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Feds’ Warped Logic on Supplements

Feds’ Warped Logic on Supplements
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A research review from the National Institute of Health (NIH) shows the promise of dietary supplements in fighting COVID-19 yet concludes there isn’t enough evidence to recommend them. Huh? Action Alert!

According to the NIH review, there is science showing vitamin D helps with respiratory infections and may reduce COVID severity, while deficiency is associated with more infections and more severe cases of COVID-19. The review looks at eleven supplements and includes over 200 references, a vast number of which point to the beneficial effects supplements can have on human health and disease prevention, including COVID-19. NIH’s takeaway? “Data are insufficient to support recommendations for or against the use of [supplements] to prevent or treat COVID-19.” This is likely aimed to support the FTC’s recent attacks against doctors who taught the benefits of natural medicines for COVID. If anything, this review underscores why we need to support efforts that expand consumer access to supplements, including a bill in Congress that allows Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) to cover natural products.  

The review looks at a handful of supplements, including vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, melatonin, and Andrographis, assessing the literature on the safety and efficacy of these different compounds. In vitamin D’s case, the authors include many of the same studies we reported on, demonstrating the benefits of vitamin D for COVID-19. Consider some of these excerpts from the review:

  • “Some evidence suggests that vitamin D supplementation helps prevent respiratory tract infections.”
  • “…people with vitamin D deficiency were more likely to have COVID-19 than those who were vitamin D sufficient.”
  • “A systematic review and meta-analysis of 39 studies… found that participants with vitamin D deficiency…had a higher risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection and more severe COVID-19 disease than those with adequate vitamin D levels.”
  • “Some evidence suggests that vitamin D supplementation might reduce COVID-19 severity.”

NIH’s conclusion? “Currently, data are insufficient to support a recommendation for or against the use of vitamin D supplementation to prevent or treat COVID-19.”

This theme is repeated throughout the document. On one hand, the NIH writes that “studies have not thoroughly assessed use of [Andrographis for COVID-19],” and then goes on to list a number of studies, including clinical trials, that demonstrate the effectiveness of the herb in alleviating COVID-19 symptoms. NIH states that there isn’t enough data to recommend vitamin C, but notes “many researchers recommend studying vitamin C as an adjuvant therapy for COVID-19, including its possible ability to reduce inflammation and vascular injury in these patients.” Clinicaltrials.gov lists 64 clinical trials on vitamin C and COVID, and 6 trials on intravenous vitamin C. This great interest in vitamin C is surely an indication of its promise in helping with COVID.

If anything, this document ironically demonstrates how silly the government’s position is. Only FDA-approved drugs can claim to treat, prevent, or mitigate a disease. The FDA and the FTC, as we’ve seen, are ready and willing to make sure that no one dares to claim that affordable, safe, and natural substances can help with disease. Yet in many cases, overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates the plausibility of using supplements to protect our health and to combat disease.

Part of the problem is that, to gain FDA approval and make disease claims, randomized controlled trials (RCTs) would need to be conducted on supplements, as they are on new-to-nature drugs. But these studies are incredibly expensive, costing millions of dollars. Drug companies can afford them because drugs are patentable; most supplements, being natural, cannot be strongly patented, so the cost of conducting these trials cannot be recouped by supplement companies. Then the establishment claims that the absence of clinical trials on vitamins means we don’t really know whether they work.

When trials are conducted on supplements,  we often see that the dosage being studied is far too low to have therapeutic effects—typically because they are using government references to determine the amount to use. For example, we were told by experts that a clinical trial assessing intravenous vitamin C’s ability to treat COVID-19 used a dose unlikely to achieve an effect. This is a shame, since skeptics then use the negative results from improperly-designed trials as ammunition to argue that natural medicines don’t work.

As we have long noted, RTCs don’t even fit food and supplement research very well. A drug molecule can be better isolated in its effects. Foods and supplements are just part of our diet and often depend on co-factors. For example, supplemental calcium should not be taken without supplemental K2, but isolating it for an RCT would miss that. In addition, the effect of a food or supplement will depend in the first place on whether the subject is deficient in that nutrient. No one is nutritionally deficient in a drug. Random choice of participants for a food or supplement study is therefore illogical.

There is lots of scientific support for dietary supplements to support human health. A bill in Congress would expand access to these products by allowing Americans to be reimbursed for supplements through Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), and Health Reimbursement Accounts (HRAs). ANH has supported similar efforts for many years; we must keep pushing to get this over the finish line.

Action Alert! Write to Congress and tell your elected officials to support S. 1654. Please send your message immediately.

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