Skip to Main Content

The dietary supplements had ominous names, like Black Widow and Yellow Scorpion. They contained an illegal and potentially dangerous molecule, similar in structure to amphetamines.

But when a Harvard researcher dared to point that out, in a scientific, peer-reviewed study and in media interviews, the supplement maker sued him for libel and slander.

Unlock this article by subscribing to STAT+ and enjoy your first 30 days free!

  • Everything comes down to having the right perspective. If presented with a disjointed snippet of the entire picture, as is the case here with this disinformation piece by this author, you only get a biased bogus account.

    Admittedly, there are issues (mostly benign) with product quality and product adulteration in terms of safety, especially among certain types of supplements such as diet products. But the type of disinformation in this article distracts you from seeing the larger real picture.

    If you look past the usual twisted anti-supplement propaganda you will recognize that highly FDA-regulated (for safety and effectiveness) products such as prescription drugs of the conventional medical business cause multiple times more damage to public health than lightly FDA regulated (for safety and effectiveness) supplements (the difference is like night and day!!!) – read the scholarly article “Tougher Supplement Regulation: A Necessity Or Politics?” by Rolf Hefti, a published author of the Orthomolecular Medicine News organization).

    The general public must understand that “FDA approval” of anything isn’t a sign of scientific validity of product safety or effectiveness but mostly of corporate favoritism (see above reference).

    The lack-of-meaningful-regulation argument has been extensively used by the medical profession/medical establishment to mislead the public into thinking that dietary supplements pose a great threat to their health. The fact is allopathic drugs are a top leading cause of death and serious harm (read “Death By Medicine” by Carolyn Dean and ”The Truth About the Drug Companies. How They Deceive Us and What to Do About It” by Marcia Angell)!!!

    So, the deceptive calls for more federal regulation of supplements and anti-supplement rants, such as this one, are usually little more than total public deception and are often works of “damage control” for the criminal conventional medical establishment (see all prior references).

  • Two studies published in the past four years have estimated that preventable medical errors kill from 250,000 to more than 400,000 Americans a year. One of the studies found, “Serious harm seems to be 10- to 20-fold more common than lethal harm.” Somehow this happens despite medicine being heavily regulated, though regulation is frequently touted as an effective method of improving safety.

    Let’s put risk in context. A study published in 2015 estimated that 23,000 ER visits a year were due to supplements, a fifth of which were due to ingestion by unsupervised children. If true, roughly the same number of people visit ERs for supplement side-effects as are accidentally killed each month in hospital, according to the research. The number of people annually harmed by non-lethal preventable medical errors (including those involving regulated medications) is roughly 100 to 200 times as large as the number of people who visit ERs due to side-effects from unregulated supplements. Assuming that the supplement study is right, about 0.06% of annual ER visits are due to supplement ingestion. Deaths to do preventable medical errors are estimated to be the third leading cause of death in the U.S.

    I suggest that the supplement fear-mongering is as much about politics as health. It is often connected to the complaint that supplements are unregulated. Proponents of supplement regulation do not explain why myriad regulations don’t prevent the huge number of medical errors. They ignore the economists who claim that regulations actually increase medical harm.

    I’ll venture a guess that safety is not foremost in the thoughts of someone who ingests a products named Black Widow and Yellow Scorpion. I’ll further conjecture that people who are hospitalized do not wish to be accidentally killed. Supplement ingestion is a voluntarily assumed risk, while medical injuries are not.

    Do STAT editors not realize that all things we ingest are “potentially dangerous”? The dose makes the poison is not a brand new idea, but putting risks in context is not the custom of people trying to whip up fear.

  • I like how Wheat told the journalist to, “Go write your slander piece”. Clearly, he has no idea that libel is much stronger in court than slander and probably doesn’t know the difference between the two. Hello, you’re talking to a journalist; one who writes.

  • An excellent, frightening story. My best wishes to Dr. Cohen. I hope that somehow this story gets to Donald Trump – he seems slowly to be more amenable to changing his mind about gutting regulations & making life easier for unscrupulous drug/supplement manufacturers.

  • Hi! Thanks for sharing this. I believe supplements are very important if we want to avoid potential illnesses that is why it is equally important that we should always check first what we are taking. I also came over this website which happens to offer free health coaching on proper nutrition and supplementation. You might want to check it out. I hope that helps. Nice content, by th way. 🙂

  • Nicolas,
    Unnatural simply indicates the chemical does not occur in nature, i.e. Man made, like crystal meth rather than thc, cocaine or heroin which occur naturally. All 4 have psychological effect, oh and all can alter sensorium.

  • Dr Cohen can keep up his political vendetta against “unsafe” supplements that have helped thousands and hurt no one. It’s all about one thing for Cohen…power, not safety. But keep at it Dr Cohen…we, the users will continue to get any product you deem unsafe from the internet. And benefit from them without harm..i.e. picamilon. See if you and your team of supplement fascists, and your FDA puppets, can shut THAT down.

    • If Dr. Cohen deemed an ingredient marketed as a dietary supplement to be unsafe, you would be wise to avoid it. “Unsafe” supplements have not only only hurt, but killed people. There is no justification for allowing a supplement to be sold until proven safe. In the case of products marketed as dietary supplements, meaning they must be naturally found in the diet, when they are clearly not, there is no reason to allow them to be sold as such. Unnatural, synthetic compounds with demonstrable pharmacological effects are pharmaceuticals—not dietary supplements.

    • Ken writes: “Unnatural, synthetic compounds with demonstrable pharmacological effects are pharmaceuticals—not dietary supplements.”

      I’m not sure what makes something “unnatural,” and it isn’t clear at all why he singles out “synthetic compounds.” By definition pharmacology is the “branch of medicine concerned with the uses, effects, and modes of action of drugs.” (Oxford American Dictionary) His point amounts to circular reasoning.

      It is undeniable that synthetic compounds have physiological effects. (By “compounds” I think he means chemicals.) It is also undeniable that countless natural chemicals, many in foods, have physiological effects. Why is magnesium in a pill more “pharmacological” than magnesium in green leafy vegetables? Anti-quack activists have been arguing for decades that synthetic versions of naturally occurring nutrients have identical effects.

      It is a mistake to argue that all things which effect the body are drugs, but it certainly serves the objective of people who want those things regulated by government agencies. The case for regulating the ingestion of supplements is certainly weaker than the one for regulating the (adult) ingestion of alcohol, marijuana, and caffeine. The only task of the government should be to ensure that a product contains what the label says it does.

  • Responsibility for laws allowing the huge growth and legal protection of what would be otherwise an illegal supplements industry: Senator Orrin Hatch. He’s effectively created an unregulated, billion dollar, nation-wide industry, largely based in his home state of Utah, selling worthless and unsafe products to millions of unsuspecting Americans.

  • Well there is another remedy to this lingering stench from the medicine vs. supplement battle that has raged for years. How about if we pull all of the foods from the market shelves that are harmful and cause obesity? That’s a start. Then we can remove all of the ads that show perfect people-especially ads that show women who look like Twiggy or pubescent boys and men who look like Hercules. That would be a real improvement and go a long way toward containing both sides of the weight loss industry vendors- medical/surgical and supplements.

Comments are closed.