The Supplement Industry: Exposing The Dark Side

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Supplement Industry

It Is Buyer Beware

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

the supplement industryEvery once in a while, the professor needs to clear out his desk. This week was a perfect time for a little early Spring cleaning. I have been accumulating articles about the dark side of the supplement industry. None of them are sufficient for a whole issue of “Health Tips From the Professor” by themselves, so I have combined the top three in this issue.

I don’t want to unduly alarm you. Most supplement companies are ethical. They are doing their best to provide you with supplements that will improve your health. However, there are a few bad apples in every barrel.

 

The Supplement Industry:  Exposing The Dark Side

 

the supplement industry the dark sidePerhaps the question we should be asking is “Why do supplement companies “Go over to the Dark Side” in the first place? It almost always involves the almighty dollar. Simply put, some companies are more interested in making money than they are about improving your health.

Let me give you some examples where companies cut corners to save money:

  • They substitute cheaper ingredients to save money. This practice is referred to as adulteration. There is, in fact, no evidence that the cheaper ingredients will provide the same benefit as the ingredient listed on the label. I give an example of adulteration below.
  • They don’t do quality controls. That saves a lot of money. However, it means that neither you or the company knows what is in the product. The FDA inspects as many manufacturing facilities as the can. Each year they shut down a few manufacturers for lack of quality controls, but two spring up for every one they shut down. I call it “Whack-A-Mole”, after that popular carnival game.
  • They don’t do clinical studies on their products. That also saves a lot of money. However, it means that neither you or the company knows whether their product is safe and effective. The FDA doesn’t require clinical studies, so many companies don’t do them.

the supplement industry bustedHowever, the worst abuses of the industry arise because of our own human frailties. When it comes to weight loss, muscle gain, sexual arousal, and energy,  many people don’t care about safety. They just want instant results.

The unscrupulous companies in the supplement industry are only too happy to oblige. They manufacture products containing illegal stimulants and pharmaceuticals. These products work. They also kill people. These companies are the really “bad apples” that give the whole industry a black eye. I will give some examples of products containing illegal stimulants and pharmaceuticals below.

 

The Adulteration Of Cranberry Supplements

 

the supplement industry cranberryIs nothing sacred? Is even something as wholesome and natural as cranberry supplements not safe from adulteration? Apparently, the answer is: “No”.

Part of the problem is that cranberry supplements have become very popular. They used to just be for urinary tract infections. However, a quick scan of the internet showed they are now also recommended for detoxification, for reducing inflammation, for reducing heart disease and preventing kidney stone formation.

With the increased interest in the benefits of cranberry supplements, it is no surprise that sales of cranberry supplements almost doubled between 2013 and 2016. That created a huge problem for manufacturers. Cranberry extract is very expensive, and there just wasn’t enough to meet demand. Plus, for new companies to gain traction in an increasingly crowded market, they needed to come in at a lower price than the established supplement companies.

You might suspect unscrupulous companies would be tempted to substitute cheaper ingredients for authentic cranberry extract. In fact, because of a recent bulletin released by the Botanical Adulterants Program of the American Botanical Council, we know that is exactly what is happening. The bulletin reported that many ingredient suppliers are adulterating cranberry extract with cheaper ingredients such as peanut skin, grape seed, mulberry fruit, hibiscus calyx, black bean skin, or black rice. In fact, they are using almost any ingredient that can impart the same red color found in authentic cranberry extracts.

Unfortunately, most supplement companies don’t have the kind of sophisticated equipment that is required to test for adulteration. They simply believe the lies of their suppliers and pass on these worthless “cranberry supplements” to you.

 

The FDA Warns Against Kratom Supplements

 

the supplement industry too good to be trueKratom supplements have also gained widespread popularity in recent years. A quick scan of claims on the internet show why. If you believe the hype, kratom will:

  • Relieve anxiety, stress, and depression.
  • Relieve pain & inflammation.
  • Improve mental acuity & focus.
  • Increase your metabolic rate & burn off excess pounds.
  • Improve your sexual prowess.
  • Induce healthy sleep.
  • Strengthen your immune system.
  • Prevent diabetes.
  • Help with opioid withdrawal.

