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The Truth About Nutrition Supplements

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Quality and Safety Concerns

Concerns about quality and safety have swirled around dietary supplements ever since the 1700s, when the first snake-oil salesmen peddled elixirs with outrageous, unsupported claims; they're one reason the FDA was created, back in the 1930s.

Government Rules for Supplements

But from the beginning, the rules for supplements have been far less stringent than those for conventional drugs. Unlike pharmaceutical companies, dietary-supplement manufacturers don't need FDA approval to sell their products, and they certainly don't need to conduct expensive clinical trials. Worse, makers aren't even required by the government to report any "adverse events" -- FDA-speak for unwelcome side effects such as blotchy skin, heart palpitations, and organ damage.

As a result, the FDA is unable to compile convincing evidence against a bad product in order to ban it. Even when anecdotal evidence does pile up, such information is sometimes too weak to effect a change, explains Marvin Lipman, MD, chief medical advisor for Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports. "You need clinical data to prove that ingredient X caused side effect Y. But because supplements are poorly studied at best, that's tough."

How Safe Is Kava?

Here's an example: Kava, an herb found in the South Pacific, whose root has sedative properties. "After it became popular for stress reduction, some manufacturers started including stems and other parts of the plant in their formulas, presumably to save money," explains Gurley. Unfortunately, these parts contain a toxic compound that can cause liver damage. The FDA issued a safety warning in 2002 but didn't remove kava from the market or restrict its sale. Why? Because there's no proof that anyone in the U.S. has died from liver damage directly caused by kava stems.

Even if deaths do occur, the FDA may still find itself impotent in a courtroom. Take ephedra, an amphetamine-like stimulant, which was linked to as many as 155 deaths and more than 16,000 adverse events before the FDA got it banned in 2004. Often packed into weight-loss and energy-boosting products, ephedra can raise heart rate and blood pressure and trigger seizures, heart attacks, and strokes. Yet last year, a federal judge in Utah ruled that despite the seeming mountain of anti-ephedra evidence, the FDA hadn't proved that the herb was dangerous in small quantities. (The ban is now in bureaucratic limbo as the FDA figures out its next move.)

Although headlines often focus on concerns about herbal supplements, everyday vitamins and minerals aren't problem-free. "The most common issue is that a product won't contain or deliver all the ingredients it promises," says Tod Cooperman, MD, president of, an independent supplement-testing service. And what's missing may cause harm: At least one vitamin B complex tested by Consumer provided less than the RDA for folic acid -- a deficiency of which can cause birth defects such as spina bifida.

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mauth06 wrote:

dthoma03, do you work for Shaklee? It sounds like you're a little biased. I've never heard of that company or their supplements, but I do know that the govermental regulations in this article or inaccurate. I stick with the facts.

11/9/2009 03:16:25 PM Report Abuse
dthoma03 wrote:

In the 2007 Landmark Study conducted in collaboration with researchers from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, Dr Gladys Block found people who took Shaklee supplements had markedly better health than those who took a mulitvitamin or no supplements at all. Yoru authors should really do their homework before rendering an opinion. Facts are facts and they did not present them.

11/4/2009 11:35:46 AM Report Abuse
dthoma03 wrote:

Shaklee has over 100 scientific papers 90+ published in peer reviewed journals that support the effectiveness of the Shaklee products. Shaklee has invested over 250 million dollars in clinical testing, research,& development.

11/4/2009 11:35:32 AM Report Abuse
dthoma03 wrote:

Shaklee products have no parabens, triclosan, phthalates, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES), 1,4-dioxane or propylene glycol. There are no banned substances, no dyes, no trans fats & no artificial sweetners or flavors. There is no animal testing. The packaging is safe & free of toxins bisphenol-A, phthalates & toxic links. (see further comment)

11/4/2009 11:33:55 AM Report Abuse
dthoma03 wrote:

This article is grossly inaccurate. Shaklee corporation conducts over 350 tests on every single new ingredient for heavy metals, pesticides, or any of hundreds of other harmful contaminants. They conduct over 80,000 quality tests annually to guarantee the purity & safety of each & every product. (see further comment)

11/4/2009 11:33:07 AM Report Abuse

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