Of course, there are health risks from dietary supplements. Overall, however, the side effects of dietary supplements, are insignificant. One of the biggest of all the health risks from dietary supplements is not with the ingredients but with products that are tainted with harmful contaminants.
And, most importantly...
The absolute biggest danger among dietary supplement risks is not of harm but of...
Your loss of missing out on remarkable health gains and benefits by
... not taking vitamins and health supplements in the first place, and by
... choosing low-quality, ineffective discount vitamins and nutritional supplements which deliver zero or insignificant health benefits to you.
For you to make a sound well-rounded judgment about something, you need all (or most) pertinent information about it. If the focus of the available data is limited, if only certain data is presented to you while omitting other significant information, you end up having the wrong impression about it. That is, you will embrace a false biased view.
This is what is happening with the official accounts and reports about the health risks of dietary supplements which tend to imply that vitamins and supplements are a significant public health threat.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
According to dictionary definition, “risk” is the possibility of loss (Webster's Third New International Dictionary, 1961, Unabridged).
Risk is the prospect of loss or harm. It assesses the chance or the probability of getting injured. It implies a danger.
If the risk is high, the likelihood for harm is great. If the risk is low, so is the potential for injury.
With nutrients of supplements, or substances in general, the risk of damage increases with the degree of toxicity. Arsenic is very toxic, meaning it leads to serious side effects at tiny doses. So the risk of harm is very high.
Vitamins, say vitamin E, is very non-toxic. It requires huge doses of it to cause serious adverse events. Thus, the risk of harm is very low.
One of the most important facts about vitamins and supplements is that, generally, the health risks with dietary supplements are extremely low.
Most of the ingredients used in nutritional supplements (e.g., vitamins, minerals, amino acids) are substances, or nutritive elements, the cells of your body must have for good health and to stay alive because your body cannot create them. These nutrients are absolutely essential. Therefore, they represent innate (orthomolecular) substances, the type of constituents your body is familiar with.
Substances your body needs to maintain health and life are extremely non-toxic, or exceptionally safe. Even at very high doses. There is a low potential for toxicity, in general. Or, to say it differently, the health risks of dietary supplements are mostly very low.
Take water as an example of an essential nutrient. Most people can drink a lot of water before they experience side effects. The first sign of which is probably running to the bathroom more often.
In most instances, the human organism can relatively easily dispose off any excess of these vital orthomolecular or body-innate nutrients. As opposed to non-orthomolecular or xenobiotic elements which are inherently foreign, toxic compounds to the human body and first need to be detoxified before they can be discarded. The process of detoxification drains energy and nutritional resources which could inhibit the efficient removal of the toxins, and create nutritional deficiencies. The result could be an accumulation of toxins and the experience of side effects.
Or, in some cases, foreign xenobiotic elements cannot be neutralized and discarded off by the body at all, and thus will immediately accumulate inside the body. Oftentimes to the point where toxic levels are reached and harmful side effects emerge.
Note that virtually any substance that is not innate and essential to the human organism poses a higher health risk. Such compounds are “by nature” foreign and thus inherently toxic to your body. A prime example are pharmaceutical drugs. They cause many side effects -oftentimes severe in nature.
“If the FDA were equally solicitous [=concerned] about the health of the people they would also remove every therapeutic drug available today including aspirin.” (Abram Hoffer, MD, PhD, 1917-2009) [explanation added]
To assess the seriousness or severity of a risk, the magnitude of harm caused by that risk needs to be looked at. And because everything has risks, risks are relative. That means that risks have to be reviewed in a comparison of related threats in order to draw valid judgments about a particular risk.
So, what is the truth about the health risks of dietary supplements?
Various investigative research reports suggest that a fairly significant number of nutritional supplements are tainted with contaminants (Green, et al., 2001; Van Thuyne, et al., 2006; Geyer, et al., 2008; Hasegawa, et al., 2008; Judkins, et al., 2010; Cohen, 2009; Cohen & Ernst, 2010).
On the surface, the reality of contaminated dietary supplements appears to be a rather critical issue especially when you consider that over half the adult US population consumes supplements (Cohen, 2009; Gershwin, et al., 2010; The Washington Post, 2010).
