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The New York Times Spreads Supplement Falsehoods

The New York Times Spreads Supplement Falsehoods
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When flunking the paper’s supplement quiz shows you know more than the authors of the questions. Action Alert!

A recent article from the New York Times titled “How Useful are Supplements?” does more to obfuscate and confuse than to educate, so much so that real knowledge about the science of supplements would lead you to fail the article’s 13-question quiz. Here are a few of the more glaring issues with the article:

One question asks readers select health conditions from a list for which supplements can be effective treatments; the list includes depression, cognitive decline, and irritable bowel syndrome. The NYT’s answer? “None of the above.” The explanation is that supplements cannot advertise that they can treat diseases.

That, of course, has nothing to do with whether supplements can, in fact, help treat or prevent disease. It is merely a reflection of the ”Catch-22” we’ve written about so much: only FDA-approved drugs can claim to treat or prevent a disease. Drug companies can afford the astronomical cost required for FDA approval because they are patentable; supplements, being natural, are not able to be strongly patented, so no company will take a vitamin or mineral through FDA approval. Supplements impart many health benefits, but federal law prevents us from hearing about them—a problem we are trying to address with a bill to allow the free flow of information about the benefits of supplements.

Also, the evidence does show that supplements can help with the conditions listed in the NYT article. We recently reported on supplements that can be effective for mental health conditions, including B vitamins and amino acids. We’ve also reported on supplements like glutathione and others that can help with cognitive decline, for example. Several natural therapies can help with irritable bowel syndrome, like probiotics, peppermint oil, and psyllium husk.

Another question asks about the situations in which it is necessary to take a vitamin D supplement. The “correct” answers are, if your doctor tells you that you have low vitamin D, you have Crohn’s disease, or spend a lot of time indoors. The author states, “there’s no evidence that loading up on vitamin D supercharges your immune response or that low levels cause widespread disease.”

Wrong again! We reported extensively on the evidence demonstrating poor COVID outcomes for those low in vitamin D. We recently summarized evidence about the benefits of vitamin D for protecting the brain, promoting heart health, helping with metabolic disorders, immune enhancement, and bone health.

Additionally, more than 90 percent of the US population doesn’t get enough vitamin D, and 42 percent are deficient. Real rates of insufficiency and deficiency are likely much higher, since these values are based on pitifully low government benchmarks for vitamin D. For most people, the government recommends 600 IU vitamin D daily. Those who follow these recommendations will not even come close to being able to take advantage of the therapeutic effects of vitamin D supplementation.

Some integrative experts recommend achieving circulating blood levels as high as 80 ng/mL vitamin D. Achieving such levels requires supplementing with about 5,000-8,000 IU vitamin D per day, perhaps even more, depending on the individual. (Achieving the right vitamin D levels should be done in consultation with a healthcare professional because blood levels need to be monitored.)

Finally, the NYT asks, “True or false: vitamin C is good to take when you have a cold?” According to the NYT, it is a “myth” that vitamin C can help with colds. Really? In one randomized controlled trial, the group supplementing with vitamin C had 20 percent fewer colds than the placebo group. Another trial found vitamin C reduces cold frequency and severity. The human body can’t make vitamin C, and during many infections, vitamin C levels drop as oxidative stress increases.

In the end, this is more of the same supplement slander from the mainstream media, but the timing is suspicious. As we’ve been telling you, the dominoes seem to be lining up against supplements as Sen. Dick Durbin and his allies pursue new restrictions on supplements. Now the media is doing their part: recently, we saw alarmist headlines about melatonin poisonings that had nothing to do with the intrinsic safety of melatonin and more to do with irresponsible parents; now more misinformation about how “useless” supplements are. All of this helps Sen. Durbin build his case for additional regulations on supplements.

Action Alert! Write to Congress and tell them to oppose mandatory product listing for supplements. Please send your message immediately.

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