“Dietary supplements” aren’t necessarily drug free or safe, let alone “nutritional.”
According to the FDA, a drug is a substance (other than nutrients) intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, or to affect the structure or function of the body. Seems clear enough — that is, until politics and big money get involved.
With the aid of a 1994 law crafted by Senators Orrin Hatch and Tom Harkin, the mega-billion dollar supplements industry has done a splendid job of obfuscating this definition. By taking advantage of consumer’s scientific naïveté and some legislative doublespeak, the supplements industry has successfully perpetuated the myth that what it is selling is drug free and safe. This couldn’t be more wrong.
It’s a timely topic, given that the U.S. Army is now investigating whether the deaths of two young soldiers last year were related to the “dietary supplements” called Jack3d and OxyElite Pro, which they had taken.
But what the soldiers actually took is an amphetamine-like synthetic chemical called dimethylamylamine, a stimulant with multiple cardiovascular and central nervous system effects. It alters the function of the body — so it’s a drug. It is also a banned doping agent used by athletes, but you can buy it at the Vitamin Shoppe or GNC.
“Health” stores have huge displays of similar products — drugs that are falsely labeled as supplements. Another example is DHEA, a steroid that’s converted in the body to various anabolic and neurohormonal steroids, all having profound physiological effects. Is this a drug? You bet.
Another supplement, the subtly named RockHard Weekend, contains extracts from certain bark and roots, including the always-popular Horny Goat Weed. There must be dozens of chemicals in the bottle — but does anyone know what all of them are, let alone whether they’re safe or effective? No.
The mindset exploited by this industry is so pervasive that many people believe supplements– especially those derived from plants — can do no harm. This is utterly false. Plants do not exist to benefit humans–their purpose is to survive and reproduce; accordingly, many plants have evolved ways of making some really good poisons to avoid being eaten.