Where Are The Bodies? - The Exceptional Safety of Nutritional Supplements
Canadian Health Authorities are ready to regulate supplements in a similar way as pharmaceutical drugs, but resistance is rallying around a law proposal - Bill C 420 - which would clearly define and distinguish supplements from dangerous drugs, suggesting that supplements are more close to foods than medicines and should therefore be regulated in a similar way as food products. Medicines regulation could crush the supplements industry and make many safe food-based health products unavailable to those using them.
Dr. Andrew Saul of www.doctoryourself.com made a presentation to the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, which is considering Bill C 420. The presentation was excerpted in Dr. Saul's Doctor Yourself Newsletter and the full text is available on doctoryourself.com. The presentation makes interesting reading. It should be in every member of Parliament's files to reference when asked to approve one of the numerous pieces of legislation introduced to "ensure the safety of supplements by new legislation".
Clearly there is a distinct lack of information in the public media about the overwhelmingly positive effects of the substances contained in many supplements. Perhaps no wonder, because the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, one of the key scientific publications in this area of research, is not available on Medline, although that service prides itself of being the most complete reference library of medical research available. One can only wonder why.
Andrew Saul announces a recently established news service of the orthomolecular medicine journal and asks readers to contribute e-mail contacts mainstream media outlets to which this vital but suppressed information can be addressed.
Mainstream medicine is going a different way. It promotes nutrigenomics - a combination of nutritional intervention and genetics - as the future wave of health care. Medicine, in other words, is quite aware of the potential of nutrients for health promotion and prevention, but prefers to bind it into the mainstream "life sciences" approach to health, controlled by pharmaceutical and food conglomerates which are calling nutrients nutraceuticals.
There is great international pressure to regulate vitamins and other supplements in the European Union, in Australia/New Zealand, in Canada, in the USA and internationally through the UN's Codex Alimentarius. One might wonder - if even mainstream medicine is aware of the excellent safety record and the overwhelming efficacy of nutritional intervention and promotes this under their own brand, nutrigenomics - why are there so many proposals to "protect consumers" from non-pharmaceutically controlled supplements. Perhaps we are witnessing a classical case of "getting rid of the competition" before announcing with great fanfare that the solution to the world's health problems comes from ... genetic research and nutrition?
Here is Dr. Saul's presentation to the Canadian Parliament Standing Committee and his call for your help in spreading the word on nutritional therapies and prevention to the mainstream press...
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"For every drug that benefits a patient, there is a natural substance that can achieve the same effect." -- Carl C. Pfeiffer, M.D., Ph.D. [More on Dr. Pfeiffer]
WHERE ARE THE BODIES?
THE SAFETY OF VITAMINS AND FOOD SUPPLEMENTS
(A presentation by Andrew W. Saul to the Government of Canada, House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, specifically in reference to C-420, on May 12, 2005, Ottawa, Canada.)
Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen:
Natural health products, such as amino acids, herbs, vitamins and other nutritional supplements, have an extraordinarily safe usage history. In the USA, close to half of the population takes herbal or nutritional supplements every day. That is over 145,000,000 individual doses daily, for a total of over 53 billion doses annually.
The most elementary of forensic arguments is, where are the bodies?
To try to answer this question, we may turn to the 2003 Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers Toxic Exposures Surveillance System, published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, Vol. 22, No. 5, September 2004.
This report states that there have been four deaths attributed to vitamin/mineral supplements in the year 2003. Two of those deaths were due to iron poisoning. That means there have been two deaths allegedly caused by vitamins, out of over 53 billion doses. That is a product safety record without equal.
Pharmaceutical drugs, on the other hand, caused over 2,000 poison control-reported deaths, including
Antibiotics: 13 deaths
Antidepressants: 274 deaths
Antihistamines: 64 deaths
Cardiovascular drugs: 162 deaths
It would be incorrect to state that only prescription drugs kill people. In 2003, there were 59 deaths from aspirin alone. That is a death rate nearly thirty times higher than that of iron supplements. Furthermore, there were still more deaths from aspirin in combination with other products.
Fatalities are by no means limited to drug products. In the USA in the year 2003, there was a death from "Cream/lotion/makeup," a death from "Granular laundry detergent," one death from "Gun bluing," one death from plain soap, one death from baking soda, and one death from table salt.
Other deaths reported by the American Association of Poison Control Centers included:
aerosol air fresheners: 2 deaths
nailpolish remover: 2 deaths
perfume/cologne/aftershave: 2 deaths
charcoal: 3 deaths
dishwashing detergent: 3 deaths
(and interestingly, weapons of mass destruction: 0 deaths)
In America in 2003, there were 28 deaths from heroin, and yet acetaminophen ("Tylenol") alone killed 147. Though acetaminophen killed over five times as many, few would say that we should make this generally-regarded-as-safe, over-the-counter pain reliever require prescription. Even caffeine killed two people in 2003, a number equal to the two fatalities attributed to non-iron vitamin/mineral supplements. Tea, coffee and cola soft drinks are not sold with restriction, prescription, or in childproof bottles, and rather few would maintain that they need to be.
A CLOSER LOOK AT ALLEGATIONS OF VITAMIN FATALITIES
Nutritional supplements are exceptionally safe. In 2003, there were no deaths from multiple vitamins without iron. There were no deaths from amino acids. There were no deaths from B-complex vitamin supplements. There were no deaths from niacin. There were no deaths from vitamin A. There were no deaths from vitamin D. There were no deaths from vitamin E.
There was, supposedly, one alleged death from C and one alleged death from B-6.
