Recently, I wrote a blog called The Three Drugs That I Would Not Take. And nearly 8,000 people shared this information!As I explained, pharmaceutical drugs mask symptoms—they don’t get to the root cause of the medical problem.In acute situations, they can save your life. And yes, sometimes they are helpful and necessary. But when an entire population has been led to believe that finding and taking the right drug for every ill is the Holy Grail of healthcare, we have a problem—especially since most health conditions respond so beautifully to holistic treatments. Meanwhile, every now and then, our attention is very cleverly turned away from the treatments we’re led to trust without question (drugs) in order to stop us from doing the things that actually contribute to health—like taking vitamins. Here’s a recent example. In November 2013, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) released a report stating that there was no evidence to support a role for vitamin and mineral supplementation in protecting against cancer and cardiovascular disease.1
Studies Are Often Skewed
By design, the type of analysis done by the USPSTF was meant to ascertain the effectiveness of drugs, NOT vitamins and minerals. By adhering to the standards used for drug assessment, the USPSTF ignored huge amounts of data on vitamins and minerals simply because those study designs did not follow the method they chose to review.Thus the results were narrow and skewed.And only one trial included women! Andthat particular trial used a supplement with only five ingredients—hardly a high-quality multivitamin. I could go on and on about how limited and misleading this study was if taken out of context. But the mainstream media snapped it up like candy. And with glaring headlines such as “Do You Take Vitamins? This Is Why You Shouldn’t.” Suddenly people all over the country started to question a healthy behavior!2 Where are the headlines telling you to stop taking over–the-counter or other pharmaceutical drugs? Although pharmaceuticals are approved by the FDA (in the U.S.) for safety, their track record for safety is abysmal. Did you know that in 2010, drug-related deaths were the number one cause of injury deaths in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)?3 Here are just a few facts from the CDC’s findings:
- Approximately 9 out of 10 poisoning deaths are caused by prescription and over-the counter drugs.4
- In 2010, there were 38,329 deaths from drug overdose (an injury death). However, 78% of all individuals (30,006) did not intentionally overdose, and 60 % (22,134) of these cases were related to pharmaceutical drugs. Included in the 60% are people who took their medication as directed by their doctor.3,5
- In 2011, 2.5 million individuals were treated in the emergency room for drug abuse or misuse (taking it differently than the way it was prescribed). More than half—1.4 million emergency room visits—were related to prescribed or over-the-counter medicine.6
What About Nutritional Supplements?
In absolute stark contrast, there were no deaths from vitamin, mineral, or other herbal or nutritional supplements in 2010.Not even one! We know this from the U.S. National Poison Data Systems’ report.7None of 57 Poison Control Centers across the U.S. reported any deaths from nutritional supplements. It’s shocking to learn that about 80% of deaths reported by U.S. Poison Control Centers were the result of taking a prescription or over-the-counter medication—both of which are regulated and approved by the FDA.7And that includes acetaminophen, the ingredient in Tylenol and many other products. Regarding acetaminophen alone, there are 100,000 calls to Poison Control, 56,000 visits to the emergency room, 2,600 hospital admissions, and nearly 500 deaths per year!8 If you are wondering about side effects from vitamins, minerals, and other supplements versus side effects from medication, nutritional supplements come out on top again. One of the measures enacted by Congress to monitor the nutritional supplement industry is the FDA’s Adverse Effects Reporting (AER) protocol. Here are some stats released in the March 2013 GAO Dietary Supplements report on data from 2008:
- 1,080 AERs on supplements were reported
- 526,527 AERs on prescription drugs were reported
And this is for one year!9 Yes—I realize that there are all kinds of negative studies in the news about this supplement or that supplement. Many were poorly designed or report on skewed data, just like my example. Besides, treating nutrients like drugs—and holding them to the same standards as drugs—is ridiculous. Nutritional supplement safety in 2010 is no different today. And the industry has enjoyed similar if not identical safety levels for the last 25 or more years. That’s not to say that there isn’t a quality difference between brands. There is! So choose a high-quality supplement from a manufacturer you trust. You can also expect the same concerns to continue from pharmaceutical and some over-the-counter medications. So be careful and be informed! What is your experience with prescription or over-the-counter medications? What advice would you give to someone who is concerned about the safety of nutritional supplements? Sources Cited:
 Fortman, SP, et al. Vitamin and mineral supplements in the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer: an updated systematic evidence review for the US Preventive Services Task Force, Annals of Internal Medicine, Nov 12, 2013.
 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Highlights of the 2011 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) findings on drug-related emergency department visits. The DAWN Report. Rockville, MD: US Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; 2013. Available from URL: http://www.samhsa.gov/data/2k13/DAWN127/sr127-DAWN-highlights.htm.
 Bronstein AC, Spyker DA, Cantilena LR, Green JL, Rumack BH, Dart RC. 2011 Annual report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poison Data System (NPDS): 29th annual report. Clin Tox 2012;50:911-1164.