It was inevitable, right?
I remember way back to the late 1980's, maybe the early 1990's, when I started seeing these petitions at my local health food store calling on Congress to pass legislation exempting dietary supplements from federal regulation. It had a weird list of sponsors, from Orin Hatch to our own Pat Leahy, and including Tom Harkin, who is one of the best friends of quacks, health scammers, and the antiscientific mindset in Congress.
I never signed the petition. We didn't have blogs back then, but I told everyone who would listen about how dangerous I thought the idea was, and experiences like the way a dietary supplement called ephedra killed people showed that I was right.
Now there's a new study on dietary supplements, using science-y stuff like DNA, and what do you know? If you buy these dietary supplements there is an excellent chance you aren't getting any of what you thought you were paying for.
As reported in today's Times, "DNA tests show that many pills labeled as healing herbs are little more than powdered rice and weeds."
In fact, the study shows that some of the products from some of the companies contain some of the ingredient people are paying for, but the herbal products from two companies contained no--zero--of the product named on the label. Even where there are some herbal products with some minimal evidence to support a beneficial effect, such as St. John's Wort for mild depression, the active ingredient couldn't be counted on to be there.
People are buying these products under the understandable misimpression that they are going to cure their medical conditions. (And yes, what are code words like "promotes normal cholesterol levels", "slow down the doubling time of your PSA (male prostate) levels when cancer is present" but thinly disguised claims to cure medical conditions?) Nevertheless, don't you think people should at least get what they're paying for?
I don't go so far as to say that every peddler of herbal supplements is an outright fraud: I leave that to the homeopathic remedies.
There have been instances, such as the ephedra case, where dietary supplements have been taken off the market, but this new study makes it clear that the entire industry is irredeemably corrupt, and the only way to correct the situation is to repeal the law.