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A Consumer Reports take-down of supplements is just bald-faced fear mongering

I’ve read some feeble take-downs of supplements over the years. And several have come from Consumer Reports. But there’s no other way to say it: This one, in the September 2012 issue, is simply pathetic.

In an attempt to sell more magazines at $6 a pop, CR’s cover screams out to warn readers and passers-by of the 10 hidden dangers of our supplements.

Go to any other article, in any CR issue, and you won’t find them trying to convince you to fear a microwave oven or a radial tire.

But this supplement article is pure fear mongering. One of the article’s illustrations even includes a grinning skull-and-cross-bones with “RISK” stamped on the skull.

It’s just ridiculously over the top. It’s as if they’re trying to frighten an audience of children. Ooooo! It’s a scary skull! Boo!

Unfortunately, many adults will read this junk and believe it.

Raw numbers and real concerns

“10 surprising dangers of vitamins and supplements” is the title of the CR article. But there are no surprises, and nearly all the dangers are imagined.

For instance… Here’s the caption to a photo in the article. “Pieter Cohen. M.D., with a patient who had a heart attack while on supplements.” Yes, that’s the level of “danger” we’re talking about.

Notice they’re not saying supplements actually caused a heart attack. Just that the patient happened to be taking some while he had a heart attack. Maybe he also had a heart attack while wearing sneakers or sleeping with a down pillow. (I’ll expect to see those exposés in coming months…)

More than half the U.S. adult population takes supplements. So to find a supplement user who’s had a heart attack would be quite easy. But to find someone who’s experienced genuine problems directly related to supplement use? You’ll have to look long and hard for that.

Now, CR notes that more than 6,300 serious adverse event reports linked with dietary supplements “streamed” into the FDA over a five-year period. They STREAMED in! At the astonishing rate of 3+ a day. Oh no…how will the FDA ever keep up?!

But read a little further and CR admits, “The reports by themselves don’t prove the supplements caused the problems, but the raw numbers are cause for some concern.”

Really, CR? You have “some” concern? Well let me help calm your fears. The most recent annual report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers covers the year 2010. In that year, there was not one death associated with any vitamin supplement.

Every year, U.S. consumers take more than 56 billion doses of supplements. And in 2010, not a single death from a vitamin. That’s a stunning safety record. And year after year, with rare exceptions, it’s the same story.

But don’t get rid of that skull-and-cross-bones. You can use that for prescription drugs that did cause deaths. MANY deaths. More than 20,000 in the U.S. in 2008 alone.

Now THAT number is a real concern. And when you combine those fatalities with truly severe adverse effects, why would anyone be surprised that millions are opting for supplement use over prescription drugs?

Well, anyone apart from CR, that is.

There’s a lot to cover in the CR article. The facts, the myths and the way CR reported them. So look for more details in the next day or two. It’s important because there is one factor that’s genuinely frightening. The article contains advice that, if followed, could easily impact your health in a variety of negative ways.

For now, I would say the only thing you probably need to change as a result of this article is the level of trust you give CR.

Sources:
“10 surprising dangers of vitamins and supplements” Consumer Reports, September 2012, consumerreports.org

“Poison Control Statistics Prove Supplements’ Safety” Orthomolecular Medicine News Service, 1/19/10, orthomolecular.org

“Report: Prescription Drug Deaths Skyrocket” John Roberts, Fox News, 11/1/11, foxnews.com

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