Supplements: Do Not Waste Your Money or Your Health

It has been my standard practice to steer patients away from over-the-counter health supplements and vitamins. I have always found it perplexing how many of these patients will readily shun any prescription product as the spawn of Satan but if the latest snake oil is presented to them in a plastic bottle with the inscription, “all-natural”, on the side of it, they will readily accept and ingest that product as ingestible gospel. Never mind that for a prescription medication to become accepted and sold in the medical market in the United States it must pass rigorous multi-level trials costing millions of dollars; it is that plastic bottle stamped, “all-natural”, the contents of which are not tested by anyone, EVER, that is accepted by these patients as safe and effective.

The supplement industry is a multibillion dollar industry. It fits very well in this no ownership, no responsibility society in which we live. Many people in the United States would prefer to simply “take a pill” to obtain the desired effect or benefit they seek. This is so much easier and more efficient that actually doing something the “right” way to gain the desired benefit. As such, this industry meshes very well with the mindset of this populace. Want to lose weight? Take this pill. Want bigger muscles? Take that pill. Want to perform better in the bedroom? And on and on it goes. In reality, most of the time, these pills do not have the ability to facilitate the changes their marketers promise and if they do, it is likely that the pills contain a banned and or dangerous, illegal product.

Many people are unaware that there is no FDA for over-the-counter supplements and vitamins, no one to assess quality control. It is well-documented that during numerous random lab testing these products often do not contain the ingredients that they claim and what is worse is they often contain many ingredients which are not reported and not desirable. If the bottles do actually contain any of the ingredients that they claim are in their product, the pills vary greatly not only from bottle to bottle but within the same bottle from pill to pill.

Unlike prescription medications, which, again, are rigorously tested and evaluated for safety prior to going to market, these supplements are presumed to be safe without any testing. What is more frustrating and disheartening is that, strangely, the burden of proof is then on the FDA to prove that a product is unsafe. A company here in my hometown of Dallas has been in the news again lately for consistently placing products on store shelves which contain banned substances linked to high blood pressure, increased heart rate and deaths. Ingredients like DMAA and aegeline which have been deemed unsafe by the FDA. Please see the excellent article by Seema Yasmin, M.D. at this link, which describes the games that are played by unscrupulous supplement companies to place these unsafe products on the market to line with a blatant disregard for public health. The health risks are enormous.

There are no short cuts. Proper diet, rest and exercise are the best foundation. If you require a medication for an illness or affliction you are much smarter and safer going with a rigorously tested product. Does the FDA make the right decision every time? Of course, not! Sometimes products are later found to have risks or issues not previously known and products are recalled. However, the supplement industry is the wild, wild, west. It is sheer insanity to think for a moment that a completely unregulated product, produced by cowboys riding nothing but a profit motive race horse, is going to be safer than a rigorously tested medication. Slapping “all-natural” on the side of a bottle has absolutely no recognized regulated meaning. It has no value, no credentials.

Do yourself a favor. Do not waste your time and health on these products. You will be better, safer, healthier and, perhaps, a little wealthier, too.