 

I didn’t come across “leaping tall buildings in a single bound”, but I might have missed something. With all this hype, it’s no wonder kratom is becoming so popular.

However, the FDA is not impressed. They recently issued an FDA advisory  “about the deadly risks associated with kratom.”

The FDA advisory states: “Proponents argue that it is a safe substance because it is a plant-based product…Evidence shows that kratom has similar effects to narcotics like opioids, and carries similar risks of abuse, addiction and in some cases, death.”

It goes on to say: “Calls to US poison control centers regarding kratom have increased 10-fold from 2010 to 2015, with hundreds of calls made each year. The FDA is aware of 36 deaths associated with kratom-containing products…The use of kratom is also associated with serious side effects like seizures, liver damage, and withdrawal symptoms.”

The FDA is currently doing its best to seize and destroy shipments of kratom entering the country, but some is still making it in. The kratom manufacturers have disputed the FDA claims, but my advice would be to avoid kratom supplements until this issue is resolved.

 

Illegal Stimulants Can Still Be Found In Supplements

the supplement industry illegal ingredientsAmphetamine-like stimulants are very popular for weight loss and muscle building supplements. This is because they increase metabolic rate, which “burns fat effortlessly”, and increase energy, which “improves workouts and maximizes muscle gain.” You can sense the allure of these kinds of products.

There is only one problem. They cause high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat. They kill people. In previous issues of “Health Tips From the Professor” I have warned you about the amphetamine-like stimulants DMAA and DMBA. They are both quite dangerous. The FDA has ruled that both are illegal dietary ingredients. That means they should not be present in any supplements. Period.

Octodrine is another amphetamine-like stimulant. It was approved as a drug to treat bronchitis in the 1940s. As a pharmaceutical ingredient, it also should not be present in any supplement.

Unfortunately, a recent study (PA Cohen et al, Clinical Toxicology doi.org/10.1080/15563650.2017.1398328 shows that they are still present in supplements you can easily buy online. The investigators searched online for weight loss and sports supplements which had natural sounding ingredients on their labels that might be analogs of DMAA.

They selected two weight loss products and four sports supplements, purchased the products, and tested them in their laboratory. All of them contained illegal stimulants. In addition to DMAA, the investigators found DMBA, octodrine, and several other stimulants in the products they tested.

There is no way to whitewash this. These are all illegal stimulants. They could not have ended up in the products by chance. These manufacturers were knowingly adding illegal ingredients to their products. I’m sure they felt adding those ingredients would allow them to make exaggerated claims about how their products could “make your weight disappear without any effort” and “turn Clark Kent into Superman.” They were thinking about all the money they could make. But, they had to know their products might just kill someone.

 

How Can You Protect Yourself From The Dark Side of The Supplement Industry?

How can you protect yourself from unscrupulous supplement manufactures? How can you make sure the supplements you use are safe and effective, that they build your health rather than destroy your health? I have covered this in previous issues of “Health Tips From the Professor”. Here is a brief summary:

  • Choose an established company, with a reputation for integrity.
  • Ignore alluring claims about cures, boundless energy, and the like. Use your common sense. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.
  • Ignore testimonials. They are often made up. Ignore endorsements. They are bought and sold.
  • Insist on rigorous quality controls
  • Insist on published clinical studies that show their products are safe and effective.

 

The Bottom Line

 

In this week’s issue of “Health Tips From the Professor” I explored the dark side of the supplement industry. For example:

  • A recent bulletin by the Botanical Adulterants Program of the American Botanical Council reported that many cranberry supplements were adulterated with cheaper ingredients with no proven effectiveness.
  • The FDA has recently issued an official advisory about the deadly risks associated with kratom products.
  • A recent study showed that some weight loss and sports supplements contain illegal stimulants that have the potential to kill people.

For more details about these reports and how you can protect yourself from the dark side of the supplement industry, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Does Magnesium Optimize Vitamin D Levels?

