The real reason one hospital wants to take supplements from sick children

I really don’t know what to say about this latest piece of news. On one hand, I hate it. On the other hand, it might inspire some necessary changes.

So let me just tell you the story. And then I’ll explain my ambivalence.

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) recently announced that it’s restricting access to all but a few dietary supplements. Meaning from now on, parents are going to have to sign a waiver if they want to keep giving supplements to their sick children.

The hospital claims they’re making this move because “the Food and Drug Administration does not routinely review the manufacturing of dietary supplements, and therefore cannot guarantee their safety and effectiveness.”

Okay. Fair enough. Supplements don’t fall under the domain of the FDA.

But guess what? Neither does a whole lot of the stuff you consume on a regular basis. (Adding insult to injury, 9/10/13) Yet, I don’t see this hospital banning food additives. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that their menu is packed with them.

Which isn’t to say that the supplement industry is a modern day Wild West. (Believe me, there’s plenty of regulation in this business.) It simply means that dietary supplements aren’t subject to FDA approval before entering the market.

That’s why consumers can freely access supplements without the red tape that accompanies prescription drugs. It is a right we won many years ago. And it’s being threatened all the time.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (commonly known as DSHEA), this legislation set different regulation standards for supplements than for foods or drugs. It made manufacturers of dietary supplements responsible for ensuring that their products are safe. But the FDA is responsible for taking action against any unsafe dietary supplement product after it reaches the market.

Unfortunately, there are many powerful political forces out to overturn DSHEA–which, in practice, would destroy our freedom to take nutritional supplements.

Now, I won’t deny that some unscrupulous supplement companies have taken advantage of this lack of strict oversight. There are a few bad apples in every bunch. But the majority of us are just trying to provide consumers quality natural products that will keep them healthy.

This, of course, is in stark contrast to Big Pharma, whose bottom line depends on you staying sick.

So I’m happy to see CHOP’s new policy being called out as misguided. And I’d like to add “wildly hypocritical” to that assessment. After all, the conventional medical establishment has made no bones in the past about their firm belief that nutritional supplements do nothing for you.

(If only I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that supplements are a waste of money… or that all they offer is expensive urine.)

So how can supplements be risky if they have no biological activity in the first place?

It’s a bunch of contradictory hogwash. But unfortunately, it betrays some very common sentiments. Sentiments that the chairman of CHOP’s Therapeutic Standards Committee happens to share.

Not too surprisingly, this same chairman is also the author of a number of anti-alternative medical books. So essentially, he’s denying access to potentially life-saving supplements based largely on his own personal bias.

The safety issue here is nothing more than a red herring. And that’s clear enough when you consider how many other hospital treatments come without an ironclad guarantee of safety.

Still, it’s precisely this part of the debate that poses a bit of a conundrum for me. The fact is, I advocate strongly for rigorous safety research when it comes to nutritional ingredients.

If proof of safety isn’t there, it really ought to be.

That’s why I urge supplement manufacturers to spend money on quality safety studies. They’ll never have the funds drug manufacturers have. But you show your good faith by going that extra mile.

Sure, one can make the argument that many of these substances have been used for centuries without adverse effects. But people in this industry also have to realize “they” are out to get us.

So we’re going to have to learn how to play nice together–simple as that.

Schultz, Hank. “Hospital’s decision to discourage supplement use called ‘misguided’ and ‘short-sighted.'” 11 Oct. 2013.