Some of you may have seen the same New York Times article I did this weekend, about a teenager who bought a green tea supplement for “fat burning” and ended up with severe liver damage. Now he’s waiting for a liver transplant. That article certainly provoked a lot of emotion—it even brought a tear to my eye.
But what the author of that article went on to do next was to fault the entire dietary supplement industry. For example, he quoted a statistic that said, “Dietary supplements account for nearly 20% of drug-related liver injuries that turn up in hospitals…” Then, he talked about how the industry is unregulated, and some manufacturers “lace” their weight loss supplements with pharmaceuticals, including steroids.
If this had been pharmaceuticals they were talking about, this story would have never gotten the same amount of press. But the reality is that many pharmaceutical track records are many times more alarming. Consider aspirin, which is perceived as a very safe drug—what you don’t hear is that it causes 19,000 deaths a year due to gastrointestinal bleeding.
Or, take acetaminophen. When used properly, it can cause liver damage. But taken with alcohol—or taken in higher dosages—acetaminophen can cause gastrointestinal bleeding, severe liver damage, and even death. I’ve been telling my subscribers for years to avoid acetaminophen. In fact, “properly prescribed” pharmaceutical drugs are the fourth leading cause of deaths in America today.
Now, let’s get back to dietary supplements. Whenever dietary supplements, although exceedingly safer than pharmaceutical drugs, are taken in high doses they can cause toxicity—just like a pharmaceutical drug can.
One of the classic interactions that cause harm is high-dose beta carotene and/or vitamin A taken by smokers and asbestos workers. This combination has been shown in human and animal models to cause cancer. Another example is vitamin E in which studies have shown that high-dose alpha tocopherol succinate (greater than 400 IU a day) can predispose people to not only cardiac vulnerability, but cancer as well.
The reason in both of these examples is that high dose supplements can have a pro-oxidant effect, causing mitochondrial damage in your cells. The same thing could happen with a green tea supplement, if it’s taken in high enough dosages. That’s because there’s a possibility that when you get a high dose of green tea catechins, you can end up with a pro-oxidant effect.
Most green tea pills are highly concentrated, containing many more catechins than are found in a single cup of green tea. That’s why you need to be very careful when choosing a green tea supplement. Some of them contain more than 500 mg of EGCG which is not a safe dose in my book as it may cause a pro-oxidant effect.
The other thing we don’t know about the supplements discussed in this article is how they were manufactured, how many tests were done, and if there was lead in the supplements. Plus, we don’t know what else those people were taking, such as steroids, alcohol, and more.
That’s one of the reasons I started to manufacture my own supplements—to ensure they’re safe. With all of my formulas, I rigorously test the raw materials, test 100% of the finished supplements with batch testing, and I send out samples to a third party independent laboratory. In fact, most of my supplements meet California’s Prop-65, which is the most rigorous standard for safety in the country.
Before I close, I want to tell you a quick story of something that happened very early in my career. A patient of mine had a reaction to a simple diuretic and couldn’t walk for three days due to profound potassium loss. That drug was taken off the market because it was too strong, which taught me at a very early age that you can have horrific side effects with pharmaceutical drugs.
Shortly thereafter I met Jacob Rinse, a Dutch chemist, who enlightened me about neutraceutical supplements. That couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. From that moment on, I turned to natural therapies whenever possible.
The message for me in this New York Times article is this—the bottom line is that pharmaceutical drugs have a light side and a dark side. Plus, supplements can have a pharmaceutical effect under profound overdose. So, with pharmaceuticals and supplements, you have to be very careful about the quantity as well as the quality of what you’re taking.
Now it's your turn: What are your thoughts on this article?