~ Medical Freedom - 2 Essays

An Imortant Message For Consumers Of Supplements

- Michael Levesque, Author

Imagine going to your local vitamin store to pick up your favorite multivitamin, vitamin C 500 mg, and some vitamin E 400 IU, only to be told that they are no longer available and if you wish to purchase them you will have to visit your doctor and get a prescription.

This scenario is probable if the Codex Commission succeeds in their mission to restrict high potency supplements, to regulate supplements as drugs, and to reduce access to therapeutic nutrients.

In this article you will find out:

  • Why is the health food supplement industry being attacked?
  • Who is taking over the health food supplement companies?
  • How does the Codex Commission affect your rights?
  • What does the US voting delegate to the Commission say regarding supplements?
  • What are the alternatives to the present direction of the Codex commission?
  • How do you stop the present policies and get your voice heard over the wealthy lobbyists who want to deny your rights?

Now for the information:

Recently you might have seen newspaper articles or TV news programs condemning and criticizing the health food industry. Cavalier, false, and flippant statements were made that there are no safeguards, or that the health food industry lacks regulation. False statements were made about the dangers of herbs, and about their ineffectiveness. The health supplement industry is pictured as a threat. Nevertheless, more and more consumers are gaining benefits from nutritional supplements.

Why is the health food supplement industry being attacked?

It is no longer a fringe industry, but an important element in supplying people products for maintaining and improving their health. It is an industry that is threatened by its acceptance into the mainstream. It offers effective low-cost natural health remedies. It is very attractive to big business. It is a debt free industry and one built upon dedication and commitment. It has a devoted customer base made up of intelligent and passionate consumers. It is successful and a "take-over" by large pharmaceutical interests is in process.

To know and understand the heart of an industry is to look at its motivation:

Everyone wants to be profitable and earn a living. However, my primary motivation for being in this business is the health benefits, which my family, friends, customers, and I receive by using the products that I sell. The new owners acquiring the health food industry have a different primary motivation - their goal is profit. Market share, stock market standings, promoting one singular item as the cure-all, is their road to profit. Government regulation, governmental restrictions, government endorsements are the direction these corporations seek to control the market place, gain protectionism, and increase profits. These are the big players who are now bringing us over-priced health products and a narrowing of choices.

The takeover by the pharmaceutical industry plus the recent meetings of the Codex, make for a perfect opportunity to control the health food supplement marketplace, control the price of natural products, and control the availability of those products. It is an open game board with no checks and balances, but a great gold rush to ensconce big companies in a highly controlled division of the marketplace.

Pharmaceutical firms already manufacture most of the chemicals that the health food industry uses to combine with other nutrients into formulas. The pharmaceutical industry has demonstrated its ability to divide up the world market for dietary supplement raw materials. We know this because last year Roche Holding A.G. and BASF A.G. were caught and convicted of criminal price fixing on a huge scale. They were fined over half a billion dollars, the largest fine ever levied. There's no telling how much you and we have been overpaying for vitamins in the last few decades - all we do know is the fine they paid for getting caught. A few of the executives are in prison, but they pleaded guilty individually, so the corporations remained innocent. However, BASF has certainly recouped some of its losses by its mass distribution and public promotion of SAMe.

Yet even this level of criminal price-fixing by raw material suppliers did not destroy the price-effectiveness of natural remedies, and it pales into nothingness compared to the institutionalized price inflation of pharmaceutical drugs. These substances are not found in the body and so can be patented; and once they are approved for a certain use, they enjoy a FDA-protected monopoly. For instance, the FDA granted approval for smoking-cessation claims to a single drug in the early 1990's. The FDA informed all of the companies with herbal formulas that effectively stopped tobacco craving to change their labeling. They could no longer "make claims", that is, explain what their products were good for. These products soon disappeared from the market. This is the kind of "government regulation" that reduces market selection and choices for the consumer.

How does the Codex fit into this picture?

