Editorial: Some thoughts about recent news

By Len Monheit

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been told about benefits and safety risks of products in both pharmaceuticals and dietary supplements and the ongoing battle between the two sectors continues to wage. Whether the discussion involves the benefits of vitamin supplementation, nutrition, prescription pharmaceuticals or product safety records, there are multiple sides and players, and significant vested interest.

The recently published research from the UK supporting the use and benefits of statin drugs to dramatically reduce deaths from heart disease and stroke has received considerable attention from the medical community and from consumers. The impact of this study could be far reaching, ironically undoing efforts of groups promoting lifestyle and nutrition changes to combat obesity, diabetes and other health issues.

The Heart Protection Study, published a few week ago in the British medical journal, The Lancet, enlisted 20,536 British adults ranging in age from 40 to 80. Half received a statin (cholesterol-lowering) drug and half were given a placebo. Study participants were considered to be at high risk for heart disease but did not necessarily have elevated cholesterol levels. Heart incidences were dramatically reduced in the group receiving statin drugs. Human nature and experience suggest that many consumers are looking for the next medical magic bullet, that substance that will assure them of a long and healthy life. Supporters of the statin study have touted these results in suggesting that millions more people should immediately receive the drug and consumer demand, medical community support and pharmaceutical industry pressure will ensure increasing sales in years to come.

Product safety was also in the news this past week, as results were released indicating increased risk of breast cancer with Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), commonly used to moderate effects associated with menopause.

I would have expected a more significant and vehement response from our industry to both situations. In the first instance, studies have shown that dietary and lifestyle changes can significantly cut blood cholesterol levels, and several nutraceuticals are well supported by science and research to produce similar results. Rising, almost unsupportable, health care costs and a consumer more concerned about overall wellness should lead to the logical conclusion that results need to be placed in perspective.

Although the dietary supplements industry has been under consistent attack regarding product safety, in the pharmaceutical domain, safety issues arise from time to time like the HRT concern despite the rigorous approval process for new drugs. I know many companies in this industry are in a position to take a proactive approach when news like this crosses the wires, yet it disappoints me when few do so and the industry for the most part, remains silent.

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