Probiotic Accused of Killing Preemie
The Consumer Reports story opens with a tragic and horrible description of a premature infant given probiotics (based on life-saving evidence such as that published by Cochrane Neonatal Reviews10) that was allegedly contaminated with a fungus that killed the child.
According to Solgar, the maker of the probiotic in question, the company fully cooperated with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to investigate the contamination, and “numerous facility and equipment inspections” failed to reveal any contaminants at any point in its supply chain.
As noted by Consumer Reports, “The company said the only contaminated samples found were those delivered to the FDA by the Yale-New Haven Hospital pharmacy.” What the article fails to note is that fungal infections are commonly found in hospital settings in general. Fungal outbreaks have been traced back to contaminated linens, bandages and tongue depressors, for example, and preemies are a high-risk group for fungal infections.11,12
So it seems odd that the fungus could not be found anywhere except in the bottles stored at the hospital itself. While the absolute source may never be known, this is an extremely rare and tragic example that is now being used as a prime example of why supplements like probiotics should be regulated as drugs.
But just how does the FDA regulate drugs when it comes to contamination? They do it through a process called Current Good Manufacturing Practice regulations (CGMPs).13 The FDA also has CGMP regulations for dietary supplements.14 So whether probiotics were regulated as supplements or as drugs, the end result in this case would have been the same, as the FDA cannot guarantee that drugs are free of contaminants either.
A look at the FDA’s recall list15 for 2016 is enough to suggest contamination is an issue that affects the food, drug and supplement industries alike. Of these products, supplements are by far the safest to consume.
Consumer Reports Stoops to Shocking Low
“With the help of an expert panel, Consumer Reports identified 15 supplement ingredients to avoid,16 ones that have been linked to serious medical problems including organ damage, cancer and cardiac arrest,” Consumer Reports writes. The article itself does not identify the experts on this panel. Nor does it report any conflicts of interest. A separate document17 does list the members of this panel, though.
Lo and behold, Consumer Reports could not have put together a more biased base of “experts” for this anti-supplement hit piece. In fact, they did a poor job of covering their tracks by picking some of the most outspoken supplement-loathing pro-pharma spokespeople out there. As suspected, Dr. Paul Offit was part of this panel. It seems wherever the big pharma campaign against supplements goes, Offit is there — even though his fabrications and lack of disclosure are well-documented.18
And, as usual, Offit did not disclose the extent of his professional and financial relationships with the pharmaceutical industry. Offit has been paid millions of dollars by Merck, a company whose reputation rivals some of the worst on the planet. His research chair at the Children’s Hospital is even sponsored by Merck.
Offit has also been on the board of trustees of one of the worst front groups of all times, the American Council on Science and Health(ACSH),19 and he certainly did not raise a ruckus about the contamination issues plaguing his own rotavirus vaccine, which was suspended in 2010 when found to contain DNA from a virus lethal to pigs.20,21,22 Why Consumer Reports would give any credibility to someone so clearly conflicted is difficult to comprehend.
‘Expert’ Panel Filled With Documented Supplement-Loathers
Another panel member notorious for his staunch views against dietary supplements is Dr. Pieter Cohen. It seems Offit and Cohen are now tag-teaming on their respective life’s work to make supplements regulated as drugs, so they can be equally expensive and “safe.”
Cohen reportedly became obsessed with identifying supplements illegally laced with drugs back in 2005, when some of his patients were sickened by a Brazilian weight loss supplement containing antidepressants and thyroid hormones. As reported by Jennifer Couzin-Frankel in 2015, after 10 years of sleuthing, “he and his collaborators have identified three hidden stimulant drugs in supplements.”23
Three illegal stimulants. In 10 years. Hardly what one would call an epidemic of crime when drug makers are regularly featured on various Top Criminals lists and keep getting fined hundreds of millions of dollars for their illegal activities. For a rundown on some of the worst of the worst, see my previous articles, “The 6 Top Thugs of the Medical World,” and “Top 10 Drug Company Settlements.”
