Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Battle Between Pharmaceuticals and Supplements Heating Up!

Today, I was shocked to see a press release from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center hit the streets which was so blatant in its scare tactics and purposeful slant that I reacted immediately with an angry call and letter. While the press release is too lengthy to publish here, I've included some of the gems below.

The news release shows up on most sites as "Natural" Supplements Cause Cancer in Two Men." (Do you agree that this headline shows the slant?)

It starts out as a serious issue, something that anyone should be concerned with... product contamination. In this case, however, these dietary supplements are for "male enhancement." The authors, or those who wrote this press release (now seen all over the Internet and on tonight's TV news) use this as an opportunity to brand an entire industry.

Let's face it readers -- products for "male enhancement" are not mainstream supplement products. Companies that sell male enhancement products use spam as marketing, and they do not follow FDA and FTC guidelines for promotion of their product claims. in other words, this stuff is the "outcast" of the dietary supplement industry, as far into the fringe as you can get.

And yet, these authors use this example to paint an industry as untrustworthy. Here are a few excerpts:
“Unlike prescription and over-the-counter drugs, the law does not require nutritional supplements to undergo pre-market approval for safety and efficacy,” Dr. Shariat said. “The current FDA regulatory system provides little oversight or assurances that dietary supplements will have predictable pharmacological effects or even that product labels provide accurate information for consumers."


“For most supplements efficacy is not established in randomized, controlled trials. What is worse, safety is often equally poorly established,” said Dr. Roehrborn, who directs the Sarah M. and Charles E. Seay Center for Pediatric Urology.

along with,

"An estimated 42 percent to 69 percent of U.S. adults use dietary supplements, at an estimated out-of-pocket expenditure of about $34.4 billion, according to published reports cited in the study. Individuals often use supplements because they believe these natural products are safe and drug-free."

This is just one more barrage in a continuing campaign from pharmaceutical industry-allied doctors to brand the dietary supplement industry as untrustworthy. Here's my letter to the authors. If you care about your supplements, do something about this trend before those in Congress start telling you what you can and cannot buy over the counter:

Dear Dr.'s Roehrborn and Shariat:

As a freelance writer working in both the pharmaceutical as well as the dietary supplement industries, I have a unique viewpoint which allows me to see both sides of a very cantankerous debate. That is, from my vantage point I can see very clearly when a "slant" has been taken, either by the natural products industry arguing against pharmaceutical industry practices, or (as in the case of your press release) when doctors attack the dietary supplement industry.

I believe you've done a great disservice to the public. You've painted an entire industry as untrustworthy, when in reality your examples are from a fringe category of supplement . . . "male enhancement" products.

Products like these are fringe because the companies that supply them do not adhere to dietary supplement industry practices or even our government's requirements (FDA and FTC) for proper marketing. They include compounds that come from China, for example, where regularly enhancement products are tainted with chemicals or even drugs such as Viagra.

Gentlemen, this has nothing to do with the calcium your Mom takes for her concerns about osteoporosis, the garlic your neighbor takes for her blood pressure, or the numerous other safe and effective natural products that Americans use regularly for preventative healthcare. Your press release takes a very small niche ("male enhancement") and draws conclusions about a huge industry that millions of us count on to provide needed vitamins, herbs and supplements to keep us on a healthy track.

Personally, I am surprised to see such a slant coming from academia and from such a distinguished institution. My opinions are my own and not those of my employers. I list these credentials so that you will recognize that my viewpoint encompasses both pharmaceutical as well as natural product industries.

Regards, Dave Jensen

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