Terra Sigillata

While I wait for my copy of Dan Hurley’s book, “Natural Causes: Death, Lies and Politics in America’s Vitamin and Herbal Supplement Industry,” it is interesting to read the media reports on his interviews and the responses from the dietary supplement industry.

While the Natural Products Association has simply responded with a measured, educational piece that does not mention Hurley by name, the Council for Responsible Nutrition was all over the wires today dismissing the book as, “not credible.”

Some of the most thoughtful discussion today came from CBS News’s Public Eye site and a post by Brian Montopoli who felt the network’s coverage shortchanged both side of the dietary supplement debate:

I came away from the pieces skeptical of supplements. When you have someone like Hurley, who bills himself as a dispassionate observer who simply “looked at what evidence I could find” and reported it, you tend to believe him over representatives of the industry that is being criticized. But I also wanted more. The “Evening News” gave us two sides of the argument, but it didn’t tell us which one was right.

[...]

When the press gives its audience two opposing perspectives, they don’t really know what to believe. It’s a problem you see all the time in political coverage – a Republican asserts one thing, a Democrat another, and you have no way of knowing who is right. Journalists have a responsibility to step in and sort things out – even if that means suggesting that one side or the other has it wrong. But often they choose not to do so. In the “Evening News” supplements pieces, we learned that there have been “hundreds of studies” about supplements. Why, I wondered, couldn’t someone from the “Evening News” have look at those studies and given us a sense of the overall thrust of them? Why couldn’t we have heard from more voices who could provide a firmer sense of the truth? I asked CBS News correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi, who reported both pieces.

“This is actually one of those stories where even people who are much smarter than me and who have the studies at their disposal don’t have a good answer,” said Alfonsi. “There are studies that say they don’t work and are ineffective and there are studies that say these things absolutely do have benefits.”

As I think the mission of this blog aims to address, drugs and dietary supplements are just simply too broad in scope to say, “All supplements are a waste,” or, “All drugs are toxic.” Supplements, even individual formulations of supplements that have the same name, must be studied and considered on an individual basis.

All I’ve seen today in comments at Amazon or on CBS News (see the 14(!) pages of comments following Monday’s story) is that anyone defending Hurley is immediately labeled a Pharm Shill while those who castigate Hurley mostly point out that prescription drugs are estimated to kill 106,000 Americans each year.

But having lectured on supplements for 15 years and written Terra Sig for just over a year, folks are not open to facts getting in the way of their thinking.

Again, Montopoli,

The irony of trying to nail down the truth, she continued, is that for many people it won’t make a difference what you tell them.

“This is a subject that people are really passionate about – almost like politics or religion,” said Alfonsi. “People have a set of beliefs. Most people are going to continue to believe what they believe.”

Comments

  1. #1 Joe
    January 19, 2007

    So, I went to the Amazon page and found that the quack reviewers were all over this book like white on rice. I ordered a copy.

  2. #2 Louis Dixon
    January 21, 2007

    I read it, and found it breezy and informative, even though I knew a lot of it’s contents already (Tom Harkin and Orrin Hatch, etc.). I think the protesters are diluding themselves. The point is made very clearly: if you’re healthy, supplements are unnecessary. If you’re taking them, then you’re wasting your money.

  3. #3 ba
    February 13, 2007

    I found the details poor in a number of areas such as Showa’s Denko’s reckless, repeated cost-cutting on engineering, support, quality control and other failures when switching to new genetically engineered organisms that produced additional contaminants as well as higher product yields. The GM organisms later conveniently destroyed without samples retained. Or the FDA’s tryptophan ban immediately prior to the approval and massive advertising of SSRI, on the day, all glossed over.

    Fairly dogmatic “conventional” treatment on vitamin-like supplements and minerals – chemically and physiologically illiterate in many areas. Hurley sometimes tried hard to balance, for a pharmaceutical persuasion.