Posted February 12, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

The Case For Holistic Supplementation

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

Does magnesium optimize vitamin D levels?

magnesium optimize vitamin dOne of the great mysteries about vitamin D is the lack of correlation between vitamin D intake and blood levels of its active metabolite, 25-hydroxyvitamin D. Many people who consume RDA levels of vitamin D from foods and/or supplements end up with low blood levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D. The reason(s) for this discrepancy between intake of vitamin D and blood levels of its active metabolite are not currently understood.

Another great mystery is why it has been so difficult to demonstrate benefits of vitamin D supplementation. Association studies show a strong correlation between optimal 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, and other diseases. However, placebo-controlled clinical trials of vitamin D supplementation have often come up empty. Until recently, many of those studies did not measure 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels. Could it be that optimal levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D were not achieved?

The authors of the current study hypothesized that optimal magnesium status might be required for vitamin D conversion to its active form. You are probably wondering why magnesium would influence vitamin D metabolism. I had the same question.

The authors pointed out that:

  • Magnesium status affects the activities of enzymes involved in both the synthesis and degradation of 25-hydroxyvitamin D.
  • Some clinical studies have suggested that magnesium intake interacts with vitamin D intake in affecting health outcomes.
  • If the author’s hypothesis is correct, it is a concern because magnesium deficiency is prevalent in this country. In their “Fact Sheet For Health Professionals,” the NIH states that “…a majority of Americans of all ages ingest less magnesium from food than their respective EARs [Estimated Average Requirement]; adult men aged 71 years and older and adolescent females are most likely to have low intakes.” Other sources have indicated that magnesium deficiency may approach 70-80% for adults over 70.

If the author’s hypothesis that magnesium is required for vitamin D activation is correct and most Americans are deficient in magnesium, this raises some troubling questions.

  • Most vitamin D supplements do not contain magnesium. If people aren’t getting supplemental magnesium from another source, they may not be optimally utilizing the vitamin D in the supplements.
  • Most clinical studies involving vitamin D do not also include magnesium. If most of the study participants are deficient in magnesium, it might explain why it has been so difficult to show benefits from vitamin D supplementation.

Thus the authors devised a study (Q Dai et al, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 108: 1249-1258, 2018 ) to directly test their hypothesis.

 

How Was The Study Designed?

magnesium optimize vitamin d studyThe authors recruited 180 volunteers, aged 40-85, from an ongoing study on the prevention of colon cancer being conducted at Vanderbilt University. The duration of the study was 12 weeks. Blood was drawn at the beginning of the study to measure baseline 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels. Three additional blood draws to determine 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels were performed at weeks 1, 6, and 12.

Because high blood calcium levels increase excretion of magnesium, the authors individualized magnesium intake based on “optimizing” the calcium to magnesium ratio in the diet rather than giving everyone the same amount of magnesium. The dietary calcium to magnesium ratio for most Americans is 2.6 to 1 or higher. Based on their previous work, they considered an “ideal” calcium to magnesium ratio to be 2.3 to 1. The mean daily dose of magnesium supplementation in this study was 205 mg, with a range from 77 to 390 mg to achieve the “ideal” calcium to magnesium ratio. The placebo was an identical gel capsule containing microcrystalline cellulose.

Two 24-hour dietary recalls were conducted at baseline to determine baseline dietary intake of calcium and magnesium. Four additional 24-hour dietary recalls were performed during the 12-week study to assure that calcium intake was unchanged and the calcium to magnesium ratio of 2.3 to 1 was achieved.

In short this was a small study, but it was very well designed to test the author’s hypothesis.

 

Does Magnesium Optimize Vitamin D Levels?

 

does magnesium optimize vitamin d levelsThis was a very complex study, so I am simplifying it for this discussion. For full details, I refer you to the journal article (Q Dai et al, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 108: 1249-1258, 2018).

The most significant finding was that magnesium supplementation did affect blood levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D. However, the effect of magnesium supplementation varied depending on the baseline 25-hydroxyvitamin D level at the beginning of the study.

