Consumers Reports on Dangerous Supplements

The September issue of Consumers Reports- the same one that famously dissed the iPhone 4 for not being able to make decent phone calls- has a cover story entitled “The 12 Most Dangerous Supplements”.

It deserves a comment or two, first about Consumers Reports in general, second about the specifics of the article.

Consumers Reports is considered to be an “objective” (if extremely conservative) magazine, skewed to a much older demographic. No one I know who is expert in a particular field takes their recommendations in that same field seriously—for example, car aficionados scoff at their car ratings and stereo afficiandos find Consumer Reports recommendations for home stereo equipment laughable. When Consumers Reports talks about vitamins and nutrition I roll my eyes, but I’ll turn to them for info on things I know nothing about like buying a good washing machine.

The current cover on “dangerous” supplements may certainly sell magazines, and it even contains some reasonable (if woefully incomplete) information, but it also sends the message that supplements are dangerous, and the text of the article certainly supports Consumers Reports belief that supplements are pretty much a waste of time in any case. (You know the routine—“you can get everything you need from food, ho hum”, standard American Dietetic Association claptrap. But I digress.)

So I was surprised to find that there was nothing on their list of supplements to avoid that I really disagreed with. The tone and message of the overall article, however, is a different kettle of fish.

First the supplements themselves. The twelve supplements that Consumers Reports warns against are these:

  • Aconite
  • Bitter Orange (this is the ingredient a lot of manufacturers use instead of ephedra)
  • Chaparral
  • Colloidal Silver
  • Coltsfoot
  • Comfrey
  • Country mallow
  • Germanium
  • Greater Celandine
  • Kava
  • Lobella
  • Yohimbe

Now contrary to the impression left by the cover, there’s not a single vitamin or mineral in the bunch (unless you consider colloidal silver a mineral). And contrary to my own expectations, I can’t find anything on this list to disagree with (with the possible exception of yohimbe). Of course a master herbalist who really knows his or her stuff and is treating a specific patient with a specific herb on this list for a specific purpose is a different story, but by and large I think Consumers Reports got this right- these are all products you don’t need to be taking.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the accompanying list, “Eleven Supplements to Consider”, which I also found no fault with. Here they are:

  • Calcium
  • Cranberry
  • Fish oil
  • Glucosamine sulfate
  • Lactase (an enzyme that helps dige t milk)
  • Lactobacillus (probiotics)
  • Psyillium (fiber)
  • Pygeum
  • SAMe
  • St. John’s Wort
  • Vitamin D

And I liked some of the accompanying advice, simple and uninspired though it might be, such as “Be skeptical about claims made for supplements in ads on TV”. Oh, really? Glad you thought of that!

The same issue of Consumers Reports also contains an article on Multivitamins (“most that we tested were fine”) which contains a bit more troubling information in the form of some not-so-subtle propaganda (as in “you can get all the nutrition you need from food”) .

For one thing CR emphasizes concerns that some of the vitamins tested contained either more of an ingredient than was listed on the label, or less of it. (This is usually much less of a “problem” than it might appear, though obviously sometimes it is.) And they highlighted one case where a guy got really sick from such a product (it contained two hundred times the amount of selenium on the label!) making it seem that the whole mislabeling issue is a much more common occurrence than it really is.

They also reiterate the tired old party line about not exceeding the “recommended daily value” for nutrients, although not a single nutritionist I know thinks most of those “recommended doses” are worth the government paper they’re printed on. (One exception- even the staid Consumer Reports now thinks the ridiculous recommendation of 400 IUs daily for vitamin D isn’t enough.)

It’s worth pointing out that the brands tested are all big-box store brands (Centrum, One-A-Day, Costco, Wal-Mart, Flintstones and the like).

One reason I continue to support the companies and formulations you find on my website- and why I encourage you to purchase “Doctor’s Brands” that are generally only available through websites like this or at the office of health professionals—is that these brands are almost never among those found to be wanting in tests like the ones done by Consumers Reports or even the very responsible Consumer Labs.

These “professional” brands (like Designs for Health, Crayhon Research, Vital Nutrients, Pure Encapsulations, and the consumer brand Barlean’s Organic Oils) are made by much smaller companies, with enormous quality control, in much smaller batches, with much more expensive ingredients (magnesium citrate or magnesium glycinate as opposed to magnesium oxide, just to mention one example), and contain doses of nutrients that are clinically meaningful.

I meet the owners and scientific advisors to these companies regularly at conventions and conferences, I talk with them, I hear their passion, I look at their assays (lab tets for impurities and heavy metals) and I can- and do– recommend them with confidence.

With all that said, it’s interesting that the number of deaths from “dangerous” vitamins per year is.. let’s see.. that would be zero. (I’m not counting cases like a toddler getting into a bottle of iron tablets and swallowing them all.)

The same statement can hardly be said of prescription drugs, even used “properly”. It can’t even be said of aspirin.

I’m waiting for Consumers Reports to put out an issue with the cover story, “The 12 Most Dangerous Prescription Drugs”.

It’ll be a long wait.

Don’t Forget: Only a few more weeks till the big event in Scottsdale Arizona!

Spend a day with me, Jonny Bowden, together with healer extraordinaire Glen Depke, Traditional Naturopath for the “Take Command of Your Weight” event.

