I’ve never liked Gary Null. Early in my blogging “career” I wasted thousands of words expressing my incredulity at his horrible health advice, his paranoid rants, and his shameless hucksterism. Then I saw something shiny and forgot about him for a while. But now blog bud Orac has ruined my reverie. He informs me that Gary Null took a dose of his own medicine—and nearly died.
As a compassionate human being, I can only hope he recovers quickly with no serious sequelae. As a physician, educator, and writer, I hope we can use this as an object lesson in the dangers of idiotic medical advice.
From the news reports, it appears that Null suffered the toxic effects of too much vitamin D, a condition known as “hypervitaminosis D”. Vitamin D has multiple, complex effects on our physiology. One of the primary affects of vitamin D is on blood concentrations of calcium and phosphorus. Excessive amounts of vitamin D cause calcium to be released from bone into the blood, which can lead to constipation, kidney stones, and other more serious problems. When the both phosphorus and calcium levels are sufficiently elevated, they can precipitate in the skin leading to a condition called “calciphylaxis” which looks and behaves like a serious (often deadly) burn injury.
All my other products are fine. It would seem that the media’s angle was not to show concern for my health but rather as per its normal pro-Big Pharma approach to try to bring criticism towards any natural product that may have an error in formulation.
How does he know all of his other products are “fine”? The (unintentional) irony is that dietary supplements are not subject to the same regulations as “Big PhARMA” products. As regulated by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA):
[T]he dietary supplement manufacturer is responsible for ensuring that a dietary supplement is safe before it is marketed… Generally, manufacturers do not need to register their products with FDA nor get FDA approval before producing or selling dietary supplements. Manufacturers must make sure that product label information is truthful and not misleading.
It was Mr. Null’s promotion of untested, unregulated dietary supplements led inevitably to the probable poisoning of him and his customers. Null and other poison peddlers need to be held to account for their actions. DSHEA, the statute that enriches supplement hucksters, is the tool that allows medicine men like Null to thrive. If we get rid of DSHEA, we at least have a chance to prevent more poisonings such as this, and to make supplement hucksters find honest work.