When It Comes to Supplements, What's Really in the Bottle? | Supplements and Safety | FRONTLINE

>> NARRATOR: In 2013, the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia had had enough. Worried about the number and quality of the supplements their patients were arriving with, hospital pharmacists decided to challenge manufacturers. >> Families are showing up literally with shopping bags full of dietary supplements. The regulatory issues in the United States are that you have to, if a patient brings a medication into a hospital, we have to as pharmacists verify that this is a quality product, it is what it says it is, it's labeled appropriately, it's being dosed appropriately and so on. >> We got fed up. We took a step back and we said, "Okay, we're going to ask these companies to at least meet a labeling standard." They have to send us something called a certificate of analysis, which means they've had their product analyzed by an independent party that says what's on the label what's in the bottle. 90% of the companies never responded. And of the 10% that responded, of that 10%, often, they would send us certificates of analysis where what was on the label wasn't even close to what was in the bottle. And these were the ones who responded to us, which made us fearful of an industry that we couldn't trust. >> For example, this is an aqueous vitamin D drop. So we use vitamin D in premature infants. It says it should have 400 international units per one ML of solution. However it tells us that the results are that it's 213% of the labeled value. So it's more than double what it says that it is. So if we're dosing premature infants who need very tiny doses of this drug, we're now potentially giving them double what they should get, and could really put them at risk for toxicity. >> NARRATOR: In the end, only 35 supplements met the hospital's standards. >> I come away very worried and dismayed. Worried mostly about what the American public is being exposed to. Because it's essentially a complete unknown when you are buying a dietary supplement, unless you have some proof of what is in that product.


  1. The problem is when you start seeing supplement companies make claims like their products can treat serious conditions. The science on some of the claims of those products is either inconclusive at best or no more effective than a placebo, and when you have someone with a serious condition like say, high blood pressure, then they're taking a serious gamble with their life when they're not taking something like diuretics or beta-blockers, medicines that we know are effective in controlling and lowering blood pressure. Just food for thought. I know that big pharma has done more than enough to warrant skepticism, but don't presume that there aren't plenty of snakes in the supplement industry either.

  2. Kinda funny PBS Frontline’s “Supplements and Safety” episode expresses concern that consumers may endanger their health by taking vitamins and supplements, yet promoted “Cheez-it cheesy chicken bites” and Dr. Pepper before airing this show.

    Last November, the agency responsible for the report this show based it's biased views off of, CBC News, published a report in which they accused a number of supplement makers of failing to live up to label claims. Yet, last week CBC had to RETRACT the report, as their lab tests were proven inaccurate.

    For many years now, an organized campaign has been waged against supplements, with the aim of regulating them as drugs rather than food, as is currently the case. Canadian Broadcast News (CBC) News, The New York Times, and PBS/Frontline all appear to be part of this campaign.

    If you thought PBS was above such shenanigans, think again. If you've been a regular viewer of PBS, you've likely noticed the increase in sponsored messages over the last few years, and among these "underwriters," as they're now called, you have Monsanto, Pfizer, and Merck, just to name a few.

    In fact, since Americans began taking supplements back in the 1940s, not a single death has been reported as a result. The same cannot be said for drugs, which is the "safety model" they now want supplements to conform to.

    Even when taken as prescribed, drugs kill an estimated 106,000 Americans each year,12 and that's using decades-old data. Today more people use more drugs, so the death toll is far higher. Given that, one could easily argue that we need much more stringent regulations on drugs.

    Data provided in a 2012 report13 by the U.K.-based Alliance for Natural Health International, showed that adverse reactions to pharmaceutical drugs are 62,000 times more likely to kill you than food supplements.

    Fish oil takes a good beating in Frontline's program, and while the review is clearly biased, they do make at least one relevant point regarding rancidity.

    Still, they fail to take in the big picture. Oils are quite perishable, and if they were alarmed at the rancidity of fish oils, they would outright faint were they to test all the vegetable oils that line the shelves of every grocery store and can sit for months or years in people's cabinets!