But let us review the facts about the magnitude of harm caused by all supplement risks.
● Despite that over half the population takes health supplements,
● Despite that “a wide range” of products are either contaminated or don't contain the nutrient amounts listed on the label, making them potentially harmful dietary supplements,
● Despite of this seemingly sizable risk,
● Despite a weak regulatory framework, whereby food supplements are not analyzed and tested for safety and effectiveness,
● Despite that tens of thousands of infants, the most vulnerable of human beings, accidentally overdose on vitamins and supplements ever year (American Association of Poison Control Centers, 1983-2008; Gryzlak, et al., 2007, Bronstein, et al., 2009-2011),
...the truth about dietary supplements is that it is RARE event when a person dies from taking nutritional supplements, and proportionally few people experience serious side effects.
Accounting for a 25 years time span, it amounts to an extremely low death rate, according to all the self-reported calls (some incidents go unreported) made to over 60 US poison control centers (American Association of Poison Control Centers, 1983-2008). Aspirin, in comparison, causes multiple times more deaths every year than any single nutritional supplement ingredient.
This official data exposes the raw hype burried in sensationalistic statements about vitamins dangers, and even in warnings about the dangers of high dose supplements.
The low health risks of dietary supplements, in many cases even if these health products are used irresponsibly or improperly, have been known for decades:
“Deaths from supplement abuse are rare [...].” (Hausman, 1989)
Sound evidence similar to the data of the Poison Control Centers, corroborating the minimal health risks of dietary supplements, can be derived from information published by the US government.
According to a US government report, in the year 2008 less than 1,100 negative effects of dietary supplements were reported (GAO, 2009). It's a very low number, especially when you take into consideration that more than half the US population takes health supplements (Rock, 2007; Cohen, 2009; Gershwin, et al., 2010; Bailey, et al., 2011).
To put this in the proper perspective, in the same government paper it states that in 2007 the FDA received a staggering 364,449 adverse event reports about medical drugs (GAO, 2009). In 2010 the FDA received and noted 673,259 reports of adverse events due to pharmaceutical drugs and other “therapeutic biologic products” (Official US Government FDA website, accessed Nov. 2011).
Nutritional supplement manufacturers are required, by law (the cGMP regulations of 2007), to submit reports on serious adverse product events to the FDA (Talati & Gurnani, 2009).
Here it is from the horse's mouth:
“[...] the manufacturer, packer, or distributor whose name appears on the label of a dietary supplement marketed in the United States is required to submit to FDA all serious adverse event reports associated with use of the dietary supplement in the United States.” (Official U.S. Government FDA website, accessed Oct. 2011)
Yet, it appears that the government agencies (i.e., the FDA) actively discourage the discovery of the full truth about side effects from prescription drugs since only a tiny fraction of the FDA's annual budget is allocated to monitoring adverse events from drugs once they got approved and put on the market (Glenmullen, 2000). In comparison, a very large number of the FDA's employment force is allocated to approving pharmaceutical medications (Glenmullen, 2000).
In 1993, the then FDA commissioner admitted that:
“[...] only about 1% of serious events [=drug side effects] are reported to the FDA.” (Kessler, et al., 1993) [explanation added]
In a more recent research paper the investigators stated that:
“Many adults and children take medications regularly, yet relatively few drugs have undergone significant long-term post-marketing surveillance for adverse effects, including elevated cancer risk.” (Friedman, et al., 2009)
In other words...
Long-term monitoring of drug safety basically doesn't exist!
Obviously, the safety of the public is much less important than cranking out drugs that are profitable for the medical establishment.
How is this perversity accomplished?
The army of lobbyists for the powerful medical orthodoxy coerces politicians into undermining, with official legalities, drug testing and monitoring (Moore, 1998).
The FDA's safety concerns take a backseat where they are needed most urgently, with prescription drugs -but rather the agency tends to disproportionally focus on where safety concerns are needed the least, with the health risks from dietary supplements (in Tougher Supplement Regulation: A Necessity Or Politics? I addressed the deep politics underlying these FDA shenanigans).
Automobile accidents cause much more harm than the side effects of supplements.
