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Heads Up: FDA Wants More Power to Control Your Supplements

In what amounts to a few bad apples spoiling the whole bunch, problems with a few supplement makers have prompted U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb to call for Congress to strength the FDA’s authority over supplements.

The FDA sent warning letters to a dozen companies that were claiming their products can cure diseases ranging from Alzheimer’s to cancer to diabetes, The New York Timessaid, and Gottlieb thinks it’s time to regulate the industry with a heavier hand.

The idea that all dietary supplements put your health at risk just because a few aren’t properly labeled has been soundly debunked numerous times. The point-in-fact is that data show that adverse reactions to pharmaceutical drugs — products you get by prescription and over-the-counter — are 62,000 times more likely to kill you than food supplements.

But even so, there's an ongoing campaign aimed at regulating supplements as drugs. It’s a move, if successful, that would allow the drug industry to eliminate the competition of the supplement industry, thereby increasing its own profits.

The reason for this, as noted in the featured article, is because supplements are popular — so popular that 4 of 5 seniors take them. With all ages combined, the supplement industry adds up to $40 billion a year that drug companies want. The irony of this is that while they use the argument that supplements (and alternative therapies as well) are ineffective and possibly harmful, they are actively seeking ways to create their own supplementsto sell to you at prices many times higher than you’re already paying.

Another problem is that supplements and natural products also often treat or prevent the very conditions that enrich drug companies, which further explains Big Pharma's wrath. For example, probiotic-rich fermented food treats the heartburn for which Pharma hawks dangerous proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). And omega-3 fats such as krill oil and other nonprescription products lower heart disease risks without using dangerous statins.

Leading Pharma's campaign to discredit supplements is the charge that unproven health benefits, not backed by the FDA are claimed by supplement makers. Yet almost every major drug company has entered into a settlement for the same thing, known as "off-label marketing" in the prescription drug world.

At least 31 drug companies have been charged with such false promotion including Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Forest, Amgen and Allergan. Another way that Pharma-friendly voices try to discredit supplements they have yet to sell themselves is through raising questions about their purity, label accuracy and manufacturing process.

What’s incongruous with drug companies’ and the FDA’s rush to make supplements a pharmaceutical industry is the fact that the medical literature is filled with clinical studies and research that show notable examples of supplements and natural remedies that function as valuable medicines. Yet, we rarely, if ever, hear of them on health news sites or TV.

Even more ironically, even as the FDA and drug industry attacks the safety, reliability and effectiveness of vitamins and supplements, it creates them itself. In 2013, PGT Healthcare LLP (a venture of Procter & Gamble, Teva and Swisse Wellness) said it would expand its range of more than 100 vitamins, minerals and supplements.

More recently, you need look no further than GW Pharmaceuticals, which now has a patent on a form of medical marijuana. The drug in question, Epidiolex, was approved for the treatment of intractable childhood epilepsy in children aged 2 and older. With other products in the pipelines, the only thing left to ask, then, is, if supplements don’t do what the literature says they do, why are so many drug giants jumping on the supplement bandwagon?