Synthetic madness

Posted 1 February 2009


Synthetic Madness – the loopy world of supplement law


The Best Supplements are natural foods


When it comes to nourishing your body, there is little to beat natural, organic, whole food. Lest anyone be in any doubt about the issue of organic, I have a whole chapter in my book, The Rainbow Diet, dedicated to the quality research that exists showing how naturally grown foods have much higher levels of important compounds, be they Indole-3- carbinol, resveratrol or vitamin E. And the EU is a quarter way through an exhaustive study involving side by side comparison of organic crops versus the fertilised, pesticide-sprayed equivalents. And when it comes to nutritional values there is absolutely no comparison. The debate is over. Organic wins hands down. (We have published the research with references already in Cancer Watch in icon)

When it comes to taking supplements, as regular readers will be aware, the stance of CANCERactive is that, if you are going to do it, take something as close to the original natural food source as possible. This is why we bring you information on such items as fish oils, astragalus, natural total vitamin E and chlorella.

There have been several mega-studies produced by world renowned experts and institutes over the last few years concluding that certain antioxidants like E and beta-carotene are not only useless, they actually could be damaging to your health. In our article ‘Poor science – vitamins and cancer’, we explain exactly why these results occurred.

To summarise:



  1. Most of these studies do not take all the 800 or so available but pick and choose about 14 to certain criteria. Then they shout that their findings actually support ALL the research, which they do not.


  2. Most of the studies fail to point out that the research took, for example, just one of the eight forms of vitamin E occurring in foods, and/or one of the 2 key forms of beta-carotene.


  3. In almost all cases the supplements used were synthetic, not natural.



In our view, although in our opinion this was not ‘gold standard’ research as one of the self styled ‘quack busters’ called it on LBC radio recently when claiming vitamins were useless, it is indicative that our view of ‘First: Food; Second Natural Supplements; Eighty Fourth and falling fast: Synthetic supplements’ is pretty accurate.

For example, in icon we have always brought you the latest research – for example a Doctor sent us a study on vitamin C, where one group taking the synthetic vitamin was compared with an identical group consuming fresh orange juice. The vitamin C concentrations fed to the two groups were identical. The synthetic vitamin, with no associated co-factors, showed absolutely no antioxidant effect in the blood stream over a 24 hour period, whereas the natural food did, throughout. In this case synthetic vitamin C was a complete waste of money.

Unfortunately, the EU and other similar bodies seem hell bent on encouraging such wastefulness.


Poor science?


Back in 2002 Europeans saw the first stages of the European Commission’s directive to centrally regulate food supplements. (Part of the worldwide Codex campaign).  In our opinion it has always seemed politically rather than patient motivated.

But you don’t have to believe us. The Alliance for Natural Health is a body specifically set up to argue the ‘People’s case’ with the EU. Their primary charge has always been that the Directive was set up to benefit the big pharmaceutical players that were trading one-a-day supplements containing largely synthetic vitamins and inorganic nutrients, rather than the makers of highly beneficial, natural food-like supplements.

If you cared passionately about nutrition and nourishment, and wanted to produce high quality, natural supplements, the sheer amount of data the European Commission required—given that they wanted all ingredients to be approved BEFORE going on the market—were so great that smaller companies just wouldn’t have been able to jump this hurdle!

Cutting a long story short, although the ANH’s legal challenge, which was first won in the High Court in London (January 2004) and then referred to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg and ruled in July 2005, didn’t overturn the Directive altogether, it created some very useful clarification and narrowing of the scope of the Directive. Most importantly: Natural Sources regained their freedom - natural sources of nutrients couldn’t be caught by this pre-market authorisation regime - they would now be considered as normal food ingredients.


Doses below scientific usefulness


Stage 2 of the EU plan on supplements was the proposed banning of higher dose, therapeutically active supplements. You can only have vitamins in sizes well below those shown by research experts to have an effect!

As Dr Rob Verkerk, Executive and Scientific Director of the ANH says, “The big worry, is that the ’safety based’ approach that they want to use to assign these maximum limits is based on dodgy science. But it gives them a justification to ban any vitamin or mineral that is used for health purposes. Once again, they are favouring the placebo-type one-a-day, pharmaceutical style products that abound in supermarkets and pharmacies across Europe. And they want to get rid of the very best products that you find in health stores and those used by practitioners”.
Cue The Irish Association of Health Stores petition to the EU: In December 2007 the Irish Association of Health Stores, the association that looks after the 100 or so genuine health stores in the Emerald Isle, submitted a petition against the European Commission’s planned next phase of the Directive. They said it was high dose supplements that separated them from the supermarkets and pharmacies and if they were forced to only carry dumbed-down products, around 50% of Irish health stores would probably close within a year as people would have less reason to go into health stores. The worrying trend of everyone doing more and more of their shopping in big supermarkets would continue unabated and the health stores, which currently provide a massively important health support function in Ireland (particularly as many people choose to go a health store rather than pay a fee of around 50 euros to see their general practitioner) would be yet another victim of the big corporate take over of our communities and high streets.

Well, with ANH’s Rob Verkerk representing the Irish Association of Health Stores in the European Parliament’s Petitions Committee in Brussels, they had a win. A win for democracy, calling for the use of good science. ‘It seems to be the most important tool we have when dealing with regulators’ says Dr Verkerk. “There are numerous scientific flaws in the risk management methods being considered by the European Commission and the European Food Safety Authority, and small businesses and health-conscious consumers will be the real losers if the approach is not altered to reflect the known science.”