“[...] prescription drugs are ten times more likely to put you in the hospital than an automobile accident.” (Moore, 1998)
How serious are the risks of taking dietary supplements? What is the scope of dietary supplement safety?
According to a statement by nutrition expert Michael Colgan, PhD, vitamins and health supplements are extremely safe:
“Used in any sensible amounts, vitamins and minerals are about as toxic as apple pie.” (Colgan, 1994)
Abram Hoffer, MD, PhD, (1917-2009) who had first-hand experience with the use of various dietary supplements, spanning over several decades, concluded that:
"Vitamin supplements are extraordinarily safe and effective. This is based on fifty years of clinical experience without seeing any life-threatening side effects and no deaths." (OMNS, May 22, 2006)
Another long-time user and proponent of vitamins, Erik Paterson, MD, said in regards to the health risks of dietary supplements:
"For 33 years I have aggressively prescribed and advocated vitamins in doses vastly higher than the U.S DRI/RDA, for my family and my patients. I have never seen any adverse reactions, even though I have been on the alert for them all this time." (OMNS, May 23, 2006)
“In its history, the pharmaceutical industry has become responsible for more deaths than that of the entire history of mankind taken together.” (Matthias Rath, MD)
A substance, or a procedure, is very risky if the proper use of it results in severe damage or death.
One of the key facts about vitamins and supplements is that every year extremely few people get killed or seriously injured by these products, both from proper and improper use combined.
The majority of serious side effects of nutritional supplements are because of improper use due to accidental overexposure by infants and very young children. If you only look at the proper supplement usage, serious harm or death are almost non-existent.
This factual reality makes nutritional supplements extraordinarily safe. No doubt, the health risks of dietary supplements are low.
Let's compare the risks from dietary supplements to the facts about the risks of pharmaceutical drugs, since medications are also widely used, so you can draw your own conclusions.
The majority of people are probably aware that pharmaceutical medications have numerous problematic side effects. After all, the media commercials about every type of pharmaceutical drug readily mention the potentially serious adverse events. What is never disclosed, whether by a drug advertisement or a medical doctor, is the actual harm inflicted on its victims by taking these products -which is very large. The misleading marketing machine of the orthodox medical culture leaves the public under the impression that these openly acknowledged, hypothetical drug side effects are rather uncommon. Unfortunately, real-life reality, unlike propaganda, depicts a totally different situation.
The proper use of FDA-approved prescription medications kills over 100,000 people in the United States, every year (Lazarou, et al., 1998; Kohn et al., 2000; Leape, 2000).
Did you get that... each and every year?
Some frank, albeit "politically incorrect", individuals had aptly called this staggering annual number of killings “iatrogenocide” and defined this terms as "physician-administered mass murder" or "physician-administered genocide".
If you take the data from both proper and improper use of FDA "safety"-approved medical drugs, the damage inflicted amounts to hundreds of thousands of deaths every year (Dean, et al., 2003; Collier, 2007; Leape, 2009).
By the way...
...in case you're thinking this can't be true or that it must be some kind of conspiracy...
...these frightening conclusions are based on government data and statistics from medical journals (Dean, et al., 2003).
It makes taking medical drugs one of the top five frequent causes of death in the US. (In 2015, the term "prescripticide" had been formally embraced by the global internet. The word's definition is a death caused by an adverse reaction, or a composite of reactions, to a prescription drug.)
The Dean group explained that:
“It is evident that the American medical system is the leading cause of death and injury in the United States.” (Dean, et al., 2003) [emphasis added]
Another study corroborated this assessment:
“Prescribed drugs are now a major cause of morbidity and mortality, […]. ”(McGavock, 2004)
Now, the serious damage from pharmaceutical drugs and other orthodox medical procedures doesn't stop with killing a mountain of people every year.