  • When the baseline 25-hydroxyvitamin D was 20 ng/ml or less (which the NIH considers inadequate), magnesium supplementation had no effect on 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels.
  • When the baseline 25-hydroxyvitamin D was 20-30 ng/ml (which the NIH considers the lower end of the adequate range), magnesium supplementation increased 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels.
  • When the baseline 25-hydroxyvitamin D level approached 50 ng/ml (which the NIH says may be “associated with adverse effects”), magnesium supplementation lowered 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels.

The simplest interpretation of these results is:

  • When vitamin D intake is inadequate, magnesium cannot magically create 25-hydroxyvitamin D from thin air.
  • When vitamin D intake is adequate, magnesium can enhance the conversion of vitamin D to 25-hydroxyvitamin D.
  • When vitamin D intake is too high, magnesium can help protect you by lowering 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels.

The authors concluded: “Our findings suggest that optimal magnesium status may be important for optimizing 25-hydroxyvitamin D status. Further dosing studies are warranted…”

 

What Does This Study Mean For You?

magnesium optimize vitamin d for youThis was a groundbreaking study that has provided novel and interesting results.

  • It provides the first evidence that optimal magnesium status may be required for optimizing the conversion of vitamin D to 25-hydroxyvitamin D.
  • It suggests that optimal magnesium status can help normalize 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels by increasing low levels and decreasing high levels.

However, this was a small study and, like any groundbreaking study, has significant limitations. For a complete discussion of the limitations and strengths of this study I refer you to the editorial (S Lin and Q Liu, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 108: 1159-1161, 2018) that accompanied the study.

In summary, this study needs to be replicated by larger clinical studies with a more diverse study population. In order to provide meaningful results, those studies would need to carefully control and monitor calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D intake. There is also a need for mechanistic studies to better understand how magnesium can both increase low 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and decrease high 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels.

However, assuming the conclusions of this study to be true, it has some interesting implications:

  • If you are taking a vitamin D supplement, you should probably make sure that you are also getting the DV (400 mg) of magnesium from diet plus supplementation.
  • If you are taking a calcium supplement, you should check that it also provides a significant amount of magnesium. If not, change supplements or make sure that you get the DV for magnesium elsewhere.
  • I am suggesting that you shoot for the DV (400 mg) of magnesium rather than reading every label and calculating the calcium to magnesium ratio. The “ideal” ratio of 2.3 to 1 is hypothetical at this point. A supplement providing the DV of both calcium and magnesium would have a calcium to magnesium ratio of 2.5, and I would not fault any manufacturer for providing you with the DV of both nutrients.
  • If you are taking high amounts of calcium, I would recommend a supplement that has a calcium to magnesium ratio of 2.5 or less.
  • If you are considering a magnesium supplement to optimize your magnesium status, you should be aware that magnesium can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea. I would recommend a sustained release magnesium supplement.
  • Finally, whole grains and legumes are among your best dietary sources of magnesium. Forget those diets that tell you to eliminate whole food groups. They are likely to leave you magnesium-deficient.

Even if the conclusions of this study are not confirmed by subsequent studies, we need to remember that magnesium is an essential nutrient with many health benefits and that most Americans do not get enough magnesium in their diet. The recommendations I have made for optimizing magnesium status are common-sense recommendations that apply to all of us.

 

The Case For Holistic Supplementation

 

magnesium optimize vitamin d case for holistic supplementationThis study is one of many examples showing that a holistic approach to supplementation is superior to a “magic bullet” approach where you take individual nutrients to solve individual problems. For example, in the case of magnesium and vitamin D:

  • If you asked most nutrition experts and supplement manufacturers whether it is important to provide magnesium along with vitamin D, their answer would likely be “No”. Even if they are focused on bone health, they would be more likely to recommend calcium along with vitamin D than magnesium along with vitamin D.
  • If your doctor has tested your 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and recommended a vitamin D supplement, chances are they didn’t also recommend that you optimize your magnesium status.
  • Clinical studies investigating the benefits of vitamin D supplementation never ask whether magnesium intake is optimal.

