘news’ articles. 

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3 comments

  1. Thank-you for this informative article! HA products are superior to most other supplements. Barleymax is such a dark green color and your bottle clearly states ‘no fillers’. Thank-you for your honesty and integrity!
    SK

  2. Wonderful article! Thank you for setting the record straight.

  3. I wonder how much Ellen Kunes and Consumer Reports were paid by Big Pharma to publish such a one-sided story!

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