In addition to this worst possible injury, death, caused by orthodox FDA-approved prescription drugs, there are hundreds of thousands of severe side effects directly contributed to the intake of medical drugs (GAO, 2009). In a report by the Associated Press, referring to a “landmark government” study (=Budnitz, et al., 2006), it stated:
“Harmful reactions to some of the most widely used medicines — from insulin to a common antibiotic — sent more than 700,000 Americans to emergency rooms each year, landmark government research shows.” (Associated Press, 2006)
The authors of this “landmark government research” study noted their figures are likely an underestimate of the real problem and that:
“[...] the problem is large and can be expected to increase.” (Budnitz, et al., 2006)
For example, a substantial number of these reported cases required hospital admission following their trip to the emergency room because of the severity of their injuries (Budnitz, et al., 2006).
Furthermore, and maybe more unsettling, a significant amount of harm from medical drugs is getting suppressed during the scientific approval process.
Some scientists described a situation of “variability in the reporting of harm-related results” from studies that qualified for the allegedly rigid standards of "evidence-based medicine" (Pitrou, et al., 2009), whereas many serious adverse drug effects are “neglected, restricted, distorted, and silenced” (Ioannidis, 2009).
In other words, it is not uncommon that serious adverse effects from drugs are getting “swept under the rug”, so to speak, whereby they remain unpublished, while the drugs get approved for use.
Other research showed that adverse effects from just a few key prescription drugs alone account to over 888,000 events each year (Classen, et al., 2010). The issue is not new. Research examining data from around the mid 1960s to the turn of the 21st century, uncovered that:
“Drug-related problems are a significant cause of emergency department visits […].” (Patel & Zed, 2002)
To phrase it differently, it has been known about this huge magnitude of harm, caused by drugs, for decades (at least).
No wonder, some observers had suggested, a long time ago, the medical industry should be called "the disease industry" or even better, "the death industry".
In sharp contrast to the health risks from dietary supplements, out of the estimated several tens of thousands adverse side effects from supplement consumption that occur each year, the vast majority of them are minor in nature (Peng, et al., 2004; Haller, et al., 2008; American Association of Poison Control Centers, 1983-2008).
Compared to prescription medications, few adverse effects of nutritional supplements are encountered with their usage:
“The fact that there are relatively few adverse events reported for dietary supplements (compared to other FDA-regulated products) demonstrates the wide margin of safety for this category of FDA-regulated product.” (CRN, 2011)
On top of that, some vitamin side effects are the result of incompatible interactions between certain ingredients of supplements and prescription or over-the-counter drugs (Haller, et al., 2008; Gershwin, 2010).
Again, the fact about nutritional supplements and side effects is that the majority of them are unintentional accidents occurring among very young children (Gryzlak, et al., 2007; Bronstein, et al., 2009-2011).
Take any edition of the PDR (Physicians' Desk Reference), “the most authoritative source of FDA-regulated drug information available” (PDR, 64th Edition, 2010), a compendium of (almost exclusively) prescription drugs. Then read about the side effects of various vitamin supplements and multivitamin supplements. You will note quickly that the list is very short compared to the long list of adverse effects attributed to medical drugs.
Without any doubt, the data is clear and indisputable about nutritional supplement safety... vitamins are exceptionally safe, in just about every respect.
Two researchers concluded:
“Regardless of mandated practices, the majority of dietary supplement manufacturers have done an excellent job of protecting the safety and quality of their products.” (Crowley & FitzGerald, 2006)
Another group of study authors made this observation about the health risks of dietary supplements:
“Product contamination and/or mislabeling may undermine the integrity of dietary-supplement formulations.” (Sadovsky, et al., 2008)
“The biggest industries are usually able to keep public attention away from the harm they do.” (Raymond Peat, PhD, Biologist, in 2010)
Regardless of the relatively minimal dietary supplement dangers, the risks of taking supplements tend to get overreported and exaggerated (Moyad, 2010), especially by the media and adherents of conventional medicine.
A common tactic of the detractors is instilling unfounded fear and doubt among the public about the merits of vitamins and supplements.
Because any substance has the potential to be toxic, its implications are very often used, in manipulative ways, to promote a certain perspective.
Since it is hypothetically true that taking vitamin C “may” cause a comatose state, or that drinking water “may” cause cardiac arrest, it doesn't say anything about how likely it is these things do or will occur. Phrasing statements in unspecific terms, such as "vitamin E may increase mortality", has an implication of serious danger.