Unless you're actively searching for it, you do not know that the future of the health food industry and your ability to freely buy supplements at reasonable prices without prescriptions is put at great risk by the international Codex meetings.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission is the legislative body of the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization. Presently, 65 nations representing 98% of the world's population belong to the Codex Alimentarius Commission. (For more information, see Explaining the Codex.) The Codex commission committees set food standards, and one committee is currently debating an agenda created by the European nations to set upper potency limits on vitamins and minerals.

It is the considered opinion of legal consul throughout the US and the legal consul of the NNFA that the Codex poses a threat to US laws and regulations; specifically, harmonization would weaken if not destroy DSHEA.

If that happens, or more accurately, when that happens, the US Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994, which protects your right to purchase supplements freely and without a prescription, will be doomed. That is because NAFTA, GATT, WTO, and MERCOSUR adopt Codex standards as the international references. These become the gold standard and all other standards ultimately have to be harmonized to them. For example, when your "high" potency supplements - such as a Vitamin C 500 mg, or a CoQ10 of any potency - are challenged, the US will be told that these products are outside the internationally-agreed Codex guidelines and must be restricted, or else the US will be subject to trade sanctions. This is done in the name of "free trade"; in this case the term is an Orwellian oxymoron!

You might say, it can't happen here! Our laws and legislation protect us. Think again. Norway had a very viable health food industry just like the United States. Today, after harmonization with European Economic Community rules, one can no longer find vitamin C stronger than 250mg. The industry lost numerous products and is almost non-existent. Those products once were sold to people who looked after their own health, were educated in good nutrition, and appreciated the products they could purchase. The products were affordable, but now their prices are greatly inflated, and they are available by prescription only.

Canadian government, driven by the pharmaceutical industry, ruled that L-carnitine is salable by prescription only, along with all other amino acids, and any herb that makes a health claim. L-carnitine is the only amino acid that has received vitamin status because it is so important to the heart. In fact whenever an autopsy is performed on a heart attack victim and the heart tissue is measured for its levels of l-carnitine, it is always low. How expensive is L-carnitine in Canada under prescription? It was $14 for a bottle of 100 capsules before the government legislation and is now $120 to $190 by prescription only.

To its credit, Codex does work by consensus. This means that all voting members must agree to a proposal before it is adopted. The problem is that the vast majority of third world countries have little experience with a US-like supplement market. Their government delegations, if not already in the pocket of pharmaceutical interests, are easily swayed by the idea that the Codex can supply them with a ready-made template of how to regulate nutritional supplements. And what government official, even if of a different and educated mind, will risk incurring trade sanctions against important exports such as cotton or rice, to protect the right of its citizens to high-potency vitamin E. With Codex regulating not only what can be sold but also what can be said, these citizens will never know they need vitamin E because they won't hear about its benefits! It's a denial to these countries of access to safe, beneficial and inexpensive products.

One of the most important observations about the Codex Commission is that it is a trade organization. Codex decisions mean big stakes for big business! Ninety percent of the delegates represent large multinational corporations. The Codex commission is comprised of entirely non-elected officials from big government and bigger industry. (For instance, the US voting delegate is an official from the FDA - definitely not an "elected representative".) Worse still, industrial giants employ lobbyists armed with arguments for establishing a favorable position that represents their clients. These lobbyists are not registered as they are in Canada and the United States. Also, there are no financial disclosure statements as required by law in the United States and Canada. To repeat, Codex decisions mean big stakes for big business! The meetings are a bargaining platform by big business and lobbyists. This is the body that will ultimately overrule and negate legislation in this country that protects our rights to choice of health products.

What does the US voting delegate from the FDA have to say regarding supplements?

Elizabeth Yetley, Ph.D., doesn't have a lot to say because she is not a representative of an organization that advocates nutritional supplements. It is not unlike having a car manufacturer represent the bicycle industry in trade negotiations. This is a new field of endeavor for the FDA and it should be demanded of them to proceed in a manner that recognizes the tremendous benefits and value of the nutritional field and health food supplement business. We already suffer from misdirection and inappropriate judgment by the FDA as they proceed along their path to stop any health food industry product that may compete with a pharmaceutical drug.