The accuracy of such attribution is questionable, as water-soluble vitamins such as B-6 (pyridoxine) and vitamin C (ascorbate) have excellent safety records stretching back for many decades. "Vitamin problem" allegations are routinely overstated and unconfirmed. The latest (2003) Toxic Exposures Surveillance System report indicates that reported deaths are "probably or undoubtedly related to the exposure," a clear admission of uncertainty in the reporting. (p 340)
Even if true, such events are aberrations. For example, In 1998, the American Association of Poison Control Centers' Toxic Exposure Surveillance System reported no fatalities from either vitamin C or from B-6. In fact, that year there were no vitamin fatalities whatsoever. For decades I have asked my readers, colleagues, and students to provide me with any and all scientific evidence of a confirmed death from either of these two vitamins, or from any other vitamin. I have seen none to date.
The 2003 Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers Toxic Exposures Surveillance System
indicates a total of 13 deaths attributed to herbal preparations. Three of these are from ephedra, two from yohimbe, and two from ma-huang. I have worked extensively in the alternative health field for nearly 30 years, and I have known of virtually no one who has taken ephedra, yohimbe, or ma-huang, and certainly not in the deliberately abusive high quantities that it takes to kill someone. Nevertheless, accepting all seven deaths attributed to these products, we still find that there were 30 times as many deaths from aspirin and acetaminophen.
Only three deaths are attributable to other "single ingredient botanicals," and oddly enough, their identity remains unnamed in the Toxic Exposures report.
Millions of persons take herbal remedies, and have done so for generations. Indigenous and Westernized peoples alike have found them to be safe and effective, and the 2003 Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers Toxic Exposures Surveillance System confirms this (p 388-389). There have been no deaths at all from "cultural medicines," including ayurvedic, Asian, Hispanic, and in fact, from all others.
Additionally, we find:
Blue cohosh: 0 deaths
Ginko biloba: 0 deaths
Echinacea: 0 deaths
Ginseng: 0 deaths
Kava kava: 0 deaths
St John's wort: 0 deaths
Valerian: 0 deaths
Furthermore, there have been no deaths from phytoestrogens, glandulars, blue-green algae, or homeopathic remedies.
Of the eight deaths in the category, five of them are from non-supplement sources rightly termed "electrolytes": two from sodium and three from potassium (p 389). Two deaths were allegedly due to iron overdose. Since 1986, there has been an average of two deaths per year "associated with" iron supplements. The sole remaining death was from calcium, a mineral that is employed medically for its antidote properties. In fact, in 2003, calcium was used as a lifesaving antidote in 5,228 cases (p 344). There is no evidence that the single listed calcium death was from a supplement, and the odds are overwhelming that it was not.
AMINO ACID SUPPLEMENTS
In 2003, poison control centers reported no deaths whatsoever from amino acids. This is in itself a strong safety statement.
Supplementation's harshest critics have traditionally railed against vitamins (especially in large doses) as being outright "dangerous" and at the very least "a waste of money." Yet nutritional supplements are very safe, and for much of the population, very necessary . . . To illustrate how extraordinarily important supplements are to persons with a questionable diet, consider this: Children who eat hot dogs once a week double their risk of a brain tumor. Kids eating more than twelve hot dogs a month (that's barely three hot dogs a week) have nearly ten times the risk of leukemia as children who ate none. (Peters JM, Preston-Martin S, London SJ, Bowman JD, Buckley JD, Thomas DC. Processed meats and risk of childhood leukemia. Cancer Causes Control. 1994 Mar; 5(2):195-202.)
However, hot-dog eating children taking supplemental vitamins were shown to have a reduced risk of cancer. (Sarasua S, Savitz DA. Cured and broiled meat consumption in relation to childhood cancer. Cancer Causes Control. 1994 Mar; 5(2):141-8.)
It is curious that, while theorizing many "potential" dangers of vitamins, the media often choose to ignore the very real cancer-prevention benefits of supplementation . . . Media supplement-scare-stories notwithstanding, taking supplements is not the problem; it is a solution. Malnutrition is the problem.
The number one side effect of vitamins is failure to take enough of them. Vitamins are extraordinarily safe substances. Drugs are not. There are over 106,000 deaths from pharmaceutical drugs each year in the USA, even when prescribed correctly and taken as prescribed. (Lucian Leape, Error in medicine. Journal of the American Medical Association, 1994, 272:23, p 1851. Also: Leape LL. Institute of Medicine medical error figures are not exaggerated. JAMA. 2000 Jul 5;284(1):95-7.)
Public supplementation should be encouraged, not discouraged. Supplements are a cost-effective means of preventing and ameliorating illness. Supplement safety is outstandingly high. Natural health products should be classified as foods, not drugs.
You can read the full text of Andrew Saul's Parliamentary presentation at
En francais: http://www.doctoryourself.com/testimonyfrancais.htm
FOR A MORE IN-DEPTH DISCUSSION:
"THE SAFETY AND EFFICACY OF VITAMINS," a special 100-page issue of the JOURNAL OF ORTHOMOLECULAR MEDICINE (Vol 18, No 3&4, 2003) is now available directly from me for $15.00 each postpaid to USA addresses. I have less than 40 copies available, so I ask that if you intend to purchase, PLEASE email me first to reserve one at email@example.com. Please put "SPECIAL ISSUE" as your email subject line. For international orders, email first for airmail shipping costs.
EXCELLENT VITAMIN ARTICLES
C and E:
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If you'd personally like a free subscription to OMNS, the megavitamin news wire service, please go DIRECTLY to http://orthomolecular.org/subscribe.html to instantly sign up (if you haven't already done so!)
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See also related:
Orthomolecular Nutrition and Megavitamins: from quackery to mainstream?
The History of Modern Medicine and Orthomolecular Nutrition
posted by Sepp Hasslberger on Tuesday May 17 2005
updated on Friday June 26 2009
URL of this article:
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