The perception of danger leads to fear and doubt in people. Fear and doubt lead to the avoidance of whatever people perceive as dangerous to them.
In the example above, the outcome could be the abandonment of using vitamin E supplements, or multivitamin supplements containing vitamin E.
Some of the misleading “agents of doom” even wrote an entire book on “the dangers of supplements”. One such work is called Natural Causes: Death, Lies and Politics in America’s Vitamin and Herbal Supplement Industry (2006) by Dan Hurley. For my review of his writings (an essay of his book), read the article Scaremongering About Vitamin Side Effects: How Supplement Truths Get Distorted. A more recent anti-supplement publication is Killing You Softly/Do You Believe In Magic? (2013) by Paul Offit. My discussion of his allegations is at 2 Big Lies: No Vitamin Benefits & Supplements Are Very Dangerous.
An astute scholar pointed out in regards to supplement fear-mongering that:
“It is much easier to drive people away from supplements by giving a couple of scary examples, than to convince people they are important by explaining the benefits and research of each nutrient.” (Russ Barton, MS, CNS, in 2009)
Dietary supplements are not a problem (a minor one at best). A lack of nutrition is a big problem. Prescription drugs are a big problem. Exposure to toxins is a problem. A lack of exercise is a problem. Trusting authorities, rather than facts, is a problem.
Nutritional supplements are part of the answer, or solution, to good health.
It is appropriate and of importance to note that most cases of supplement violations (especially product adulterations) are limited to three types of dietary supplements, as reported by the FDA (News & Events -Press Announcements, Dec. 15, 2010, from Official US Government FDA website, accessed Feb. 2011):
In a letter to manufacturers of dietary supplements, FDA representative
Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, called to attention how compromised products
out of those three categories of supplements, lower the overall
reputation of nutritional supplements:
“These products [=weight-loss, body-building, sexual enhancement] not only pose risks to consumers but undermine confidence in legitimately marketed dietary supplements in these and other categories.” (Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, Commissioner of Food and Drugs, Dec. 15, 2010) [explanation & emphasis added]
To take a typical example of scare-mongering about the health risks of dietary supplements, some proponents of orthodox evidence-based medicine make misleading statements, such as:
“The use of unproven products [=dietary supplements] based on hearsay evidence, which lack rigorous data showing safety and efficacy, as is required for drug approval, is risky.” (Dipaola & Gallo, 2008) [explanation added]
But isn't it ironic, or rather hypocritical and dishonest, how someone can refer to the consumption of supplements as risky, due to an alleged lack of evidence on their safety and effectiveness (which is untrue), when the proper use of drugs that are FDA-approved “for safety and efficacy” (and allegedly don't rely on “hearsay evidence”) kills at least a hundred thousand people every single year (Lazarou, et al., 1998; Starfield, 2000; Kohn et al., 2000; Dean, et al., 2003) while extremely few people (if any at all) die due to the intake of nutritional supplements every year?
In an editorial of The Lancet, a traditional and very prestigious medical journal, it issued these surprising words of advice:
“[...] before doctors rush to condemn the weak evidence base underpinning these [alternative] therapies they should pause and consider the record of orthodox medicine.” (Lancet, Dec. 2000) [explanation & emphasis added]
Unfortunately, conventional doctors and other adherents of modern medicine seldom, if ever, “pause” to look at the damage their ways of healing are actually causing.
Will you “pause” and look at “the record of orthodox medicine” as far as the shocking magnitude of injury and damage goes, the gigantic carnage and harm caused, as a matter of routine, by doctor-applied, doctor-prescribed, and doctor-sanctioned remedies and treatments (i.e., "iatrogenocide”)?
“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” (Krishnamurti, 1895-1986, Spiritual Leader)
A society with a dominant “sickness-care” system, officially but falsely declared to be a “health-care” system, which primarily creates, manages, and maintains disease longterm, a culture that disregards the known core causes of chronic disease, is a society in which chronic sickness and disease is rampant, rather than longterm health. What reasonable person would expect anything else?
This takes us back to the health risks of dietary supplements...
Which devastating fires should we focus on extinguishing with priority -the one causing little harm or the one causing massive harm?
kill a few people every year (at best), while pharmaceutical drugs
kill over 100,000 people every year.