So here we have the FDA, our "voting representative" at the Codex meetings, using their own brand of inferior science to advocate restricting upper limits contrary to numerous good scientific studies. The lobbyist and their employers are looking very hard to find anything that can be construed as a reason to set these limits, which are considered ridiculously low by American nutritional science.

Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry wants nutrients regulated with low upper limits. In this way effective products will be available only through doctors by prescription. When only doctors can prescribe them, as in Germany, then insurance companies will be willing to pay for them and the price tag can be enormously inflated. With insurance paying for them the consumer will have little concern about prices because it will not come directly out of his pocket. The high price will generate more profits and wealth into the pharmaceutical industry. In this system, drugs can more easily be promoted as the preferred treatment of choice. Most importantly, the market for prescribed pharmaceuticals can now be greatly increased to include healthy people trying to maintain their good health.

Herbs are a special target. They are very effective and there are many traditional ways of preparing herbs. If the German Commission-E is established as the Codex standard, all other methods of providing a good herbal product for market will be eliminated. If herbs can suddenly be considered dangerous, contrary to fact, then they will be banned from the store shelves and made "prescription-only" products, as they are in Germany.

I don't like to sound like George Orwell, but...

All of this is very ominous because the Codex commission is an outside governing body determining American policy and public market availability of products. The pharmaceutical industry and the banking system abroad are closely aligned. This is a confluence of money and power. The pharmaceutical industry's sales are over one trillion dollars a year, with an incredible profit margin! This gives these international companies tremendous power to buy public relations firms, press releases, television programming, and newspaper and magazine articles. This wealth enables these companies to effectively lobby the government and gain legislation that directs large sums of money into their research projects and control the marketplace.

The FDA and the pharmaceutical giants are devising their own brand of health protection. Propaganda-like machines are spewing out false stories. For example, the vitamin C story in the LA Times (C causes hardening of the arteries). Also, the Lehrer NewsHour report on a "new" way to take vitamins (always ask your doctor- "yes, it's a good idea to take a multiple"- "oh, beta carotene is dangerous"). Or CBS's 48-Hours Special on herb-drug interactions (it's not the handful of un-named drugs she's taking that are dangerous, it must be the ginkgo). Each commercial break features a pharmaceutical advertisement, urging consumers to tell their doctors what to prescribe, i.e., you want that green and purple pill, and oh yes, please note the following (bad) side effects.

When the Codex committee meets in Berlin, delegates advocating strict controls and low upper limits to vitamins can point to the negative press that herbs and vitamins are receiving in the United States. They can say, it's time to control and restrict what is now available for you or me to purchase here at home. Meanwhile, propaganda attacking nutrition will be well financed and distributed everywhere. While in England I was amazed to find the "Vitamin C causes hardening of the arteries" article, that had been discredited, prevalent and accepted by people living there.

What is the true context of supplemental use?

Are supplements really necessary? Do we in this country have a special situation? Is everyone in the world experiencing the same situation and at the same time?

Much of what I read regarding the intentions of the Commission appears narrow, restrictive and mindless of the vast differences in the nutritional quality of each country's produce and other foods. One need only look at the American experience, which is filled with experimentation, freedom of opportunity and freedom of exploitation. Our wheat harvested in the early 1900s was nationally found to contain approximately 17% protein, i.e. amino acid content. The wheat measured nationally in the 1960's had dropped significantly to 12% protein.

In the AMA journals, as early as the 1950's there were recommendations for multiple vitamins because of the dramatic decrease in the nutritional levels of all grains, fruits, and vegetables due to increased acreage production and the advent of chemical fertilizers. Europe had not yet converted to industrial farming at that time, and so in comparison, while America was the breadbox of the world, nutritionally we were coming up short.