To find out more about it, or to register now, click here

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19 Comments

  • Jonny,
    As usual, you are right on the money…and you beat me to the punch on this article. I planned on writing a very similar post for my newsletter but would just rather link to this article if you don’t mind. I guess great (simple) minds think alike. Talk with you later.
    West

  • cheryl

    Great article. You got me laughing.

    It’s interesting that the magazine “rating” the establishment “name brands” is also establishment name brand itself. No wonder it’s aimed as you say, to an “older demographic.”

  • Thomas Frye

    Johnny,
    I was wondering what it is about colloidal silver that you agree it should be avoided? You also write “there

    • Gwenda

      I have a cat which is alive today only because of colloidal silver.I am currently using it on a dog with constant eye infection in both eyes which the vet had given up on and said should probably be put down.One eye is now almost clear for the first time in months.The 2nd eye is hugely improved and still improving daily.Have also used it on horses as well as my family -would not be without it.In many cases though the cause of the problem needs to be found and addressed

  • Cat

    I received it originally as I had subscribed to their rag this past year
    as I was considering some larger purchaser and had in the past held a great deal of respect for their take on things. Hadn’t subscribed in well over 10 years, my how things change. Not much help at all and I was then burried under mounds of advertising to spend another supscription fee for the online searchable versions of what I thought I had already bought as well as numerous other publications of theirs. Back on track here, the vitamin article was a pathway to their new health guide…need I say more.
    I think I will keep getting my info from Jonny Bowden and his books which have not steered me wrong yet!
    thanks again Jonny for your diligent research into all things good for us!
    many blessings
    Cat

  • Jeff

    KUDOS!

    I expected you to really rip into the article. Given the amount of corruption, misinformation and general lack of education flowing throughout the FDA, an article like this should have been easy pickin’s for you. I find myself pleasantly surprised and inspired by such a balanced and fair review.

    I suppose this integrity you display is the reason I purchase your products with such confidence. While you certainly have your “business” aims, it would never occur to me to question your highest, most honorable motives. If only the same could be said for the vast majority of the industry and our country.

    In this age of governmental corruption, crooked vendors, lack of consumer protection, political division and biased media – the honest appraisal of this article is a breath of fresh air. Air that is sorely needed in more of our leaders today. Thank you for your leadership.

  • Sir Gary Samer KGSJ

    I disagree with about half of these. I’m a natural health practitioner with 30 years of experience. I have used aconite(homeopathically), colloidal silver, chaparral, comfrey, kava EXTENSIVELY, and not only without side effects, but with seemingly miraculous results! This list is based on “pseudo-science” used to discredit natural remedies. Of course not everything natural is safe and you need to be cautious. Because I’m one of the “oldies” I was using these products before the FDA and drug companies went after them and I saw their lies disguised as science.

    Health, peace and happiness to all.

  • Leah

    I have to agree with this, and well said!

    Having said that, I do – as a herbalist – use a number of those herbs on the list (kava and comfrey being two of my absolute favourites, that work extremely well), however you need to know what you’re doing and use herbs with respect and knowledge of how they work and what they do and what side effects or possible interactions they have. So in that respect, I agree the average Joe off the street does need to be careful using them because the chances are they won’t know the correct usage of them, even though they are age-old herbs that work extremely well when used properly. Perhaps some of them shouldn’t be available unless from a qualified herbalist.

    But that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms. 😉

    Well said, once again!!

  • Dear Jonny,
    Wish you could find out for sure if women should take calcium or not. I read somewhere recently that women who take calcium actually end up with weaker bones and there may have been some mention of heart disease. Anyway it made enough of an impression on me that I’ve stopped taking calcium and I dutifully took it for years being perimenopausal.

    Thanks,
    Jennifer

  • angelj

    I have taken Colloidal Silver and it as good reports have not taken it for a long while why do they advise against it? all the interent stuff is on how good it is.

  • […] Consumer Reports on Dangerous Supplements – Here’s a great blog by Dr. Jonny Bowden that talks about Consumer Reports‘ September issue, which highlighted the most dangerous supplements – and those that it recommended. […]

  • […] Consumer Reports on Dangerous Supplements – Here’s a great blog by Dr. Jonny Bowden that talks about Consumer Reports‘ September issue, which highlighted the most dangerous supplements – and those that it recommended. […]

  • Very sensible post! I enjoyed reading your post. I will become your subscriber and visit your web site more often. Thanks.

  • It’s interesting that the magazine “rating” the establishment “name brands” is also establishment name brand itself. No wonder it’s aimed as you say, to an “older demographic.”

  • I read somewhere recently that women who take calcium actually end up with weaker bones and there may have been some mention of heart disease. Anyway it made enough of an impression on me that I’ve stopped taking calcium and I dutifully took it for years being perimenopausal.

  • some of them shouldn’t be available unless from a qualified herbalist.

  • I was wondering what it is about colloidal silver that you agree it should be avoided? You also write “there. Thanks so much.

  • I think I will keep getting my info from Jonny Bowden and his books which have not steered me wrong yet!
    thanks again Jonny for your diligent research into all things good for us!
    many blessings

  • Thanks for such a perfect submit and the evaluation, I’m completely impressed! Maintain stuff like this coming.

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