Sound, healthy reasoning and thinking, and a health-oriented, life-respecting medical establishment, focus on eradicating what is causing the most damage to people. Anything else amounts to insanity.
The medical profession officially confesses, swears, and claims to uphold the principle “first do no harm” when the reality is that its treatments, procedures, and interventions are one of the top leading causes of death in the United States and Europe -and have been for decades (Dean, et al., 2003; Gøtzsche, 2013).
Obviously, orthodox medicine isn't (seriously) interested in changing this frightening fact. Where are, and have been, all the so-called "well-meaning" and "good" doctors?
Extrapolating from Krishnamurti's quote above, it wouldn't be incorrect to state that “it is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick medical culture.”
Because the problem is that...
Your life may be at risk because of you being “well adjusted” (i.e., compliant, conforming) to the unreasonable, irresponsible modus operandi of the medical establishment, enabled and made possible by an accommodative government elective favoring corporate interests over people's health.
After all, this isn't a horrific fact that got discovered just yesterday.
To reiterate because it is so crucial...
The presumed stringent safety and efficacy testing system of the FDA for prescription drugs “produces” a mountain of dead bodies, plus hundreds of thousands of people who get injured from the use of these pharmaceutical medications (along with other medical treatments), which is a mainstay treatment approach of modern medicine.
Every single year.
Contrasting that to the health risks of dietary supplements, a lax and weak regulatory system of FDA dietary supplement regulation, which does not even mandate to analyze, test, or approve supplements for safety and effectiveness prior to marketing (as discussed in the 3-part article on "Exploring The Shady World Of Dietary Supplement Regulation". PART 2: Dietary Supplement Regulation -No FDA Approvals For Supplements!), “produces” exceptionally few deaths per year, and few major side effects of supplements, despite the fact that over half of the US population consumes nutritional supplements.
What practice exactly is most definitely very risky, the use of nutritional supplements or the use of prescription drugs?
Which of the two regulatory systems should be scrutinized closer?
Obviously, an assessment of the allegedly grave health risks of dietary supplements, compared to the alleged harmlessness of officially approved medical drugs (e.g., Dipaola & Gallo, 2008 -see their statement above) is utterly ignorant, misleading, dishonest, and simply wrong.
It does, however suggest that you... should follow facts and objective reality.
What is the ultimate objective reality?
The magnitude of destruction.
How many people get killed from supplements, how many get seriously injured? How many people get killed, or seriously injured, from pharmaceutical drugs and medical procedures (which are the very medical methods advocated by the people and organizations opposing nutritional supplements)?
Trust facts, not authorities.
Jonathan V. Wright, MD, a holistically-oriented physician, wrote many years ago in one of his books:
“Drug therapy and surgical therapy are demonstrably more dangerous than the use of diets, vitamins, minerals, and other natural substances in the treatment of illness.” (Wright, 1979)
Solid scientific data, and real-life reality, indicate it is still true today in the 21st century.
“Neglect is like an infection. Left unchecked it will spread throughout our entire system of disciplines and eventually lead to a complete breakdown of a potentially joy-filled and prosperous human life.” (Jim Rohn, 1930-2009, Author & Entrepreneur)
Taking nutritional supplements can give you the illusion that you're “bullet-proof” against disease.
Why is that one of the health risks with dietary supplements?
Ideally, to preserve your good health it requires a number of health-promoting habits and activities. Not just one or two. Eating a nutritious diet, taking high-quality supplements, exercising, getting enough sleep and rest, engaging in loving relationships, abstaining from smoking, avoiding pollutants, and so forth are all crucial factors.
According to some research (Chiou, et al., Aug. 2011), taking nutritional supplements can give the users the impression that they're “immune” to falling ill with a disease. As an “ironic consequence”, these people neglect other critical pillars of health, or even engage in activities that are risky to health (Chiou, et al., Aug. 2011). For instance, a supplement user with that misconception might reason it's okay to eat poorly, or to only sleep three hours a night, or to exercise very little.
It is an illusion of invincibility that leads to neglect. Neglect of other healthy activities.