Another noteworthy irony is that it is supplements containing DRUGS that are causing problems, not vitamin and mineral supplements most commonly used for and associated with health.
Consumer Reports’ Chief Medical Adviser: an Outspoken Pro-Drug, Anti-Supplement Crusader
Consumer Reports’ own chief medical adviser Dr. Marvin Lipman was also part of this expert panel. He too has “authored articles on the dangers of dietary supplements,” according to Consumer Reports, and has a history of speaking out against the use of supplements. Indeed, entering “Marvin M. Lipman dangers of dietary supplements” into Google yields no less than 8,080 results.
To his credit, Lipman did disclose the fact that he’s a board member of U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP, a compendium of drug information), which is repeatedly promoted as “what to look for in a trusted supplement brand.” Overall, Lipman, just as Offit and Cohen, has made his stance on supplements quite clear and is by no possible means an unbiased objective panel member. One 2015 Sam’s Watch article quotes Lipman as saying:24
“The idea that dietary supplements cure the common cold, restore prostate health, sharpen your mind, or have any other health benefit is dubious at best.”
To say that supplements have no health benefits whatsoever, despite the enormous amount of scientific research done on a wide array of vitamins, minerals and other common nutritional supplements such as antioxidants, is tantamount to saying there’s no evidence that food supports or restores health, either.
I encourage everyone to contact Consumer Reports to let them know that you will not stand for them intentionally selecting such a biased group of panel members that falsely dramatize the dangers of supplements. Click on the button below to contact them now.
These types of products have little to do with nutrition and health, even though they’re lumped together with nutritional supplements such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Drs. Marcus and Grollman, Raising Awareness Against Herbal Use
Then there’s Drs. Arthur Grollman and Donald Marcus, who have campaigned against the use of herbs. In a recent paper26,27,28 the pair warn against the use of traditional herbal remedies, saying long-term historical use is no guarantee of safety. They also disagree with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) endorsement of the use of traditional herbal remedies on the premise that traditional medicine is of unproven quality.
In 2012, Marcus and Grollman also published a paper in the Archives of Internal Medicine, discussing “The Consequences of Ineffective Regulation of Dietary Supplements.”29 A Google search for “Marcus Grollman Supplements” yields a whopping 48,500 results, and a quick browse through the headlines confirms initial suspicions that these two are clearly biased against nutritional supplements and traditional herbal remedies.
Some Supplements Are Best Avoided
There’s only one person left on Consumer Reports’ expert panel and that’s Philip Gregory, director of the Center for Drug Information and Evidence-Based Practice and an associate professor of pharmacy practice at Creighton University. Gregory is also an associate editor of the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Last year, Gregory published a study showing that of the 1,560 dietary supplement-related regulatory alerts identified through Health Canada (1,287 alerts) and FDA MedWatch (273 alerts), sexual enhancement products accounted for 33 percent of all regulatory alerts.
Overall, and conforming to what I said earlier, “supplements intended for sexual enhancement, weight loss and bodybuilding or athletic performance appeared to pose the greatest risk for patient harm due to product contamination with a pharmaceutical such as a phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitor or sibutramine.”
Again, pharmaceutical contaminants were the most common hazard, which is ironic when you consider that supplement critics all claim supplements would be much safer if only they were regulated as drugs. Maybe Consumer Reports could trace down where these illegal pharma products are coming from rather than trying to turn all dietary supplements into drugs, seeing how drugs kill well over 100,000 people each year and are the problem ingredients in hazardous supplement products.
I agree that sexual enhancers, weight loss and performance enhancers are not product categories that most reasonably health conscious people understand, and I believe you should stay away from them as you do junk food or factory-farmed meat products.
Dangerous pharmaceutical products are likely to be found in those illegally disguised supplement products. To include ALL nutritional supplements into this class of “gas station supplements” is beyond irrational, especially when you consider the enormous dangers posed by so-called “well-regulated” drugs, which are one of the leading causes of death.