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By Tom Cushing

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About this blog: The Raucous Caucus shares the southpaw perspectives of this Boomer on the state of the nation, the world, and, sometimes, other stuff. I enjoy crafting it to keep current, and occasionally to rant on some issue I care about deeply...  (More)

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Get your daily dose of powdered veggies, and weeds

Uploaded: Feb 3, 2015
Did you remember to take your gingko biloba memory supplement, today? If you did, chances are that any medicinal properties of the herb do not deserve the credit. Gingko may (or may not) be effective ? it just probably wasn't in the pill you popped.

An investigation by the New York Attorney General's office has charged widespread labeling abuse in the supplements market. Quoting the NYTimes Well blog on the subject: "The authorities said they had conducted tests on top-selling store brands of herbal supplements at four national retailers ? GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart ? and found that four out of five of the products did not contain any of the herbs on their labels." (emphasis mine).

Rather, they were composed of rice powder, soy protein, occasional legumes (e.g., peanuts, which are associated with some serious food allergies), and "weeds." You may as well just eat dirt, the contents of which might at least improve your microbiome. Those retailers have been ordered to stop selling the adulterated products, listed here.

GNC, the only specialty seller tested, had sales of $2.6B alone in a global market for nutritional supplements expected to top $60B by 2021. The industry is fueled by factors like aging Boomers* seeking to maintain function, perceived gaps in industrial food diets, high drug prices and claims of effectiveness against maladies as diverse as depression (St. John's wort) and the common cold (echinachea).

Well-compensated industry apologists have leapt to the defense, predictably offering the following hardy perennial arguments, for the confusion of the credulous:

o "a few bad apples" among industry mainstays (but 4-out-of-five is, ahem, more than a few, and anyway bad apples were not among the adulterations found by the study).

o "DNA bar code tests may have been flawed because herbal DNA may have been destroyed in processing" (but somehow the DNA of all those filler ingredients escaped unscathed?).

o "it wasn't the retailers ? it was the manufacturers, many of them furriners, who are at-fault" (thank you, Kathie Lee Gifford and every other seller who failed to audit their supply chain. Did you Ever wonder about those great prices you were offered?).

Pretty lame. You might reasonably ask: how does an industry so intimately associated with health effects commit fraud so widespread and evade scrutiny of its products, for so long?

How, indeed: there's a lesson here. Continuing with the Times exposee:

"The F.D.A. requires that companies verify that every supplement they manufacture is safe and accurately labeled. But the system essentially operates on the honor code. Under a 1994 federal law, supplements are exempt from the F.D.A.'s strict approval process for prescription drugs, which requires reviews of a product's safety and effectiveness before it goes to market."

"The law's sponsor and chief architect, Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, is a steadfast supporter of supplements. He has accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the industry and repeatedly intervened in Washington to quash proposed legislation that would toughen the rules."

"Mr. Hatch led a successful fight against a proposed amendment in 2012 that would have required supplement makers to register their products with the F.D.A. and provide details about their ingredients. Speaking on the floor of the Senate at the time, Mr. Hatch said the amendment was based on 'a misguided presumption that the current regulatory framework for dietary supplements is flawed.'"

'Misguided,' is it? Well, try a heapin' helpin' of that study, Senator. C'mon -- down the old, uh, hatch.

Lest we need yet another reminder, government is not always, or often, the enemy ? it has a proper regulatory role to play in counteracting the baser instincts of the commercial class. This is especially true for products sold to vulnerable users for purposes of their health (the single most fundamental reason to buy anything), and for which adulteration would be difficult for a lay person to detect. The Market is a very dull, tardy tool of consumer protection.

So, the next time you reach for that supplement bottle on a retailer's shelf, remember your one-in-five chance. Ask yourself something like the Dirty Harry question: 'do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya?

* who, me? Why yes, I Do take an aspirin, some fish oil for omega 3s, and fiber tabs to encourage digestion lower in the gut. Let's just say I'm confident that the latter two are, indeed, as represented on their labels.
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by American, a resident of Danville,
on Feb 3, 2015 at 12:53 pm

Same idiots who do not immunize their children, take non-stop "supplements", and go to Chiropractors....Chiropractice was started by Mr. Palmer, who had no science or medical background and owned a grocery store in Iowa, and claimed he restored a deaf persons hearing by adjusting his spine...You do need an undergraduate degree to get into chiropractor college( which shows the type of intellects who attend) and yet these people claim they can cure everything and push "supplements" because by law they can't prescribe medication...

Posted by Anerican, a resident of Danville,
on Feb 3, 2015 at 12:57 pm

Oops typo, meant do not need undergraduate degree get into chiropractic college...Maybe I am low on "supplements".

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Feb 3, 2015 at 4:21 pm

I've eaten veggies daily for years and experienced the benefits of acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, and massage. I also have faith in the care that I've received from medically trained MD's. I'm grateful that I'm able to care for my health.

