Supplements don’t kill kids—but THIS just might

I recently came across a rather dubious and misleading headline. One that touted new research, showing that “compared with vitamins, some dietary supplements increase the risk for severe medical events in youth.”

Well… it was only a matter of time, wasn’t it?

Eventually, the nanny state in which we all live was going to kick up another fuss, overreacting and misdirecting their concerns over some imaginary threat or another. And the lethal specter of nutritional supplementation has always been one of their favorite straw men. (The fact that kids are involved is just the low-hanging cherry on top.)

Still, I couldn’t let another smear campaign slide without standing up for my industry. So like it or not, here we go again…

Defying logic to make a point

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the main culprits in question here were supplements sold for muscle building, weight loss, and energy. This latest study found that their use tripled the risk of severe medical problems (including hospitalization and death) among young people under the age of 25.

Colon cleansing and sexual enhancement supplements followed closely, with research claiming they double the risk of severe medical problems. And honestly… does this actually come as a shock to anyone?

These particular supplement categories are prime candidates for shady sales. They often target consumers who are looking for fast results, and contain questionable ingredients to deliver the goods.

That’s bad enough by itself. But to repeat a point I made yesterday, we’re talking about kids and teens here—not exactly paragons of good judgment when it comes to using substances of any kind.

And yet, that’s one factor this study didn’t consider—whether the population in question was using these supplements as recommended, following dosage instructions, or taking any other drugs or products that might interact with them. All of which are pretty important questions, if you ask me.

Instead, the authors of this research are jumping straight to regulation, asking “how can we continue to let the manufacturers of these products and the retailers who profit from them play Russian roulette with America’s youth? It is well past time for policymakers and retailers to take meaningful action to protect children and consumers of all ages.”

As if drug manufacturers—with their meds for attention deficit disorder (ADD), hyperactivity, and other behavioral “issues”—aren’t guilty of this very transgression on a much larger scale.

Not to mention other real threats to our youth—like street drugs, alcohol, depression, and suicide? Even (and maybe especially) obesity, which is responsible for more death and disease than any other public health crisis at this moment.

No, let’s just blame the supplement industry. Because clearly, we’re the real villains here, and don’t you forget it.

Hypocrisy is the name of the game

These study authors really came out with guns blazing, stating that reputable physicians don’t recommend these types of supplements anyway. To which I must ask… are any physicians recommending diet, energy, and sexual enhancement supplements to teens?

Because I’ll tell you what. In my 30 years of practice, I have never recommended those types of supplements to a child.

Or to anyone at all, really. In case you haven’t noticed, most of my recommendations aren’t readily available at convenience store counters! And you won’t see that changing anytime soon.

These authors also raise concerns about supplement contamination—with prescription drugs, steroids, heavy metals, pesticides, and other hazardous substances that could lead to severe problems, ranging from liver damage to death. And on its face, this is a fair concern.

But I could sound the exact same alarms over prescription drugs. Just look at all the recalls this year alone! Never mind the side effect profiles of these drugs—especially those most commonly prescribed to kids.

Current regulations bar Food and Drug Administration (FDA) screening of supplements for safety and effectiveness, which means that the agency uses an honor system when it comes to the products they allow to be sold. In other words, supplements are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

That may seem too fast and loose to some people. But I would remind them that it’s exactly how the FDA handles Big Pharma, for all intents and purposes.

These drug companies are largely self-regulated, with deep pockets to buy their way onto the market and out of trouble. So the fact that we consider their products to be safer than supplements based on the endorsement of a completely rigged approval process?

To me, that’s the outrageous part here.

I’m not saying that the supplement industry does everything right. Of course we should be able to trust that the supplements we take—and that we recommend to our patients, friends, and family—are safe. This is exactly why I’m so discerning about my recommendations, and why I don’t support any supplement without rigorous testing to back it up.

I’m merely asking: Wouldn’t our children be better served by conventional medicine taking a good, hard look in the mirror?

P.S. In the June 2012 issue of Logical Health Alternatives (“The top 5 drugs I love to hate”), I talk about safe, natural alternatives to prescription drugs. So if you’re not yet a subscriber, now’s the perfect time to get started. You’ll have access to this and all of my archives. Click here to sign up today!


Some Dietary Supplements Tied to Severe Outcomes in Youth.” Medscape Medical News, 06/05/19. (