Guarding against unneeded health prevention

A recent New York Times article pointed to the risk of taking dietary supplements, stating that new data suggested that dietary supplements account for nearly 20 percent of drug-related liver injuries that turn up in hospitals, up from seven percent 10 years ago. The article was preceded by other recent articles on blood pressure, multivitamins and anti-bacterial soaps. All four related in some way to guarding against excessive health prevention measures. We are often told by advertisers of the benefits of certain health-maintenance products such as dietary supplements, drugs and the like of the improved health we can have by taking these products, yet we often lack the time to research and understand if they are truly beneficial for us. Often, we assume that the government maintains some sort of checks on health products, although government’s role can often be limited. As was pointed out in the New York Times article, Americans spend an estimated $32 billion on dietary supplements every year, but a 1994 federal law prevents the Food and Drug Administration from approving or evaluating most dietary supplements before they are sold.

Often in the political arena, we say that we don’t want government to hinder our economy with a lot of red tape. Regarding our health, our statement should be different, regardless of party affiliation. We need strong government institutions to make sure that consumers are not mislead. While proper, routine use of multivitamins may be of very low risk (and benefit), the use of an herbal supplement by a teenage boy to “burn fat” in the New York Times article damaged his liver to the point that he was advised to no longer play sports. A strong system of regulation backed by thorough research is important in the health arena. The challenge, of course, is that the needed research can often be expensive and long-term, with conclusions that are not always black and white.

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