One area in particular was the dramatic decrease in niacin levels in corn over the last eighty years. As corn production went up, the nutrient level went down and niacin in particular was hard hit. As niacin levels dropped it affected biological levels of l-tryptophan, and with that decline came less serotonin production. As serotonin levels (which controls appetite) reduced, over consumption increased and obesity became prevalent. This lack of dietary niacin remains one of the many causes of obesity in the US.

Besides preventing deficiency diseases, supplementation is also necessary to aid the body in protection against exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other environmental chemicals. The presence of these chemicals is overwhelming. Since 1999 the Environmental Protection Agency is screening the impact of over 87,000 chemicals in commercial use for their impact on the endocrine system along with over 50 environmental estrogens.

Perhaps some countries in the world don't have the same problems as we do; perhaps some are not as aware of these problems. We know ways to detoxify and protect living cells through nutrient supplementation. We can't accept restrictions that may affect what we can purchase to help the maintenance of health just because another country is unaware of our particular problems. Neither should any other country be restricted from the use of supplementation to protect themselves as they encounter such overwhelming environmental problems. These problems are becoming worldwide, and rather than setting artificial and needless upper limits, I think the entire issues should be tabled. Let each country restrict and allow what it now understands, and let the United States stand up for what has worked so well for us.

A Call for Disinterested, Objective, and Honest Science

The science of supplementation is in its infancy both here and especially in Europe and Third world countries. Let nutritional science continue to develop for twenty or thirty more years as we begin to see the overwhelming necessity to re-evaluate our direction regarding pharmaceutical drugs and chemical poisons. And what of the "science" that has produced our present crisis? The New England Journal of Medicine published a critique of the US research system, saying science is being seriously compromised by the growing influence of industry money.

Breast cancer incidence has steadily climbed in the US, and has been attributed to the accumulation of estrogenic chemicals in the environment. Yet, in this country many people still think there is a cure for breast cancer and are looking for magic bullets. Obviously, good nutrition along with other good health practices is our best defense, but the real issue is not the cure but the cause. The cause is readily obvious and glossed over whenever possible by large corporations who not only produce chemicals and pesticides that are producing estrogenic chemicals but have the audacity to turn around and want to own and control the marketplace. Now they also want to promote their pharmaceutical drugs as the only cure for the problems created by the chemicals they manufacture. Even pharmaceutical drug residues are showing up as a major new class of environmental pollution!

Harmonization Eliminates Context!

We, the people of the US, have lead the way in the science of supplementation because our situation has required it and as an inventive and free society we have faced the challenge. The Codex proposals do not take into consideration the context of the situation, i.e. some countries have a higher need for supplementation, some countries are better informed about supplementation, some countries lead the way for developing supplementation in a way that promotes and protects health.

What are the actual results of harmonization? In France the cheese industry is told that now that international rules have been implemented and accepted, French cheese must be refrigerated. The cheese merchants are furious because their cheese loses all of its qualities when refrigerated and in actuality the cheese is ruined. Furthermore, such cheeses as Roquefort are prohibited from sale because of the presence of mold. Mold is essential to that product and has beneficial qualities.

Blindness and Aids transmission have already been reduced by cheap and simple vitamin A supplementation. So why should a UN agency issue rules and regulations that restrict future possibilities? Individual countries must keep their rights to make their own choices.

What are the alternatives to the present direction of the Codex commission?

Since most countries at present rely on national policy rather than nutritional scientists for the establishment of rules, and since much of the "science" promoted at Codex by the European delegation is politicized propaganda, there is no possibility of a reasonable agreement on supplements. It appears that the best solution for the US is to protect its own position, while actively seeking to educate interested nations in the value and safety of nutritional supplements. Because the US is the vanguard of nutritional supplements, we should use the Codex to host informational sessions on nutritional supplementation, including the need for nutrients to protect against environmental hazards and nutritional deficiencies. In addition, much needs yet to be considered regarding specific scientific data, its interpretation and use, and specifics of methodology.