Small neglects, especially in combination, over a long period of time add up and will become a significant health risk for you.
Sad but true, this makes this irresponsible, ironic behavior one of the health risks with dietary supplements. And although it's one of the lesser known health risks of dietary supplements it is probably one of the potentially more serious threats to your health.
Professor Wen-Bin Chiou and his co-investigators concluded with an important finding:
“Our research indicates that the use of dietary supplements is more closely connected to unhealthy behaviors than previously thought.” (Chiou, et al., Aug. 2011)
Additionally, in people with already existing destructive health habits, such as smokers, the intake of vitamins and health supplements can stop them from reducing or abandoning their detrimental behavior (Chiou, et al., Dec. 2011).
However, it appears that this illusion or misconception of invincibility applies in a more general manner as it underlies and “serves” the continuation of all kinds of health-destructive activities, unrelated to the consumption of nutritional supplements.
For instance, the invulnerability illusion is analogous to smokers who justify to keep their destructive habit by believing that by exercising every day, for example, they “make up” for, or negate, the deleterious effects of their daily tobacco use. Or the alcoholics who persuaded themselves that it's okay to keep drinking excessively as long as they sit an a sauna and jog around the block once a week until they sweat profusely to cleanse themselves from the toxins of their drinking addiction.
Interestingly you can observe the “ironic” behavior, stemming from seeing yourself as invulnerable to health hazards, even within the enjoyment of a single meal. A person eats a healthy meal and then “uses” the good deed to justify the splurging on a heavy dose of junk desert, or eating poorly for the rest of the day.
Looking at it from a broader perspective of human behavior the research suggests that people are inclined to justify doing “bad” things, after they have engaged in a “good” deed (Sachdeva, et al., 2009), if they intend to do a “good” deed sometimes in the (near) future (Khan & Dhar, 2007), or if they've participated in “good” behavior in the (recent) past (Wilcox, et al., 2009).
The research also supports the notion that this “licensing effect” (=because I've done something good it's okay for me to do something bad) affects all types of human behaviors, not just activities related to health.
For instance, the “licensing effect” explains why doctors tend to readily accept bribes (a “bad” deed), especially from pharmaceutical companies, because they feel entitled, and justify their actions on the grounds that they had to sacrifice a lot to become a doctor, which is perceived as a “good” deed (Sah & Loewenstein, 2010).
As far as your health concerns, basically, by engaging in a health-promoting behavior (such as exercising regularly, eating well, taking supplements) the tendency emerges or lurks, by way of “the licensing effect”, to either...
… neglect other health-promoting activities, or
… neglect to discontinue or reduce health-destructive behaviors.
Conscious efforts, by each individual, seem to be required to not fall into this “trap”, at least not too often. Otherwise, the seemingly negligible traps, eventually, might claim your health. Prematurely. Unnecessarily.
A proper perspective on the health risks of dietary supplements includes examining the potential of vitamins and supplements for benefits or gains, the flip side of risks.
Every substance on earth has a risk, a possibility of causing harm. On the flip side, every substance also has a possibility of gain, of providing benefits.
As a rule, the smaller the risk of causing damage, the greater the potential for benefits.
That describes precisely the situation with vitamins and nutritional supplements...
Because the health risks of dietary supplements are low, vitamin benefits and health benefits of supplements in general are large.
Huge upsides, and virtually no downsides.
“There is far more risk to public health from people stopping their vitamin supplements than from people taking them." (Michael Janson, MD, in 2006)
Keep in mind that the official definition of risk is “the possibility of loss”. The prospect of losing something...
When taking into consideration the clinical data, overall, dietary supplement safety risks do not pose a substantial danger. This indicates that the biggest risk with supplements is not so much a matter of safety, meaning the potential of incurred harm, but...
the risk of missing out on the health benefits
...by not taking them at all, or by picking low-quality cheap supplements which are not effective because they are not firmly based on scientific research and dependable data of clinical experience.
