Treating supplements like drugs will lead to one thing only: eliminating supplements altogether. Action Alert!
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is a key ally of Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL). Under the auspices of the Special Committee on Aging, where she is the ranking member, Sen. McCaskill sent letters to over a dozen major retailers including Amazon, CVS, Target, the Vitamin Shoppe, GNC, Kroger, Safeway, and Walgreens, asking—in effect, demanding—that the retailers supply information and documents to the committee, with the expectation that it will lead to a Senate hearing. The committee wants to review the retailers’ policies relating to:
- the sale and marketing of supplements;
- the removal of products determined to be adulterated, improperly labeled, or fraudulently marketed;
- the reporting of serious adverse events; and
- how consumers’ complaints regarding supplements are handled.
The letters also ask that the retailers brief the Special Committee on Aging staff regarding the above procedures.
Some of the letters express specific concerns about supplements that are being used to protect against and/or mitigate the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
This is not the first time the senator has tackled this topic. In 2010, the Special Committee on Aging held a hearing, titled “Dietary Supplements: What Seniors Need to Know.” The overall tenor of the hearing was that regulators needed more authority to clamp down on deceptive marketing practices of some dietary supplement manufacturers. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) responded by clarifying that such deceptive marketing practices were already illegal and that the FDA already had the authority to criminally prosecute offenders, making any further regulation redundant. The hearing showed that many in Congress simply do not understand dietary supplement regulation.
In 2014, Sen. McCaskill headed a Senate Consumer Protection Subcommittee hearing on false or misleading marketing of weight loss supplements, where she famously grilled Dr. Mehmet Oz for using what she considered sensationalist language to push certain products on his popular television program.
It is interesting that Sen. McCaskill is targeting supplements that may protect against Alzheimer’s and dementia. We’ve written before about the positive results from coconut oil in patients with Alzheimer’s after Big Pharma drugs either failed to improve, or actively worsened, the patients’ condition. Other evidence suggests that high doses of B vitamins limit brain shrinkage, a common precursor to Alzheimer’s. A proper diet and proper supplementation may also improve our memory as we grow older.
The Mediterranean Diet has also been shown to be associated with slower cognitive decline. Well-functioning brains contain high levels of DHA, which can be obtained by a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish, walnuts, flaxseed, and eggs. Limiting intake of trans-fats common in fried foods and omega-6 fats helps maintain a healthy brain along with getting enough sleep and reducing stress.
There is much more research to be done on these topics, but it is remarkable how much research already has been done, considering that the foods and supplements cannot be patented.
Let’s be clear. Inquiries such as this are often only the first step in a process that culminates in lawmakers calling for supplements to be regulated more like drugs—which, because of the high cost and what we call the “Catch-22” of drug approval, would likely result in the complete elimination of many important supplements from the market. This is precisely the approach Sen. Durbin has taken in the past—and why it is so very important that we take action now, before it snowballs.
Besides Sens. McCaskill and Durbin, politicians such as Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and former Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) have repeatedly intimated that supplements are unregulated, which is simply untrue. As we’ve written before, supplements are subject to regulation by both the FDA and the FTC, and must adhere to strict current good manufacturing practices to ensure the safety of the supplements consumers buy. Unfortunately, as in most industries, some bad actors will not follow the law, and it is then up to federal regulators to enforce the rules. In one notorious memo from the past, the FDA admitted that it was not doing its job—clearly hoping that some dire result would lead to new legislation against supplements.
It should be remembered that the current system actually works: supplements have a sterling track record of safety. Our friends at ANH-Europe calculated that UK residents were actually more likely to get killed by lightning as to die from taking dietary supplements.
We’ve long suspected that these attacks from certain politicians have less to do with protecting consumers than with doing the bidding of Big Pharma, which would love any competition from supplements to be eliminated. Just compare the price of drugs to supplements. And compare the safety record of supplements to that of FDA-approved drugs which, even when properly prescribed, cause about 1.9 million hospitalizations and kill about 128,000 Americans every year.
Moreover, the drug industry has yet to produce a drug for Alzheimer’s that really works. Personal testing, food, supplements, and lifestyle—the key elements of integrative medicine—are all we have at the moment to protect our aging brains.
Action Alert! Write to the members of the Special Committee on Aging and urge them to halt this bullying of supplement retailers and maintain consumer access to important supplements. Remind them that federal regulators already have the authority to stop deceitful marketing practices. The FDA and FTC should simply do their job and enforce current law. Please send your message immediately.