Now is the time to contact your congressperson and pass this letter on to him or her for political action. Now is the time to insist that the FDA protect the interests of public health and call on the pool of educated nutritionists and health food supplement leaders rather than corporate pharmaceutical lobbyists. The US Codex representative, Elizabeth Yetley, Ph.D, of the FDA, must abide by the spirit and the letter of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994, the passage of which millions of citizens actively supported. Now is the time for Dr. Yetley to vocalize an uncompromising position that protects the will of US citizens. We as a nation cannot abide by such a usurpation of our inalienable rights!

This newsletter may be freely copied or forwarded as long as it is done so in it's entirety, including this copyright notice.

Written with permission by the author, Michael LeVesque.

Herb-Drug Contraindication -- Verdict: DON'T TAKE DRUGS WITH HERBS!
An Herbalist's Perspective -- Dr. Michael Tierra

The hottest topic on the herbal supplement scene these days seems to be around the problems associated with herb-drug contraindications. It seems that this issue has become the major platform for unskilled, misinformed, medical practitioners and researchers to proffer their largely insubstantial expertise behind the battery of letters that always follow their name. Of course, where the vast wealth of our herbal knowledge emanates is not from such self styled "experts" but from eons of herbalists, folk healers and people who underwent the real test of using them repeatedly over generations and the fact is that if we were to encounter such healers, shamans and herbalists, we are not likely to find any degrees after their name but the withered appearance of a wise sage.

For the most part it is the same tired old pharmaceutically hyped herbs, the St Johnswort, feverfew, ginkgo, kava, echinacea that is flaunted as replete with possible hazards, as if these were the only herbs that herbalists and people ever use. It is the thesis of this article that this effort, consciously or not, often involving well meaning medical spokespersons even herbalists who are trying to make themselves well versed in scientific jargon, generally serves to confuse the public about the well known efficacy and safety of herbs. This may be a process to create a wedge of doubt concerning the safety and efficacy of most herbs engendering an alarmist environment in the mainstream that will ultimately lead to someone claiming some trumped up catastrophic episode forcing a heightened climate towards further regulation.

With 30 years experience as an herbalist, seeing thousands of people throughout the world, mostly through trial and effect self training, since there were no official training schools or programs during my early years of interest, I have seen very little evidence of any serious drug-herb complications. I cannot say that I have not seen any, but the problem is that even with one issue being raised, the entire conversation is dominated not by the overwhelming efficacy and safety of herbal medicine but by the hazards and risks. This is disproportionate and I believe for a very good reason.

First, it raises unwarranted doubts and concerns about herbs which, reasonable or not, takes the heat off the real problems of drug side effects. Lest we forget, the reason that the alternate health movement and the herbal movement specifically achieved its impetus is not because of lifestyle-envy of people who tended to be involved with herbs but because of the very real and continuing real issues and the failure of conventional medicine to offer therapeutic options that were not replete with a wide array of risks and side effects.

Attending one such presentation at an NNFA show in Las Vegas, a symposium of non-herbalist authorities set forth to describe the risks of various herb-drug interactions. I remember one very clearly, that an individual who takes ibuprofen pain medication should probably not take feverfew. The italics are my own because the expert had no solid evidence that there was a problem sufficient to warrant such a claim, that those who attended this lecture and had no experience in the use of herbs were going to leave with two conclusions: that herbs were dangerous and that not only are they, in themselves, difficult to learn but that this is made a further daunting issue when they would have to learn about the various drugs and the interaction herbs may have with these drugs.

First of all, let's define an herb. The pharmaceutical companies have defined herbs such as ginkgo, st Johnswort, feverfew, kava, echinacea based as standardized extracts, some of which are highly concentrated to the degree that they are actually herbally derived drugs and others are simply described by a single supposedly "active" biochemical constituent. Let's face it; herbs are complex entities made up of thousands of compounds which if each of these were isolated would include a number that are poisonous and a number that are not. Since it is the dose that makes the poison, if an herb has a smaller amount of poisonous, toxic compounds than poisonous ones, it is probably as safe as a most foods.