An investigator who released a guidebook on the quality ratings of a whole host of dietary supplements available in North America, mentioned in it that:
“There are no current US regulations that enforce minimum standards of practice, no requirements for pre-market approval, no post-market surveillance, and no site licensing or product licensing required for the manufacturing of dietary supplements in the United States. […] a manufacturer does not have to provide the FDA with evidence to substantiate safety or effectiveness before or after it markets its products. […] Consequently, the US market for dietary supplements is one where, according to some authorities, the majority of supplements fail to meet label claims. […] In short, it is a case of “buyers beware”.” (MacWilliam, 2007) [emphasis added]
“Dr. John Cardellina, of the US-based Council for Responsible Nutrition, believes that 20% to 40% of US dietary supplement products fail to meet analyses for label claim. Other experts feel that Cardellina’s estimate may be too conservative. According to Dr. Srini Srinivassa, of the United States Pharmacopeia Dietary Supplementation Verification Program (USP), the majority of nutritional products in the US market today would fail to substantiate the claims made on their labels. With quality control like that, people should be asking if what is on the label is really in the bottle.” (MacWilliam, 2007) [emphasis added]
So, how do you know if a supplement is effective, that it will give you the benefits you're hoping for?
The answer is...you don't.
Because the FDA does not test or approve supplements for safety or effectiveness, it does not certify nutritional supplements for authenticity, prior to marketing. Consequently, the FDA does not mandate of supplement manufacturers to submit scientific studies or clinical trials (meaning evidence) documenting the effectiveness of their product formulations before they sell it to the public.
The truth about dietary supplements is that if you choose products that do not contain the amounts of ingredients as shown to be most effective in the scientific literature and by long-term use, you will simply miss out on the benefits for your health. If you choose supplements whose ingredients come in forms that are poorly absorbed by your body, again you will not receive the maximum benefits.
Needless to say, none of these crucial issues relating to the science underlying a supplement formulation are addressed by government regulations.
The facts about dietary supplements are that the real concern, overall, with nutritional supplements is not the risk of harm because that is minimal. The ultimate risk is of missed health benefits by choosing low-quality, ineffective (not science-based) products. Because the health gains are truly remarkable with the use of high-quality nutritional supplements.
A lot of solid scientific research confirmed the immense scope of vitamin benefits. Moreover, clinical experience with these natural health products, over many decades, has validated the profound benefits of supplements.
By not taking top-notch quality supplements you essentially give up on...
● the reduced risk to succumb to an illness or health issue,
● the substantial odds to improve or maintain your health.
Or, in other words...
By NOT taking high-quality, science-based pure vitamins and supplements...you're more like to loose your health and fall ill.
Epitomizing the situation in the words of a nutritionist...
“[...] leaving your health to chance is a lot riskier than taking low-risk efforts to maintain good health.” (Patricia Hausman, PhD, in 1989)
Grasp the the huge benefits, and sidestep the low risks, with high-quality nutritional supplements.
Virtually all the health hazards of nutritional supplements, virtually all the factors surrounding supplement safety, whether the product is tainted with contaminants or not, whether there is not enough, or too much, of the actual ingredients contained in the product bottle, is dependent on the quality of the manufacturing process.
And the quality of the manufacturing process, and whether the formula is science-based, are -by law- entirely up to the nutritional supplement manufacturers.
So the quality of supplements is all up to the people who own, run, or are in charge of a nutritional supplement company or a brand of supplements.
It boils down to the question whether the people who hold the ultimate responsibility, such as nutritional supplement manufacturers, put quality -which includes safety and effectiveness of the supplements- over profits, or the other way around.
To phrase it differently...
Are the nutritional supplement manufacturers, or suppliers, committed to your health first and foremost, or are they primarily committed to their own financial bottom line?
To practically avoid all the health risks with dietary supplements, and especially the risks of taking dietary supplements of low-quality (thereby forfeiting health benefits), select nutritional supplements from reliable, ethical companies...
● Companies that have the expertise and commitment to create science-based product formulations, and...
● Companies that are fully dedicated to follow the highest possible quality manufacturing standards available, thereby putting your health first.
The way it should be.
(Originally published: Dec-2013 | This is an updated version)
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Recommended next page(s):
Article Index On Health Risks
From Dietary Supplements
Dietary Supplements And Risks -The Attacks On Supplement Safety (on The Politics Of Nutritional Supplements)
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