The “natural” option

When people hear the word “natural” along with their food or drug product, they might automatically assume that it’s safer, as opposed to its “artificial” counterpart. Herbal supplements, for example, are sometimes used as an alternativepills to other medications. Even though it does have the label “natural”, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t contain drug-like effects. Supplements such as St. John’s wort, ginger, and ginkgo are known to interact with many other prescribed medications, causing a potentially dangerous combination of chemicals in the body.

Although this is unrelated to Monsanto, some might consider it a potential social injustice. Herbal supplements are regulated by the FDA, however, not as a drug or a food product. They fall under their own category: dietary supplements.

The criteria:

Manufacturers do not have to seek approval from the FDA before putting their product on the market.

Manufacturers follow appropriate manufacturing procedures to ensure that the supplements meet quality standards.

Once the dietary substance is on the market, then the FDA will monitor it for safety. The FDA can take serious actions against the manufacturer or the distributor if the product is found to be unsafe. (For comparison, regulations for drug products have to be ensured safe before being allowed on the market). Since 2004,the FDA has pulled more than 24 herbal supplements because they contained ingredients that were in, or mimicked, prescription drugs.

Similarly to my previous posts, these herbal supplements don’t have an assured safety, even though they are being sold on the market. However, like the products claim, they are from natural sources, which inherently seems safer and softer than resorting to a prescription medication. Is is social injustice? Perhaps. I honestly could not be able to take a side. I think knowledge and public awareness is the key in this situation, so that people can choose for themselves, knowingly, what they are putting into their bodies.

The information in this post was taken from a Harvard article and and article from Mayo Clinic.

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6 thoughts on “The “natural” option

  1. I completely agree that there should be more regulation on the supplement industry. It seems like the industry contains elements of a large scam. Jon Oliver actually did a great piece on this last year. He pointed out that the money and influence of the supplement industry is huge, and effectively prohibits any attempts to limit their ability to manufacture and advertise supplements. The industry even hired Mel Gibson in 1993 to do a commercial where he is arrested for taking vitamins in a scary hypothetical future.

    This is a great blog post. It is neutral and factual, and I think you are right in framing this as an issue of social justice. I like that you identify public awareness as the key to resolving this situation. There is an inconsistency between a large profit-seeking industry using money and influence to peddle a product, and the awareness of the general population to the true benefits or side-effects of that product. In this way, the supplement industry is plagued by the same social injustice issues as the prescription medicine industry and the food industry.

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    1. Thank you so much! It’s sad that these industries are so powerful that they can bypass so many regulatory laws that should be placed on them. So many people are unaware of this lack of regulation. These products are advertised as highly recommended for your health, and if you’re not taking them, then you’re depriving your body of the nutrients it needs. Many of these supplements don’t actually make a huge contribution on the body as we would like to think. I once spoke to my doctor about supplements, and she told me that most supplements don’t have any affect on the body unless your body is already deprived of whatever it is that you’re taking a supplement for. I do believe many of these supplements are scams (and potentially dangerous) but in no way am I against them as a whole because, for those who need it, I think it can be extremely beneficial. I also believe that it’s important to discuss taking supplements, like any other drug, with your doctor to ensure optimal safety.

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  2. I have not been a fan of herbal supplements for a couple years now. It seems like the people my age do not use them for vitamins. A lot of the weight lifting supplements fall under the natural/herbal supplement category. That means that they are pushed to the market without the FDA approval. Some of these weight lifters use the supplements in excess and some just use it for prolonged time periods. Not only that, but a lot of the supplements are very expensive and the results are not even worth the risk. I feel like more research should be done on the products before they are released. The FDA can do testing the same way they test medicines. It shouldn’t cost them more money if they just bill the companies seeking approval. It would give consumers like myself more confidence in consuming the herbal supplements. Some of these products are not as safe as people may think and more effort should be put into educating people on these products.

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    1. I completely forgot about exercise-related supplements. You make an excellent point. Supplements like those, especially pre-workout, can be EXTREMELY dangerous and can become a bad habit. I agree, more research is absolutely necessary before these products should be allowed to be sold to the public so freely. I think that supplements should go under the same testing and trials that prescription drugs do. Actually, I think supplements should just go under “drug products”. Many people don’t think twice when it comes to herbal supplements— there is no hesitance like there would be maybe with a prescription medication. They assume there’s no limit in the amount you can take, that there’s no harm, because they have this “natural” element; because it’s been used for “thousands of years” (which I think is actually a reasonable justification). Thank you for the comment!

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  3. Many associate the idea of “all natural” with the safer choice. It is scary to think that products of this nature could be just as harmful to the body, even if made from natural products. It is hard to evaluate if it is a social injustice however. Yes, these products may be harmful, but hey are created out of natural substances. Too frequent consumption could also contribute to unanticipated harm to the body. It is hard to say that knowledge and public awareness will help people to choose the right things to put into their bodies. I, for example, would never know for myself if herbal substances would mimic the effects of prescription dugs and be harmful to my body. Not all people will have, or ever gain, substantial knowledge on the matter. Maybe its time the FDA monitored these dietary supplements a little more closely. Great post!

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    1. Absolutely! It’s definitely something so misunderstood that can lead to so many problems down the road. And I agree, it is hard to determine if it’s a true “social injustice”. Looking at it now, I think the real importance behind this post is just to present another way our government lacks in regard to regulating the products that are exposed to the public. Knowledge and public awareness however will not stop them from taking these products, and probably will not stop them from being sold. The hope is, however, that it will allow them to make better choices, the not unknowingly abuse these products because they assume it doesn’t have any side effects. I’m really glad you enjoyed this post!

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