I have always felt that there are serious problems commercializing and promoting the use of a single herb. People are capable of reacting against any substance benign or not including broccoli, carrots and even rice, so why is it not possible for someone to develop an immediate or delayed "idiosyncratic" reaction to a complex, unfamiliar food-like substance like a medicinal herb. Traditional herbalists know this, which is one reason that herbs especially when prescribed for long-term chronic conditions are given in formula, not as a single substance.

Single herbs are traditionally taken short term usually for a specific acute condition or to achieve a specific therapeutic effect, and then they are stopped. So what I heard, amongst other outrageous remarks was that ibuprofen is responsible in the US for 9000 deaths a year from stomach hemorrhage and since feverfew has actions that may be similar to ibuprofen though there actually is no basis for such a thesis, people shouldn't take feverfew with ibuprofen for their headaches. The assumption here is that people should take ibuprofen, known to kill 9000 people a year from gastrointestinal bleeding. Feverfew, on the other hand, has no attributed deaths to its shame but is made an accomplice by implication to the side effects of ibuprofen. The ignorance of this position is astounding to me as an herbalist.

Immediately, postulate well, this must include besides feverfew, willow bark, lemon balm, mint even camomile since these a few of the other well-known herbs that have been used to relieve headaches and symptoms of colds and flus. The strategy was clear to me, though I don't think it was clear to the speaker-- we'll begin with feverfew and some other time in the not-too-distant future we'll get to all the other herbs. What I read into this, is that they don't need to get to all the other herbs but simply enough to warrant distrust and suspicion so that all herbs will fall under repressive regulation with distribution only by medical doctors.

One may think I am reading something into this presentation that doesn't exist, that I am being unduly alarmist. Sorry, it's already happened in just about every other Western country including France, Germany, Italy, the UK, Ireland and Australia where increasing numbers of some of the most popular herbs are only available from qualified medical personnel. Unfortunately what comprises a "qualified" medical practitioner is not the same qualifications as what comprises an herbalist who is one who dedicates their life to the study and practice of herbal medicine.

Furthermore there are at least two distinct types of herbalism that people are referring: allopathic herbalism, which is based on using herbs like drugs to treat usually in a very limited way specific medical conditions, and traditional holistic herbal medicine which uses herbs to adjust functional processes of the body so that the body is able to find its own homeostatic health and well being.

When you take saw palmetto for a prostate problem, you are practicing allopathic herbalism, when you take herbs that regulate urination, promote normal circulation and clear inflammation in the pelvic cavity, whether you use herbs from India, China or the great botanical treasures of North or South America, you are using herbs holistically. So which one is safer. Certainly it is the holistic approach. While the other may only have a statistical reference of efficacy for prostate problems, using herbs holistically guarantees that the only limiting factor on their efficacy is the skill of understanding the complex of symptoms based on a differential evaluation of the individual's symptoms.

What I have consistently found is that when people take herbs and drugs together, the efficacy of the herbs are compromised. They must first be put to the task of dissipating and eliminating the toxicity of the drug, which is the "drug-herb" toxicity, before they can get to helping the body heal itself. That is why I would say, that while the chances are excellent that you will not have any complication from the interaction of Ibuprofen with feverfew, because ibuprofen is toxic and is known to cause severe reactions and death in a significant percentage of people who use it for colds and headaches, you should stop its use and take feverfew or some other applicable herb instead. In other words, it seems the best of all worlds, that we stop using drugs to the best of our ability and use herbs instead. I know that is a problem for many but at least it creates a truer impression as to where the risks really reside, with the drugs, not the herbs. Remember, we are looking to herbs because we want to get away from drugs, not simply to use them like another drug.

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