Guest Post: “Perception is Power: How the Supplement Industry Bought Deregulation” by Tien Nguyen
Oct15

Guest Post: “Perception is Power: How the Supplement Industry Bought Deregulation” by Tien Nguyen

Today’s guest post is from Tien Nguyen, an organic chemistry grad student at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Tien is passionate about science outreach through the printed word, social media, and multimedia. On Twitter @mustlovescience and at her blog Must Love Science, she posts about timely chemistry topics and showcases the educational videos about chemistry that she helps create, including “The Fresh Bread of Bel-Air”. She is also a regular contributor to the RSC Catalysis Science & Technology Blog. Here she discusses a chapter of a new book that’s galvanized her views on science communication. Take it away, Tien! In 2008, more than 200 people were poisoned by massive doses of selenium in liquid multivitamin supplements, Total Body Formula and Total Body Mega Formula. One of the victims was a telephone repairman named John Adams. As reported by the Chicago Tribune, Adams experienced severe loss of hair, fingernails and toenails and fatigue. He eventually became too exhausted to work and was forced to retire. Other symptoms of selenium poisoning include diarrhea, joint pain, cramps and blistering skin. The FDA found that on average each Total Body serving contained 40,800 micrograms instead of 200 micrograms as planned. Nearly 50,000 supplement related adverse health effects are reported each year. Most supplements, like the Total Body Formula multivitamins, have not undergone any safety testing nor were they required to by law. That’s because almost 20 years ago, Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994, establishing that dietary supplements—vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, enzymes, organ tissues, glandulars (materials from animal organs, glands or tissues) and metabolites—do not have to submit to FDA safety testing before being available to the public. Referring to the Act’s passage, author Dan Hurley wrote, “So began an unprecedented experiment to test whether the unbridled use of vitamins and other supplements would help or hinder health, with the American public as the guinea pig.” As long as a supplement is labelled as such and includes a disclaimer stating the lack of approval from the FDA, the bottle is cleared for supermarket shelves. If, after wide circulation, the supplement causes adverse health effects, like organ failure or death, the FDA can step in and pull it off the market. Say what? Oh, you didn’t know supplements were totally exempt from pre-market safety regulations? Neither did 68 percent of Americans, according to a 2002 Harris poll. Nor did I, until earlier this year when I reviewed Paul Offit’s new book, “Do you Believe in Magic: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine.” He dedicates a chapter to the DSHEA, setting the stage with a...

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Amusing News Aliquots
Dec15

Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings from this week's science news, compiled by Bethany Halford and Lauren Wolf. Wait, do you mean buttercups DON’T make your chin glow yellow because you like butter? We’re so disillusioned. [U of Cambridge] Man with metal detector finds Vikings’ hidden hoard of silver. Perhaps he should have been tipped off by the name of the town where it was found: Silverdale. [Guardian] What will they think of next? Xylitol, the chewing gum compound, now keeps feet cool in bike shoes. [Gizmodo] In news that will make pigs everywhere take cover, flying squirrels can root out truffles. [Annals of Improbable Research] Sweet synthesis turns ribose into cocaine. [Org. Lett. via Synthetic Remarks] Does sniffing lavender help heal wounds? No. Does distant prayer treat AIDS? Nope. The government has spent $1.4 billion of your tax dollars to assess these and other alternative medicinal approaches. [LA...

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