Double Standards


But it doesn’t end there by any means.

So here we are in the thick of the debate and what happens? The European Food Safety Authority, watchdog to keep us from harmful and toxic doses of vitamins, decides to approve, for food supplement use, the chemical sodium monofluorophosphate, the same chemical commonly added to toothpaste and mouth washes to prevent or treat tooth decay. Be clear: Written on American Toothpaste packs are warnings about this ingredient, recommending that if you swallow or use more than normal for brushing your teeth, you should get to a ‘poison control centre as soon as possible’.

The ANH has published a detailed and highly critical analysis of this decision on its web site. “Despite a serious ticking off by the European Court, the EFSA and the Commission are being as opaque as each other. EFSA is seemingly bending its rules to provide a required outcome,” continued Dr Verkerk. “To do this, it’s dramatically altered the ultra-restrictive risk assessment methods it’s used on essential vitamins and minerals which it seems happy to see banned. With this fluoride opinion, it’s ignored a large of body of science which points to serious risks associated with fluoride, and it’s given it a green light even after admitting that most children taking fluoride supplements would exceed the highest safe levels set by EFSA itself ”, added Verkerk.

And this comes in the same month the EFSA have decreed that half the constituents of natural vitamin E (the tocotrienols) are ‘not safe’. Perhaps they don’t read Cancer Watch in icon magazine. We have, for example, covered 12 American studies on the links between tocotrienols and lowered breast cancer risk, through to recent Japanese research on their benefits in preventing and treating cancer. The Japanese also concluded that tocotrienols could be rendered inert by alpha-tocopherol vitamin E.

So, what is the only form of vitamin E approved in Europe? Yes, you guessed it. Synthetic alpha tocopherol vitamin E.


Synthetic supplements – the fine line


Vitamin B-12 is involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body. No Doctor in their right mind would suggest banning it. Indeed they use intravenous vitamin B-12 to combat chronic tiredness etc. The other name for B-12 is cyanocobalmine, because the molecular structure contains the ‘cyanide’ structure. But then many natural compounds do. Of course, containing ‘cyanide’ is the simplistic and unscientific reason for ‘banning’ the sale of vitamin B-17.

While many vitamins act as cofactors in trillions of enzymatic reactions, one vitamin in particular also acts as a hormone: Vitamin D. An issue of icon has hardly passed over the last two years without research on an aspect of vitamin D being included. In the Feb 2009 Cancer Watch a new study claims that scientists are now clear how it exerts its anti-cancer activity. There is surely something in this claim, as now Clinical Trials on a synthetic concentrate of vitamin D are at stage III in the USA and are extremely promising. See vitamin D here on our Web site (link below). Before long Doctors will be able to prescribe this concentrate for people with cancer.

But what will the side-effects of the synthetic vitamin/hormone D be? For synthetic hormones come with side effects. Take the supplement HRT, for example. A doubling of breast cancer risk if you take the synthetic oestrogen/progestin pill; 26 per cent increased risk if it is oestrogen only. (And that is just for one cancer – other cancers are now showing up too). In Feb 2009 Cancer Watch we cover the research that shows – amongst several risk factors – synthetic oestrogen is shown to cause genetic mutation.  Dr Leslie Walker of CRUK said that, ‘This link is particularly pertinent to women receiving increased amounts of oestrogen for prolonged periods, during HRT for instance’.

And this highlights the fine line – between reward and risk. At the time the EU and others want to confine sales of vitamins to their synthetic form and limit the levels of ‘doseage’ so that they are nigh on useless, they will happily continue to support the usage of other supplements in synthetic form and high doseage.

And let’s be clear – ask your nurse or Doctor if you take the antibiotic at 25 per cent of his recommended doseage, ‘Will it still work?’ Don’t bother – you know the answer.

So we have the prospect of, say, a synthetic concentrate of vitamin D being used as a cancer treatment, but you won’t be allowed to buy it in anything like the concentration that might work to protect yourself in the first place..

To illustrate the daftness further, on most supplements the Commission and the EFSA don’t even seem to have a handle on safe doseage. The levels of vitamin E that will be allowed are way below the levels used in research studies showing effect. The maximum safe doose of vitamin D is thought to be around 2000 IU’s. But a week on the beach in the sun will give you 70,000 without harm (and probably a lot of benefit).

So the dumbing down will continue, the double standards will prevail and we will all be worse off, unless Dr Verkerk and his team can get some sound science and consistency into the heads of the people who matter.

But I wouldn’t count on it.

Of course the final conundrum is this: If the ‘quack busters’ really do think that vitamins are useless, why do the same people try to have icon magazine kicked out of their Hospitals when we say things like ‘Take Astragalus with Radiotherapy because MD Anderson have research showing it doubles survival times’? Or that Harvard recommend vitamin D for women with breast cancer. If they are sure these supplements don’t work, how could they possibly be a threat to their beloved drugs and radiotherapy. Perhaps that’s why they want only synthetic supplements at absurdly low doses. So MD Anderson and Harvard will be wrong. It is synthetic madness.

You might also like to read:

Astragalus

Vitamin D

Cancer Watch


Poor science – vitamins and cancer
Chris Woollams Quack Watch
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