    If rancid (oxidized) fish oil is bad, rancid vegetable oils are undoubtedly worse: a) because people consume far more of them, b) because processed vegetable oils are harmful even when fresh and c) polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) found in vegetable oils are much more unstable and susceptible to oxidation than fish oil, and their health effects far more concerning.18

    I don't think anyone is surprised to learn that oils are quite perishable; that's why the food industry started hydrogenating vegetable oils, which then subjected the public to deadly heart disease via trans fats. This fact was finally recognized by the FDA, which has now removed partially hydrogenated oils from the list of GRAS ingredients.

    Extracted oils must be carefully handled and preserved to prevent rancidity. This is why I specifically use more expensive capsules than softgels for my krill oil. These hard capsules resist oxygen penetration that would oxidize the oil. The capsules are also filled under a nitrogen blanket, which helps ensure freshness and prevent oxidation. (On top of that, krill also contains astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant that also helps protect the oil from rancidity.)

    Thirty-three minutes into the program, Merck's mouthpiece, Dr. Paul Offit, is featured front and center. But there was no disclosure about the millions of dollars he's received from Merck, or that his chair at the University of Pennsylvania is sponsored by Merck. As usual, Offit makes some really embarrassing statements, starting with "do you get enough vitamins from food, the answer is yes."

    Yet, look at what the majority of Americans eat — i.e. the same kind of absolute JUNK advertised at the beginning of the program! If Cheez-it covered CAFO chicken and Dr. Pepper is on your menu, I can virtually guarantee you're not getting adequate nutrition.

    There's also the issue of fortified foods such as cereals, breads, and other items. Fortified foods are a source of "added" or supplemental vitamins and minerals in most people's diets, and if dietary supplements are dangerous, might not fortified foods pose a hazard as well? Moreover, if vitamins and minerals were to be regulated as drugs, where do fortified foods fall?

    The program also attempts to portray fortified milk as a good source of vitamin D rather than taking a vitamin D supplement. In truth, we should be getting our vitamin D from the sun. With sun exposure, you can make thousands of IUs in minutes yet the body has a way of regulating from excess. Also, saying that pasteurized CAFO milk is a natural source of vitamin D is flat out incorrect. It's fortified, and not a natural source.

    They also cite a bowl of fortified cereal as a good everyday source of B12 — completely ignoring the health harming effects of this highly processed, completely unnatural sugary product. Meanwhile, modern medicine injects 1 gram of B12 at a time, which amounts to 166 bowls of cereal.

    top going to bat for Big Pharma PBS and Frontline,

  3. proof makes perfect sense

  4. Dnt trust FDA or any government agencies, they Dnt care about you. Money is king.

  5. Frontline – like the politicians that are SUPPOSED to work for The People – have sold out to Big Pharma. No surprise.

    Watching Frontline in the future – I will always know they slant their coverage. They have lost all credibility.

  6. Do yourself a favor and get the facts and statistics regarding what harm megavitamins and supplements can do to you and how the UNREGULATED vitamin and supplement industry profit from your ignorance in these matters. Read, for starters, "Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine" by Paul Offit.

  7. It's amazing how aggressive ignorance can be. Look at the comments on this video. Someone bought in to a marketing campaign of a supplement maker and now they're 100% committed to defending all supplements. The truth is you are taking pills filled with Chinese factory floor scrapings and you're loving every second of it because you're too dumb and misinformed to know better.

    Enjoy wasting your money.

  8. You know what could have ANYTHING in it? The hospital cafeteria food. Last hospital I was at was serving shit food guaranteed to make you ill, with all sorts of artificial chemicals in it.

    PBS now publishes a lot of questionable programs with obvious conflicts of interest, advertising products for the pharmaceutical industry and seldom expressing even the conflicts of interest which should be obvious to 101 reporting.

  9. Straight propaganda. Do your own research and only trust sources which openly express criticism of the dominant market forces. For food and drugs, only trust sources which are openly critical of food and drug corporations and agencies

  10. Pharmaceuticals want to things………. MORE MONEY/PROFITS and cutting costs anyway possible

  11. So which brands or products are safe? Is there a list published?

  12. Utter hypocrisy.

  13. What are the downsides/cons of taking supplements? Even if your not a real athlete it can be still a good addition to your diet and it cant really do harm right?

