Are Dietary Supplements Deadly? Part 3

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Are dietary supplements deadly? It appears they are. Herbalife is an example of a supplement company that has gone awry:


Slimming to the Death: Herbalife-Associated Fatal Acute Liver Failure-Heavy Metals, Toxic Compounds, Bacterial Contaminants and Psychotropic Agents in Products Sold in India.


This is the title of an article by Philips et al. (2019) published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hepatology.


“The United States Federal Trade Commission described Herbalife in 2016 as a scam disguised as healthy living,” writes the authors of this study. Then they go one step further: “We report the first case of a fatal acute liver failure from the Asia-Pacific region, in a young woman who consumed Herbalife products over 2 months (Philips et al. 2019).”


If this is not enough, read on:

We also present unsettling data that showcase heavy metal contamination, toxic compounds, psychotropic substances, and pathogenic bacterial contamination in similar Herbalife products in India. The growth of Herbalife in India and expansion of its nutrition clubs in major cities that promise fake health benefits portend a serious public health concern (Philips et al. 2019).


A serious public health concern? Someone died. How many more fatalities have occurred that we do not have information on? And there’s more:


Stickel et al. (2011) write in their research article: “Significant liver injury was reported after intake of Herbalife…products.” More specifically, the products contain “usnic acid and high contents of vitamin A, anabolic steroids and others.” And if that is not enough: “…[S]everity may range from asymptomatic elevations of serum liver enzymes to hepatic failure and death.”


So much for Dr. Mercola’s statement: “Over 60 billion doses of vitamin and mineral supplements per year in the USA, and not a single fatality. Not one.”


Stickel et al. (2011), then make the following request:

Measures to reduce risk include tighter regulation of their production and distribution and increased awareness of users and professionals of the potential risks.


But there are no regulations. There are no stops put in place to protect the public taking these supplements.


Herbal and Dietary Supplements (HDS) are generally not categorized as drugs and thus less strictly regulated in most countries. As a result, scientific evidence proving their beneficial effects is mostly lacking, although some HDS may have purported benefits. However, the majority lacks such proof of value, and their use is predominantly based on belief and hope. In addition to missing scientific evidence supporting their use, HDS are typically prone to batch-to-batch variability in composition and concentration, contamination, and purposeful adulteration. Moreover, numerous examples of preparations emerged which have been linked to significant liver injury. These include single ingredients, such as kava, germander, and several Chinese herbals. Other HDS products associated with liver toxicity consist of multiple, often ill-defined ingredients, such as…Herbalife (Stickel and Shouval 2015).


And, yes, there is Herbalife, mentioned again. Didn’t the United States Federal Trade Commission describe Herbalife in 2016 as a scam disguised as healthy living? What will it take to stop this company, publicly traded, to either change or cease production?


Since dietary supplements are not regulated and even when they are shown to be a scam – a source for the destruction of the liver – another way to die (as shown in the quotes above) – consumers should not take the path of dietary supplements without doing their own due diligence – and a quote from Dr. Mercola who greatly profits from the sale of these products should not be the only “expert” a consumer should believe. When it comes to taking dietary supplements, a second, a third, and probably even an eighth opinion should be the way to go. After all, dietary supplements as we have seen in the above research may have one side effect none of us want – death.


Part 4 will offer more information on why the answer to the question, are dietary supplements deadly, is yes.



By Michael H. Brownstein

Michael H. Brownstein