In the past I've used Vitamin C but no longer. If I feel a cold coming on, I load up with Vitamin C and it seems to help. All of my medications are prescribed by a licensed MD. I no longer take herbs.

I'm interested in hearing from anybody who has utilized the services of a licensed Chiropractor. How was it helpful?

Many years ago I considered hiring an attorney re: a problem with a music teacher overcharging me. It turns out that he was indeed a JD but had failed the Bar Exam twice. Are there any similarities between Chiropractors and JD's who repeatedly fail the state bar exam?


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Feb 4, 2015 at 8:05 am

Am: It may be early to divert these Comments into a vax/anti-vax conversation, but it sounds like you and I agree that public health concerns override individual liberties on this subject. I've heard it said that there are several 'camps' among the anti-vaxxers: religious objectors, folks who believe vax-ing poisons their offspring directly, the 'Jennys' who think that vax-ing leads to other problems like autism, and those who so hate the government that they oppose mandatory dosing as an exercise of authoritarian oppression.

I don't think any of those positions holds-up under scrutiny, but it has been entertaining to see how the pols -- and especially the candidates -- have handled the issue. The Dems seem content with both the science and communitarianism of vax-ing, whereas the GOP boys, including two docs, are dancing all over the map.

I would add this caveat -- I am real comfortable with the track records of established vaccines (measles being the obvious example), but will admit to some suspicions about newer ones. Given our imperfect regulatory system, the profit motivations of Big Pharma and their legislative influence, I do not trust early mandating of new vaccines, except in an emergency. As an example, a new Lyme disease vax was pulled from the market because of concerns for adverse effects, real and perceived. Lyme/associated co-infections is a huge, complex, mostly hidden set of problems and a political football. I'd want to wait on that one -- but polio, highly contagious measles and others with established track records and high stakes -- bring it on.

I don't have any ideas on chiropractors.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Feb 4, 2015 at 3:26 pm

It appears that Kaiser works with Chiropractors: Web Link

I have never visited a Chiropractor but it seems to me that many Americans have and that they report having benefited.

I would like to hear from individuals who have seen a DC for services and benefited or not.

Posted by Ed, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Feb 5, 2015 at 9:13 am

I didn't believe in the benefits of Chiropractic and used to think all of them were fakers.
My opinion changed when I'd been rear ended at about 25 MPH and afterwards had what felt like a pinched nerve between my shoulder blades, and my left arm was noticably weaker than my right. I went to Kaiser and the MD was about to prescribe meds and physical therapy.
On a whim I went to a Chiropractor who took X-rays of my neck, and also found that I was holding my left shoulder higher than my right, I didn't have equal wieght on both feet when standing, etc.

He showed in the X-rays where my neck bones were slightly twisted and tilted. What this was doing was applying pressure on my nerves which manifested itself in the pain between my shoulders and in the arm weakness.
He did two adjustments which sounded like gun shots going off and the pressure was released.
He wanted to set me up on weekly adjustments which I declined but to this day I haven't had any more problems and never went back to Kaiser for my condition.
Would I go back to the chiropractor again if a similar thing came up? You bet!
Do I believe all their claims about being able to cure most ailments with "adjustments"? Of course not!

Just my 2 cents

Posted by Ed, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Feb 5, 2015 at 9:57 am

As far as taking supplements goes...I've always tried to stay in shape, eat right, go to the gym, go walking and running, etc so years ago I got sucked into the whole supplement thing by trying lots of differnt vitamins, herbs, testosterone boosters in an effort to increase my workout ability and mental clarity.
I'd take them expecting to be physically stronger or have some kind of super mental powers but nothing noticable would ever happen. Then I'd read about the next new thing that had "proven results" so I'd try that and again, nothing.
My own experience has taught me that if you are eating a balanced healthy diet that's enough and there really isn't a magic pill out there that will change anything all things being equal.
The other two things that increase mental and physical ability are sleep and a good cup of coffee.
Based on that I don't think GNC will be calling me anytime soon for prodect endorsements although they did get plenty of money from me in the past.

Posted by Pedal Power, a resident of Danville,
on Feb 5, 2015 at 8:45 pm

I did take multi-vitamins, for about 5 years, but stopped as a way of encouraging myself to eat more healthily. That worked. And as an unsought side benefit, the seasonal allergies that had gotten much worse while I was taking vitamins largely went away. These days I take nothing while my wife takes a veritable cocktail; and we are both OK with that. IMHO it is wrong to discount the placebo effect - look through a few drug studies and you will see that sugar pills are often almost as effective as the drug itself, (and presumably without the side effects). I have no personal experience with chiropractors, and I'm in no rush to let someone else crack my joints or otherwise adjust me but I do know enough people who swear by them to believe that they can do some good.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Feb 6, 2015 at 9:08 am

Jon Stewart weighs-in on free market consumer protection, via newly minted Sen. Tillis (R-NC): Web Link (SFW vid)

Bug appetit!

