Natural Health Products: The Hype, Promises and Lies

Published on April 26, 2012 by Dr. Traj Nibber

Do you remember coral calcium, shark cartilage, oxygen drops and structured water? These are some of the natural products (dietary supplements) that fall into the category of hype, promises and outright lies!

It is amazing that this industry every now and then (more often than not) heralds a major advancement, the next big thing! How many times have you heard of the word breakthrough when it comes to natural products? It seems that this industry cannot survive without an offering of products with such exaggerated claims otherwise it fears it will go belly up, much to the disdain and exasperation of academics, pharmaceutical companies and regulators.

Coral Calcium was heralded as one such product about seven years ago or so and came with much fanfare as the next best thing when it came to choosing a superior calcium supplement. There was much frenzy and majority of the manufacturers jumped on the band wagon so as not to miss the marketing “wave” without even reading a single paper on the product. That was because there were hardly any papers on the subject! The claim that this form of calcium was the most bioavailable was clearly untrue since it was after all calcium carbonate; this industry derides this particular form of salt as it is commonly found in pharmacies as a one-a-day calcium. Not to mention the devastating effect on the coral reef ecosystem!

Shark Cartilage

Shark cartilage blazed across the nutraceutical horizon some fifteen years ago. The hype originated from a book called “Sharks don’t get cancer!” A title that had no factual basis since sharks do get cancer and the incidence rate is no different for many other marine animals! Unfortunately, the title was catchy and included the big “C” word which struck fear and excitement in everyone, including the producers of the 60 Minutes show. The subsequent frenzy affected retailers, physicians and clinics alike. When they couldn’t get a hold of the product, there was much wailing and gnashing of the teeth!

All the evidence was based on one small human study conducted in Cuba. One study does not constitute evidence! There was nothing substantial about this study. The craze lasted a few years and then, like a meteor, disappeared from the horizon after pick pocketing the hard earned income of more than one earnest and gullible fool. To make matters worse, there was a steep price paid by the sharks to the point of being a threatened species.

Oxygen Drops

The case of oxygen enriched drops and structured water is plain silly and unscientific. Yet many a company offers such products with the promise of increased oxygenation and detoxification of tissues. I saw such products being offered on Air Canada! Where is the NHPD (the arm of Health Canada which regulates these products) when you need them! If one thinks about it, supersaturated oxygen would be unstable and easily reverts into a free radical very quickly, something we try and avoid as much as possible as these reactive oxygen species cause damage to the DNA, proteins and fats of cells!

Similarly, structured water is widely touted as being the better absorbed (really!) form of water that has healing properties. Lies! There are companies recommending adding supplements to this structured water so as to improve uptake. When pressed for any scientific evidence, they turn pale as if they have seen a ghost and quickly resort to a liberal helping of the bottled water before replying that this type of water has bonds that are more structured than regular water and thus is absorbed more easily. From what I remember in high school biology and chemistry classes, the hydrogen bonds holding the adjacent molecules have a finite shape and length, and to make such bonds more “structured” would have a destabilizing effect.

Between the hype and the lies, lay the promises. One such promise for optimal health is taking red raspberry ketones, a natural product touted for weight loss. Weight loss is always a popular and newsworthy item. I found one small animal study where the compound from raspberries prevented the weight gain of a few animals. This is hardly newsworthy stuff and yet, one popular media show, without regard to the science, recommended this ingredient to its viewers. Never mind that this is just one study, it is an animal study to boot! The number of animals were small, there is a substantial variability of response between animals (like humans hence the need for large numbers) and finally, animal studies are far removed from humans!

This is just one example; others include minerals from petrified forests, or minerals from plants touted as being the only biologically active source or any number of so called “fat burners” and many others. It is a shame that media, producers and the presenters do little research or do not hire a scientist to guide them whether such a finding is newsworthy or not. Until we carefully evaluate the scientific evidence, we do a great injustice to everyone and especially to this industry!

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