No Oversight Means the Supplement Industry is the Wild West

Over the years I have gone back and forth on supporting supplement use. The problem is that I have seen tons of evidence of fraud as well as out-and-out poisoning. Now a recent study that tested 10 supplements detected of five unapproved drugs: omberacetam, aniracetam, vinpocetine, phenibut and picamilon.

It is absolutely amazing what the supplement industry gets away with.

“Consumers could be exposed to up to four-fold greater than pharmaceutical dosages and as many as four unapproved drugs when using individual products,” the study authors wrote.

Listen, I hate TOO much government oversight but when the health industry cut loose and became independent in the 80s then this is what happens.

Here are my questions:

  • Which supplement company do you trust?
  • Did the supplement come out of China?
  • What else is in that pill?
  • Is the substance that I actually wanted to purchase even in this pill?

The answers to the above are usually not what you want to hear.

The supplement industry is the Wild West of governance, which means no one is doing it. Not that it is easy. Hell, we have enough problems watching over actually prescribed drugs.

The answer: Buyer beware. Your pressure could go up by taking these pills. You could have a permanent erection. Or, more commonly, you are just wasting your money. Two out of three of these things are bad.

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Douglas Farrago MD

Douglas Farrago MD is a full-time practicing family doc in Forest, Va. He started Forest Direct Primary Care where he takes no insurance and bills patients a monthly fee. He is board certified in the specialty of Family Practice. He is the inventor of a product called the Knee Saver which is currently in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Knee Saver and its knock-offs are worn by many major league baseball catchers. He is also the inventor of the CryoHelmet used by athletes for head injuries as well as migraine sufferers. Dr. Farrago is the author of four books, two of which are the top two most popular DPC books. From 2001 – 2011, Dr. Farrago was the editor and creator of the Placebo Journal which ran for 10 full years. Described as the Mad Magazine for doctors, he and the Placebo Journal were featured in the Washington Post, US News and World Report, the AP, and the NY Times. Dr. Farrago is also the editor of the blog Authentic Medicine which was born out of concern about where the direction of healthcare is heading and the belief that the wrong people are in charge. This blog has been going daily for more than 15 years Article about Dr. Farrago in Doximity Email Dr. Farrago – [email protected]

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7 Responses

  1. Kurt says:

    Ummm, sincere question here and not a troll. When meaning supplement does it refer to some of these weird “new named” things out there like the OTC cognitive boosters or what?
    What about the run of the mill multi-vitamins and Calcium carbonate, vitamin D3, B12,Magnesium glycinate and others.
    Before you slam me and I know there are arguments out there on D3, B12 and calcium, I did levels and found that a fair number of my patient population had ridiculously low levels of things like D and B12. Not just modest low levels but pretty significant. Hence I checked more often than perhaps other docs in their particular geographic locations.
    It was gratifying to have a neuropathy “cured” when a person’s B12 level was in the double digits. Cheap remedy.
    Magnesium sometimes but not always helped with chronic pain and muscle cramps. Helped me with nocturnal muscle cramping. Little clarification here?
    I see the named CoQ10 advertised on T.V. encouraging statin users to take it. In my day, if someone on statins had aching and no or little muscle enzyme elevations we’d tell ‘em to get a CoQ10 supplement of their choice on the higher side of the dosing range. Many times it worked, sometimes it didn’t.
    I think to encourage someone on a statin, who is not having any problems with their regimen to go out and buy this latest nostrum is a freaking crime.
    Same thing will all the cognitive “supplements” out there that are totally unproven. If they worked, docs would be using and recommending them right and left.

    • Bill Ameen MD says:

      Kurt, I agree with your take on supplements. For myself I depend on at least some clinical reports, even if benefit is only 50%, like saw palmetto or glucosamine/chondroitin. I too checked D levels especially in my elderly Black patients and sometimes found it in single digits. Everybody on metformin would benefit from 1000 mcg B-12 daily. We all need more zinc during the pandemic. I also take L-arginine to increase nitric oxide and lower BP. I take bergamot (lowers cholesterol) from a Wall Street Journal article several years. I agree the “cognitive” drugs lack evidence, especially the high-rolling Prevagen “from jellyfish”…Dr. Harriet Hall, the SkepDoc, debunked it early on. I agree that CoQ10 is foolish (very expensive) unless the patient has muscle pain on statins with normal CK.

  2. Rick says:

    Doug, I, too, have gone back and forth on supplements. But an event a couple of weeks ago cemented my big NO. A recent college grad from local area is working at a supplement company in Denver. He came to see me when home for a visit. He worked in the department that loaded the capsules. He told me that I’d be shocked to know what useless shit they stuffed into the capsules and his implication as that only suckers ordered the stuff. He made no comment on safety. But that was enough for me. Done.

  3. Bill Ameen, MD says:

    I don’t take any prescription drugs, but I order most of my supplements from Swanson in North Dakota and buy a few from CVS or Walgreen. I mostly can’t tell from labels whether the product was made in China. I also can’t tell whether any of the damned stuff is doing me any good. I don’t even know if the delicious tilapia I ate the other night came from a sewer in Vietnam.

    • Edmund Hayes says:

      Probably made in China, It probably isn’t doing any good for you and whether or not you even got actual Tilapia is the real question.

      • Kurt says:

        I remember distinctly with farm raised catfish, once the catfish are harvested, Tilapia are released into the pond where the catfish resided to eat up and process the catfish poop. Then the Tilapia can go to market!

  4. Edmund Hayes says:

    Here are my questions:
    Which supplement company do you trust?
    You should trust none of them.
    Did the supplement come out of China?
    God only knows
    What else is in that pill?
    Could be anything
    Is the substance that I actually wanted to purchase even in this pill?
    Maybe – maybe not.

    A while back (before I retired from the academic world) we purchased various supplements from companies that were deemed the best and from companies that we never heard of. After analyzing the products none of them had the stated amounts of “active” ingredient and all of them had other agents in them (not listed on the label) ranging from other approved and non-approved substances to metal shavings.
    FDA washed their hands of these products and using them is risky at best.

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