That’s because most doctors and nutrition experts still think of nutrients as “magic bullets.” I cover holistic supplementation in detail in my book “Slaying The Supplement Myths.”  Other examples that make a case for holistic supplementation that I cover in my book include:

  • A study showing that omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins may work together to prevent cognitive decline. Unfortunately, most studies looking at the effect of B vitamins on cognitive decline have not considered omega-3 status and vice versa. No wonder those studies have produced inconsistent results.
  • Studies looking at the effect of calcium supplementation on loss of bone density in the elderly have often failed to include vitamin D, magnesium, and other nutrients that are needed for building healthy bone. They have also failed to include exercise, which is essential for building healthy bone. No wonder some of those studies have failed to find an effect of calcium supplementation on bone density.
  • A study reported that selenium and vitamin E by themselves might increase prostate cancer risk. Those were the headlines you might have seen. The same study showed Vitamin E and selenium together did not increase prostate cancer risk. Somehow that part of the study was never mentioned.
  • A study reported that high levels of individual B vitamins increased mortality slightly. Those were the headlines you might have seen. The same study showed that when the same B vitamins were combined in a B complex supplement, mortality decreased. Somehow that observation never made the headlines.
  • A 20-year study reported that a holistic approach to supplementation produced significantly better health outcomes.

In summary, vitamins and minerals interact with each other to produce health benefits in our bodies. Some of those interactions we know about. Others we are still learning about. When we take high doses of individual vitamins and minerals, we create potential problems.

  • We may not get the full benefit of the vitamin or mineral we are taking because some other important nutrient(s) may be missing from our diet.
  • Even worse, high doses of one vitamin or mineral may interfere with the absorption or enhance the excretion of another vitamin or mineral. That can create deficiencies.

The same principles apply to our diet. I mentioned earlier that whole grains and legumes are among the best dietary sources of magnesium. Eliminating those two foods from the diet increases our risk of becoming magnesium deficient. And, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Any time you eliminate foods or food groups from the diet, you run the risk of creating deficiencies of nutrients, phytonutrients, specific types of fiber, and the healthy gut bacteria that use that fiber as their preferred food source.

The Bottom Line

 

A recent study suggests that optimal magnesium status may be important for optimizing 25-hydroxyvitamin D status. This is one of many examples showing that a holistic approach to supplementation is superior to a “magic bullet” approach where you take individual nutrients to solve individual problems. For example, in the case of magnesium and vitamin D:

  • If you asked most nutrition experts and supplement manufacturers whether it is important to provide magnesium along with vitamin D, their answer would likely be “No.”  Even if they are focused on bone health, they would be more likely to recommend calcium along with vitamin D than magnesium along with vitamin D.
  • If your doctor has tested your 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and recommended a vitamin D supplement, chances are he or she did not also recommend that you optimize your magnesium status.
  • Clinical studies investigating the benefits of vitamin D supplementation never ask whether magnesium intake is optimal. That may be why so many of those studies have failed to find any benefit of vitamin D supplementation.

I cover holistic supplementation in detail in my book “Slaying The Supplement Myths” and provide several other examples where a holistic approach to supplementation is superior to taking individual supplements.

In summary, vitamins and minerals interact with each other to produce health benefits in our bodies. Some of those interactions we know about. Others we are still learning about. Whenever we take high doses of individual vitamins and minerals, we create potential problems.

  • We may not get the full benefit of the vitamin or mineral we are taking because some other important nutrient(s) may be missing from our diet.
  • Even worse, high doses of one vitamin or mineral may interfere with the absorption or enhance the excretion of another vitamin or mineral. That can create deficiencies.

The same principles apply to what we eat. For example, whole grains and legumes are among the best dietary sources of magnesium. Eliminating those two foods from the diet increases our risk of becoming magnesium deficient. And, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Any time you eliminate foods or food groups from the diet, you run the risk of creating deficiencies.

For more details about the current study and what it means to you read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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