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Feb 6, 2015 at 12:29 pm's a wee bit nasty but it's the kinda humor i enjoy...yup

the academy of sciences in golden gate park offers bug tasting tid-bits for your next party...bees, grasshoppers, ants...etc...not sure when the next party will be but i will be there...

jello made of...

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Feb 6, 2015 at 7:49 pm

Edible Bugs in SF: Web Link

gourmet...yum yum plenty

It's worth a try but don't count on getting full...not enuf to chew on...

Posted by Doug Miller, a resident of Country Fair,
on Feb 7, 2015 at 4:05 pm

Doug Miller is a registered user.

Was this story really about herbal supplements or was the intent to bash a prominent Republican? Since Mr. Cushing admits to taking a couple of these products and has no problem believing the labeling or the contents, this must be about Republicans.

What convinces me of this intent is the inconvenient fact left out of Mr. Cushing?s version of history. That is the role played by liberal icon, Senator Tom Harkin. According to the Daily Iowan, Senator Harkin worked closely with Senator Hatch beginning in 1994 in ?protecting? the supplement industry from the FDA. And like Senator Hatch, Senator Harkin was rewarded handsomely by the industry with campaign contributions. Over the years, Harkin was second only to Hatch in these contributions.

Web Link

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Feb 8, 2015 at 12:13 pm

The good news about harkin and hatch, HnH, is that they're bot quite old and won't be around to bug others much longer!

Out with old and in with the new!

dogless, who do you suppose will replace them?

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Feb 8, 2015 at 2:41 pm

Thanks, Citizen Counterpoint, for a more complete rendering of the politics -- and the deleterious consequences of corporate campaign contributions, on both sides of the aisle.

That said, I'm allowed more than one reason to write an entry hereabouts. I'd also suggest that my note is more an endorsement of government regulation of that industry (and others), than it was a specific hatchet job on Sen. Hatch.

One more thing, Citizen C: if you think the conclusion about my particular preferred supplements was based on blind faith, I invite you to take several fiber tabs -- say, four or five. Then please report back, and tell us how it all comes out.

Posted by Herman Glates, a resident of Danville,
on Feb 9, 2015 at 9:54 am

Herman Glates is a registered user.

The government isn?t going to protect you from anything. They are a joke.

The government said it was ok to spray DDT on kids, use leaded gasoline and lead paint, the USDA knowingly let farmers overuse antibiotics causing nearly half of all meat to contain antibiotic-resistant strains of Staphylococcus, they make you take your shoes off at airports (as if that will stop terrorists), air traffic controllers are routinely found asleep on the job, the SEC failed to catch Bernie Madoff even after SEC regulators were warned several times that he was a fraud, etc.

I could go on and on.

The government is in the business of providing illusions of safety. They take our tax money, reward their cronies with jobs and government contracts, and then pretend to protect you.

Tom posted a video by John Stewart mocking a Republican on why the government is supposedly protecting you from food workers not washing their hands after they use the restroom.

The government can?t make someone wash their hands. What a joke!!!

If you don?t like to eat at places where employees don?t wash their hands, then read reviews on Yelp, etc. Inspect the bathroom before you eat to make sure it?s clean. Talk to your friends who?ve eaten there.

If you?re stupid enough to take supplements, then do some research. Read health magazines, listen to fitness experts, talk to your doctor, etc.

In Tom?s world, everything would be better if we could just get the government more involved. He?d probably like it if there was a DMV-type worker inspecting every restaurant employee after they took a leak.

The government can?t protect jack squat. The best way to protect yourself is to use your brain.

Posted by Doug Miller, a resident of Country Fair,
on Feb 9, 2015 at 10:26 am

Doug Miller is a registered user.

Based on Mr. Cushing's last response, I would suggest that his preferred supplements aren't working very well. Like others above, I would suggest a healthier diet instead.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Feb 9, 2015 at 10:28 am

am i only one that is convinced that palin didn't have a brain?

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Feb 9, 2015 at 10:51 am

Sure, Grizzly Glates -- did you pick all those cherries by hand? They're not very ripe.

Citizen Counterpoint: another assumption bites the dust. I shop the perimeter of the grocery -- the unhealthy stuff is in the aisles. We eat healthy, fresh and a bit too much.

Cholo: I think she's accomplished her mission, which has been to make a lot of dough and get attention. If she was really interested in power, she'd not have resigned her office after that unsuccessful run in 2008. I don't think she ever considered a Presidential run seriously -- but being a candidate kept her in the limelight, and in armani, too.

Posted by BobB, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Feb 10, 2015 at 9:55 am

Sadly, many times we end up regulating where we shouldn't and not regulating where we should. Witness reckless derivatives speculation at AIG and the regulatory response.

Proper regulation could have headed off much of the financial panic:

Web Link

Web Link

The Dodd/Frank regulations still doesn't go far enough in regulating derivatives, but regulates all kinds of things that had nothing to do with the financial crisis.

Web Link

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Feb 10, 2015 at 11:05 am

Are Palin & Cruz a couple?

Web Link

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