  14. It's hard to take this one-sided report serious when there are over 400,000 deaths a year due to preventable adverse events (PAEs) in hospitals. The healthcare industry should fix its own problems before it pontificates to supplement manufacturers.

    The vast majority of health-related class action lawsuits aren't concerning supplements (which are not medications, as the hospital employee wrongly contended), but regarding prescription drugs from huge pharmaceutical companies with which the hospitals work hand in glove.

    Supplements are food, not medicine, which is why they haven't been regulated as drugs. Americans concerned about our freedom to choose what foods we put in out bodies must stand up and be heard. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2016/02/01/pbs-frontline-vitamins-supplements.aspx?e_cid=20160201Z1_DNL_art_1&utm_source=dnl&utm_medium=email&utm_content=art1&utm_campaign=20160201Z1&et_cid=DM96852&et_rid=1339321417

  15. Doing this kind of journalism, you should be required to take the word public from your title, update your mission statement and be stripped of your non-profit status.

  16. "35 supplements met hospital standards". Oh, really???
    And how about that food that gets served to patients at the hospital? What kind of standards would you call that?
    It wouldn't pass for fish bait at my house. The food they serve at hospitals is worse than the American Standard Diet. This is why most people are sick to begin with and end up at the hospital or other medical facility.
    And that pharmacist (drug pusher) hasn't got a clue. People are taking supplements to offset the shit that is passed off as food in the "super"market. You know why it's called a supermarket don't you? Because it's big. There's nothing super about it. Isn't it interesting that they don't call grocery stores and supermarkets health food stores?

  17. Could we at least have a list of the 35 supplements that met hospital standards? If they really cared about the American public, they would let us know what those 35 safe supplements are. This is outrageous. Really? Really, Frontline? What a disappointment! Really

  18. This is utter BS. I would demand a full list of the brands tested along with the results and who exactly did this testing. How can this pass for ethical journalism? I am so sick of smear campaigns on safe and effective supplements that have a great track record. The deaths from big pharma drugs is horrendous and this is obvious disinformation as far as I can tell. Where are the facts for us to verify?

  19. It would be 100% better if you inverted the logic of this program and went on to show how little the medical industry cares about health because its not a profit center for them. You see and pay the doctor when you are sick, so being healthy makes your doctor poor! Lets have a health care system not corrupted by perverse fiscal interests that need to obfuscate well researched facts about unproven nutritional methods that work better than drugs. Then you will have a story with some reputation and a scientific basis!

  20. I've taken supplements for over 60 years and that they have never harned me. And also I've not been to a doctor in over 50 years and at the age of 67 I feel mine.

  21. Thank you! We need information like this.

  22. We're very close to this industry. The more ingrained you get into it, the more you realize that it is in a MASSIVE "bubble" of sorts.

    There is a quite large number of shady "contract manufacturing houses" that don't do anything the law mandates. Too many don't test raw materials on the way in from China (or wherever), nor do they re-test the product on the way out. There's literally no QA in much of the industry.

    For instance, every Fitness YouTuber with over 20k subscribers now has a supplement line. You think they know where these ingredients are coming from? And since the manufacturing house doesn't need to be on the bottle, you have no clue who's using a quality process and who's not. It's insane.

    Yet, if you're a stand-up company and actually do follow the rules and do legitimate by-the-book QA, your product will be far more expensive. It's not a level playing field. Not even close.

    The whole situation has gotten beyond ridiculous, and if everyone thinks it's going to continue forever, they're lying to themselves. This bubble will burst. The question is when and how.

    The laws are there. They're just not enforced because the FDA cannot keep up with the rapid pace of the industry. In our opinion, it all starts at the contract manufacturing houses. There are people who, when found in egregious violation, should never be allowed to produce an ingestible product ever again, or be in any way associated with a company that does so. ie, permanent injunction.

    Mark my words. This bubble will burst, and it's going to be crazy when it does.

  23. Pretty eye opening.

  24. "35 supplements met hospital standards", is there a list of these supplements somewhere we can look them up? It would be good to know which brands are actually reliable.

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